Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Rose Canyon

We finally made our first trip in the 1995 VW Eurovan camper we bought in July 2006. What took us so long? We wanted to take our first trip

in August 2006 to the Chiricahuas, but the morning we were supposed to leave, excruciating back pain put me in the hospital for three days. Now, 42 pounds lighter and a lot healthier, I am finally ready for a one night shake-down trip to the Catalinas.

Sunday afternoon we headed up the
Catalina Highway. Molino campground was closed. General Hitchcock only has a few sites, and they were filled. Past Windy Point, we turned down the road to Rose Canyon. Ever since I read Cadillac Desert, I have been opposed to dams, particularly dams on the rare and precious rivers of the Southwest. I was not interested in seeing the abomination that plugged up Rose Canyon to make a crowded fishing hole. But the next and last campground was Spencer Canyon, five miles further and 1,000 feet higher, and it would be dark soon. We thought it would be cold enough at 7,000 feet, so Rose Canyon it was.

Most of the camp sites at Rose Canyon are for tents, and we were a little sheepish about now requiring a site for an RV. After a lot of driving around looking for the perfect combination of level site, privacy and view, we chose site 46. We popped the camper top, got the stove fired up, and Steve made some fried eggs to go with the spinach and lentils, Spanish rice and fresh veggies we’d packed. We ate at the picnic table and rejoiced that we and the camper finally made a trip to somewhere that isn’t a repair shop.

Something strange is going on in Rose Canyon, and maybe all over Mount Lemmon. A lot of pines have been chopped down, cut into five foot logs, and stacked into teepee-shaped piles. On top of each pile is a square yard of clear plastic, with a few more logs on top. The plastic is not enough to keep the logs dry; it’s only enough to make the piles ugly and non-biodegradable. We suppose this has something to do with thinning the forest in the aftermath of the horrible
Aspen Fire, which burned for almost a month in summer 2003 and covered 85,000 acres before the monsoon put it out. If the forest had to be thinned, why were the logs left here to rot? We remembered a few years ago after some thinning, the Forest Service offered firewood-sized logs to anyone who wanted to haul them away. The waste and the ugliness were sad.

Our first wildlife sighting was of some big, beautiful squirrels. With tufted ears, bright white bibs and paws, and gorgeous fluffy tails with white undersides, these were clearly not the Arizona gray squirrels that run across our patio. These were Abert’s squirrels, or tassel-eared squirrels. They entertained us with turf wars that sent them spiraling around the pine trees. Those log teepees seem to be favored dining spots and lookouts.

We walked down the road in search of the "lake", but it was too dark to see much. We could see plenty of bear-proof garbage cans and signs warning us of bear country. We don’t think there are really any bears left up here after the unfortunate bear/human conflicts a few years ago resulted in several bears being killed or moved off the mountain, which is the same thing. Still, I was a little unnerved by every movement in the dark woods. Steve turned on his flashlight and we saw a juvenile deer about 20 feet from us. True to form, it froze and stared at us until Steve turned off the light. We walked up the road to Catalina Highway and back, a round trip of about two miles. We knew we were walking in thin air.

We got back to the camper and delighted in its Swiss-Army-knife qualities. Besides the gas cooktop, we have a water pump and sink, a propane/AC/DC refrigerator (which still doesn’t work all that great after the hundreds of dollars I have spent on it), jalousie windows with screens, exhaust fan, solar panels, tables, front seats that swivel to face the tables, lots of storage nooks, and two beds. The beds are small, and the attic bed under the pop-up roof induces claustrophobia and bruised knees, but it was a lot better than sleeping on the ground, especially when the rain started.

The rain continued all night and most of the day, but it was a warm, light rain, and most welcome to desert rats like us. We ate our breakfast at the table inside the camper with the sliding side door open to the fresh and pine-scented air. Deliciously decadent after years dealing with the weather while backpacking or car camping in tents.

We walked down to the end of the road to look for the lake again. This time we found it. I immediately saw why this place is so dear to the hearts of so many Tucsonans. Water in the desert is always fascinating, even when it’s an artificial lake. Fog flowed down through the trees and slid across the lake. Trout jumped into the air as the rain gently dappled the water.

And the birds! Gray jays, robins, mountain chickadees, acorn woodpeckers, white-breasted and pygmy nuthatches, all strangers to Tucson, only a hour away and 4,600 feet lower. The most amazing creature was an osprey. Yes, I know he lives near the ocean, but
Peterson says he also lives by California lakes. This one was just a little extra adventurous. He caught a fish with the characteristic osprey feet-first plunge into the lake, not the glide and grab of an eagle. And he flew with a bend in his wings at his black wrists. An osprey, for sure. What a sight!

As the sun went down, the air turned golden. The pines looked like autumn aspens reflected in the lake. I guess this dam idea isn’t so bad
after all.

We got back to the camper after dark and ate dinner before packing to leave. Steve had the prize wildlife sighting of the trip. While I was up in the attic doing battle with the sleeping bag, Steve was standing inside the camper as a striped skunk walked up to the door. Steve said it was a beautiful beast, with thick shiny fur, not like the scrawny beggar skunks we have seen sneaking around Provincetown on Cape Cod (or in our furnace closet at home, for that matter). By the time I was able to get out of the attic, the skunk had ambled away with his dignity and wildness intact.

Back down the winding mountain road to millions of lights filling the valley to the horizon. It was a lovely get away. Why did it take so long? When are we going to do it again?

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