Monday, October 29, 2018

Family Adventure Guide to Soldier's Canyon

I just hate leaving things unfinished.  Due to lack of planning we were unable to complete the Soldier Trail last weekend, so we returned to Mount Lemmon for another weekend of exploration, adventure, and to finish what we started. Soldier Trail is a strenuous out and back trail that links up with Molino Basin Trail near the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site.

So rather that start at the beginning of Soldier Trail again, we parked at the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site trailhead and hiked about a half mile down Molino Basin to where it connects with Soldier Trail.  About 1/10th of a mile into Soldier Trail we could see where we turned around!  Man, we had been oh so close to finishing!

Back up at the intersection of Molino Basin and Soldier Trail, we noticed the creek bed.  We had heard what could possibly be a waterfall and decided we need to explore and investigate!

We could see footprints of other people that had traveled down the creek, but there is not exactly a trail.  

Where the water ran a little deep we did some trailblazing and bushwhacking around it. 

We followed the creek further into Soldier Canyon and the canyon walls quickly closed in.  There is a trail that runs along the right side of the canyon wall that will lead you to the base of a slot canyon.  Thanks to some heavy rain earlier in the week, there were indeed some nice waterfalls.

We had to help a few of the smaller children down a few of the boulders on the steep descent to the base, but it’s nothing too difficult or tricky.  Still, a fall here would be bad so watch your footing and take your time.

Once you are at the bottom you get some rewarding views of the waterfall and canyon.  

By this time we gave up on all efforts to keep the kids dry.  They had so much fun splashing in the water!  (In the photo they are trying to rescue a grasshopper.)  I would definitely recommend bringing water shoes if you have them, but we just took off our socks and shoes.  Oh, and don't forget the sunscreen!  The canyon walls provide some limited shade, but for the most part we were in the sun.  

We found a leopard frog on the slot canyon wall near the waterfall.  It was so well camouflaged that I didn’t see it until it hopped, and then it took me a minute to find it again!  Neat little fellow to watch though.  

Our little adventurous rock climbers had so much fun exploring this area.  Be sure to bring plenty of water!  We spent a lot more time here than we had planned on.  You can even continue following the boulders a little ways further down the canyon, but it was time for us to begin the climb back up and hike out.

I just love seeing a sense of accomplishment on our kids faces.  

They are capable of so much more than we often give them credit for.  Hiking teaches them lessons in perserverance and problem solving, while giving them an appreciation for God’s creation, majesty, and power.  We are all happier after a little nature therapy!  

On the return trip we were all already so wet that we pretty much gave up on trying to find a dry route and soaked up a few more minutes of playtime in the creek.

Look at that face!  Pure joy!  Our kids have not stopped talking about this hike.  It was definitely one of their favorite.

Before leaving we took a few minutes to check out the remains of the prison camp located near the parking lot of the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site parking lot. A lot of history and WWII learning opportunities here.  They older children will be writing about Japanese internment camps and Gordon Hirabayashi in their road schooling journals.

For more adventures be sure to check out our Travel Page and follow us on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures.

If you have some time in Tuscon, don't miss the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Hiking Soldier Trail on Mount Lemmon

Our adventures in Tucson continue... We are absolutely loving our time here in Arizona!

We had a free afternoon and decided we would explore Mount Lemmon.  We researched it enough to know that our 35 foot RV was allowed on the roads, but other than that knew very little about the scenic drive and trails (other than we had to stop in Summerhaven for some fudge!).  So we headed up the mountain very unprepared (F for planning!).  DON'T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES WE DID!  There is no gas station on Mount Lemmon and a big RV uses a lot of gas climbing a mountain up to 9,000 feet (way more than we accounted for!).  We did not run out of gas, but it is definitely the furthest we have run the RV down on gas.  There also is no cell phone reception (at least not AT&T), so we were not able to look up information like restaurants, hiking trails, and gas stations.  In hindsight, I should have snapshot photos of the hiking trail and maps before we left.  But, we were not ready to give up on our adventures yet!  We had an RV full of kids that needed to run off some energy.

Parking is also scarce.  There was one spot directly in front of the Visitor Center at Summerhaven that we were able to fit our 35 foot rig into (but I'm not sure anything larger than us would have fit).  Here we were able to obtain some basic maps of the hiking trails.  Two of the hiking trails sounded familiar from other blogs and things I had read, but both of their parking lots were already full.

The only parking we could find was at the trailhead for Soldier Trail.  So we kind of ended up on this trail by default.  From the parking area, the trail looked very steep and difficult, but it sure would meet our goal of wearing out the kids!

The trail does begin with a steep and rocky ascent that is sure to give you an aerobic workout.  Take your time and enjoy the Saguaro!  There sure are some big ones here!

We have loved learning about the Saguaro cactus!  They are one of the slowest growing plants.  A 10 year old Saguaro may only be 1.5 inches, but they can reach heights of 40-60 feet tall.  They do not get their first arm until they are approximately 70 years old.  A fully hydrated Saguaro may weigh as much as 4,800 pounds.  Their woody ribs can be used to make roofs and fences.

Soldier pass is a 5 mile out and back trail with a nearly 2,000 foot elevation gain (with most of that gain occurring during the first mile).  You are in the sun for a lot of the hike.  Because we hiked so late in the afternoon, there were a few spots where the mountain shadows provided some shade, but I would imagine that most of the day you are in the sun for the majority of the hike.  Bring plenty of water!  You will need it for the steep climb!  Even our children that do not normally drink a ton while hiking, sucked through their first water bottle pretty early on. 

At approximately .7 miles you cross a wash.  There were some small puddles of stagnant water here, but nothing that was running.  Congratulations on making it this far!  You still have some hills to climb, but the toughest part of the trail is now behind you!

At about the mile mark, the landscape changes and the trail levels out some (more of a gentle climb). There are a variety of yucca, aloes, grasses, and other desert plants.

The grass was quite tall in parts, which hid a variety of prickly plants and cacti, so I chose to carry our 3 year old on portions of the trail just to keep him from cutting his face.

We did see quite a few wildflowers!  When I researched the trail later, I found out that a lot of people do this trail just for the wildflowers.  Because the wind was blowing so hard, it was difficult to capture good photos of them.

The trail was just getting easy when we reached our time limit to turn around.  We always have a rule to turn around when we are halfway to sunset, regardless of how much easier the hike out will be or how close we are to the finish.  I feel like this is super important, especially when hiking with children.  The last thing we wanted was to be on the trail after sunset with 6 small children.  And even though the hike out on this trail *should* take less time because it is downhill on the way back, I like to have some extra time in case of an emergency (twisted ankle, fall, or an unwanted animal encounter).

So, we were just a little ways past this canyon (approximately 2.1 miles in), when we turned around and headed out.  The trail would have eventually met up with Molino Basin Trail and Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site.

You have some beautiful views of Tucson and the surrounding mountains that are much easier to appreciate on the hike back.  We also loved how the moon peeked out between the cactus arms.

About 20 minutes before sunset we all made it safely off the trail.  It can be discouraging to not finish a trail, but we all had a wonderful time and now we just have an excuse to go back and hike it again.  (UPDATE: We did go back!  Check out the continuation of our adventure and exploration of Soldier Canyon!)

Be sure to check out our Travel Page and follow us on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures for more of our family adventures!  If you are in the Tucson area, you don't want to miss the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Curious Minds Explore Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

We are staying in Tucson for approximately 6 weeks, and the one recommendation we have received over and over again is to go to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Yes!  If you are ever in Tucson, go here!  I cannot even begin to tell you the number of times I heard, “Wow”, “So cool”, and “This is awesome”.  But not only did the kids have smiles on their faces, they were asking questions, discovering, and learning!

Note:  If you are traveling in a Motorhome, bus, or towing, there are vehicle restrictions on Gate Pass Road.  Be sure your GPS is taking you Ajo Way to Kinney Road.  You will drive through Tucson Mountain County Park.  The road is paved, but could use some work so don’t plan on being able to drive the posted 35mph speed limit. It is also prone to flash flooding.  We received just a little bit of rain right before leaving the museum and there was already some water flowing across the roadway.  Tucson Mountain County Park does have several picnic areas, trails, and a campground if you wanted to take advantage of any of those in conjunction with your trip.  Old Tucson (and old west theme park) is also right there, so you could so the Desert Museum one day, camp in the County Park (30 amp electric sites), and do Old Tucson the following day.  There was plenty of RV parking at the Desert Museum, and you are able to leave the museum to return to your vehicle for lunch.  There is a small picnic area right outside the gate.  There are stations throughout the park to refill your water bottles.

The price when we went was $21.95 for adults (they do have a military price of $17.95) and $8.95 for children ages 3-12.  Stroller rentals are $6.  What a great value.  Our large family of 8 spent less than $90 for a day full of educational fun!  The Desert Museum is open every day from 8:30am - 5pm (hours vary slightly in the summer).  We arrived at approximately 9:30am and left around 4:30pm.  Due to some storms that started around 3pm we were unable to see everything.  There is certainly plenty to see and do here!  

Most of the park is outside. Two miles of trails wind through natural Sonoran Desert habitats. Placards are placed at the bottom of native flora, which helped us to identify some of the plants, cacti, and wildflower we have been seeing on our hiking adventures.  

There are also 16 individual botanical gardens which attract local fauna.  Did you know a bee vibrates it’s body to shake free pollen from a flower?  

If you follow the main loop to the right, the first stop you will come to is Reptile Hall, full of everything that will kill you in the desert!  Well, maybe not everything, but there sure are a lot of poisonous snakes in the Sonora Desert.    This Sidewinder Horned Rattlesnake perfectly camouflages in the desert sand and is a sky-and-wait predator.  

If you survive the snakes and scorpions, the Orientation Ramada is just around the corner.  Here our daughter got to meet her favorite animal Hootie the Western Screech Owl.  All of the volunteers and workers at the Desert Museum are so friendly, knowledgeable, and patient. 

After identifying some mountains at the Geology Overlook, we were off to the cave!  This artificial cave, complete with stalagmites, stalactites, side tunnels and passages, and bat models, was an exciting adventure for the children.  There is a main passage that is strolled and wheelchair accessible, and a side tunnel that requires some low clearance maneuvering.  Signs along the way explain the formation of a limestone cave, stalagmites, and stalactites.  

There is a stunning mineral collection as you exit the cave.  Microscopes allow you to investigate the structure of different minerals.  Just outside is a mining dump.  Each person is allowed to find one rock to come home.  The children were impressed with their finds and excited to add them to their rock collection.  

An Ancient Arizona exhibit is next.  The kids loved being junior paleontologist and finding fossils.  While the exhibits are all from an evolution world view, we as young earth creationists believe that fossil records and geology of Arizona provide evidence of Noah’s worldwide flood and history as recorded in Genesis.  

The next exhibit on the main loop is the Mountain Woodland.  The Mountain Lion was napping (only its tail was visible), but the Black Bear and Mexican Gray Wolves were putting on a show.  

The Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs were our favorite part of the Desert Grassland exhibit.  They are fun to watch as they pop in and out of their holes and run about.  One of their predators are rattlesnakes.  There is a neat little display demonstrating how the rattlesnake’s tail rattles.

If you have children, you don’t want to miss Packeat Playhouse.  Everything is fit to scale as if you are a tiny packrat.  Packrats are excellent climbers and very curious.  You can climb through a prickly pear cactus play structure and slide down cholla skeleton ribs.  There is no age limit, so have some fun with your kiddos.  

Toddlers have their own area with a rattlesnake, Gila monster, and scorpion for their to slide, play, crawl, and explore, but our older children had some fun in there too!  (Note: it was not crowded and most of the time we were the only family in there.  Please be courteous if there are small children present and remember that this is their safe place to play).  The Packrat Playhouse closes one hour before the museum (4pm), so plan accordingly.  There are special programs here and capacity is limited on Saturdays and for special events.  By the time the kids were done playing we were ready for a lunch break!  Here is a good place to cut across back to the entrance.

After a picnic lunch, some shopping in the gift store, and coffee from Phoebe’s Coffee Bar, we were ready to continue exploring the museum grounds.  We went backwards on the loop this time, starting at the Hummingbird Aviary.  Seven species of hummingbirds provide a flurry of activity!  Our one daughter was wearing a very bright pink shirt and the hummingbirds seemed very attracted to her.  She wasn’t so sure what to think at first, but she really warmed up to them and was even trying to get them to land on her.

I am told that there are times of the year when you can see baby hummingbirds and eggs in their nests, but we did not see any. Hummingbirds have the most rapid wing beats of birds and can fly in any direction (including backwards).  They are fascinating to watch.  Benches are placed throughout the exhibit, so sit and enjoy!

A little further down the pathway is the walk-in aviary with more than 20 species of Native birds.  Be sure to peek into the bushes and trees that line the paved walkway.  Laminated field guides are available at the entrance of the aviary to help you identify the birds you see.

This White-Winged Dova was one of our favorite finds.  It has the most beautiful blue coloring around the eye.  These birds can fly 25 or more miles to find water.  In the desert they can get moisture from the saguaro cactus fruit. They are actually important to the saguaro cactus because they help disperse its seeds.

We made it to the Ripariab Corridor just before the storms began.  We sought shelter here for a bit as we watched the Bighorn Sheep.

It is neat to watch them descend the canyon walls.  They knew the rain was approaching too and sought shelter in the alcoves before the rain began.  The river otters and beavers in the neighboring exhibit are also entertaining to watch.  

When there was a break in the storms we made a mad dash for the Packrat Playhouse for a few more minutes of play before making another dash back towards the entrance. Right by the entrance you’ll find Warden Aquarium with 14 tanks displaying a variety of sea life, including seahorses and garden eels.  

Thank you Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for a wonderful day of learning, fun, and adventure!  Before we were even out of the park our kids were asking if we could come back again the next time we are in Tucson.  We are all looking forward to returning!

For more of our travel adventures be sure to check out our Travel Page and follow us on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures.