Sky Island

Glen Lewis

When the heat soars and the desert canyons become ovens, there is still a paradise in the outdoors. We call them Sky Islands.

Mount Wrightson is a pinnacle of a Sky Island just south of Tucson. I made this ascent with a member of the local online hiking community, Lizard, and of course my regular girl as well. We set out to summit this 9,453' peak also know as Mount Baldy for its treeless rocky peak. It was 10.6 miles with a 4,000í climb for the route we chose. The trail was relentless. It went up and no other way would it go. This is not rolling terrain. The switchbacks are brutal but they shoot you straight to the summit where you are on top of this little corner of the world. There is no higher place.

Despite this area's proximity to Tucson, it is still very wild with bears and the occasional Jaguar, whose species is back on the rise. There is a mountain range in southeastern AZ which used to have beautiful native parrots. They were hunted to extinction for their plumage. This is truly a magical place. 99.999% of the city inhabitants never get off pavement so my hope is it will stay what it is.

Here at Baldy Saddle a lone tree looks up to the summit from one mile away. My traveling companions observed a bear going over the closer ridgeline as I took this photo about 30 yards away.

Further up we came to a surreal little slope of thousands of flowers and hundreds of butterflies.

This seemed unbelievable. The brutal heat was a few thousand feet away and this paradise did not realize that any other world existed.

In the cool air of the summit which was close to 75 degrees, we found a group of Ladybugs with a summit of their own. This was on the very top at 9,400'.

The switchbacks on the way down were so steep and tight that they were stacked on top of each other.

We passed Bellows Spring between Josephine Saddle and Baldy Saddle. It was a tiny oasis, just as this whole mountain is a tiny oasis in a vast desert. It was a day of surreal beauty in the strange world of the southwest shared with good companions and the odd bear. If itís too hot to hike the lower deserts, go high. You will find a totally different world up there.

Note: The desert floor was over 100 degrees and the sky was blue with few clouds but I still took my light fleece, rain pants, wind breaker and rain poncho. All other normal gear was taken too. A storm can form literally out of nowhere this time of the year. One hour the sky is perfectly blue and the next hour or two you have a thunderstorm shooting to 20 or 30,000 feet. That is the monsoons. The temp at the summit was 75 degrees and a summer storm could instantly lower that by 30 or 40 degrees. Evaporation is a powerful thing. Been there done that. I carry a heavier pack than most out here. It makes a difference near the end though. :lol I am a bit stiff in the joints today but it was worth it.

©2003 Glen Lewis

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