We hiked a lot last week in Arizona. On our first full day, we started out at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Center and took the trail toward Blackett’s Ridge. It was described as a moderate hike, and that seemed right for the first day, a seven-mile round trip, with well-marked trails and beautiful views. The temperatures weren’t the usual mid-70s that we had expected. They were a cool 52 degrees when we started out, but that’s great for hiking.
We’re usually Eastern mountain hikers. We go to the Adirondacks whenever we can. It’s a different hiking experience there. For one thing the trails are steeper and slipperier. For another, there’s the forest. On most Adirondack trails, you walk in woods for several hours, enjoying the smell of the forest, the changes in vegetation, and the beauty of mountain brooks. But you work for your views. You often have to hike a long time before you emerge from the forest and get the beautiful payoff of a panoramic view.
It’s not that way in Arizona. In the Sonoran Desert, you seem to get views from the moment you hit the trail. Up ahead you see hillsides pocked with sajuaros, chollas, and prickly pears. They stand out, but they don’t stand in your way. In the distance you see steep cliffs, caves, and snow-capped peaks (that we were not trying to reach).
On this particular day, we encountered a sign which Nancy found disconcerting: a message saying that mountain lions had been spotted in the area recently. Hikers were advised to avoid them. Well, if you say so, okay, we’ll avoid them. Nancy had heard that mountain lions sometimes try to pick off the littlest in a group. The blurb she read suggested keeping kids toward the front of your line. She figured this applied to her as well. She volunteered to lead. The truth is, she always leads anyway. I began referring to her as my mountain lion bait.
We didn’t see any wildlife that day besides an occasional roadrunner who refused to make the “beep, beep” sound, even when we prompted and modeled. No wildlife until we reached the top of Blackett’s Ridge, that is. We were alone at the top, twirling around to take in the full panorama, when an Arizona chipmunk poked his head out from between two rocks. We were excited to see non-threatening and familiar wildlife. This one seemed friendly, too. He approach bravely, nose and tail twitching. “He probably wants some of these cookies,” Nancy suggested. He did seem to be checking out our provisions. We had very little except for water, imagining that we’d be back at our car by 1:00.
He darted off. “Probably telling his friends,” Nancy suggested. Sure enough, within moments, there were two chipmunks. Seconds later a third arrived on the scene. “Whatcha eatin’?” he seemed to be saying. We tried to tell him the cookies were gone. It was too late. The word had gotten out. Within minutes, we had a herd of chipmunks (a school? a gaggle?) Wait, I just googled it — a scurry of chipmunks. That’s it. And you know why they’re called a scurry? Because if you see one, it’s cute. If you see two, they’re charming, but when ya see a whole creepy scurry of them, ya scurry off the peak and head down the mountain.