Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chaos, Ukiah wore shoes

Flat, not too difficult. That's how I explained it to the kids.

After nearly a mile and a half, it seemed odd that we were approaching houses. The trail book told all about Old Tucson Movie Studios that we could expect to see to the north. (Columbia Pictures has been filming westerns in the shadows of Golden Gate Mountain for nearly 60 years. Gunfight at the OK Corral, Rio Bravo, Three Amigos. The Tucson Mountains are television territory too. Gunsmoke, Young Riders, Bonanza.) The Tucson Hiking Guide made no mention of any housing subdivisions.

It was early, plenty of time to recover from our wrong turn. We'd just retrace our steps and find the "well constructed easy to follow path." The book says there's essentially no change in elevation along the trail, but we were already off track and three of us saw a trail "up there". We climbed a 60 degree incline a quater-mile to our first mirage. No path.

Back at the trail head we double-check the sign. David Yetman, Golden Gate Mountain, Golden Gate Loop. We found it, a tiny little path, hardly what I'd call "lined with rocks". A steady breeze took the edge off the noonday sun. We could still do the 6.6 mile loop.

Sand. Grapefruit-size rocks. The trail surface alternates as we we cross shallow basins. Rocks crumble underfoot. Their broad tops reaching just beyond knee high we repeatedly interrupt the instinct to reach out, steady ourselves on the fish hook barrel cactus.

The mountains here are falling down. Dry peaks crumble, spilling fragments of another era to the floor. It's a state of decay the geologists call "chaos". The huge boulders are archives and notably, "the first place the trail become confusing." Confirming directions, we headed west, hoping to recognize Kitt Peak or Mt Washington to the south.

The saguaro need 7 years to complete their process of death. In under 5 hours we learned enough of the gradual decline the desert can bring. In heavy sand, with jokes no longer funny, some of the region's majesty may have been lost on us that final mile.

Could have been worse. Ukiah could have insisted on wearing flip-flops. Again.