It had been twenty some years since I ventured to the top of Mt. Lemmon, just to the North of Tucson, Arizona. Not a difficult venture at all, but one that has been too far off my path of travel to make worth while. As I was at the Biosphere yesterday afternoon with my colleague Don Boonstra, and the thought of returning to the heat of Phoenix too much to bear, I drove up Catalina Canyon, just as the sun set, and turned into a campground whose name I now forget.
I didn’t have any cash, and as such could not complete the self-registration form for a site. Instead, I drove to the farthest end of the campground, the sites numbered over 60. There I found a parking lot at the trail head to a lake. It was empty other than an SUV which parked long enough for the drive and passenger to venture to the lake for a skinny dip (or so I presumed, given the laughter and breathless giggles as they returned … of course, there are other things they could have done, but they weren’t gone very long.)
I pulled in backward so as to orient my car to slope from head to foot, with me laying in the back. I left the windows part way down and enjoyed the cold, pine ladened night air. Only for the image of waking to a bear tugging on the bottom of my blanket (and toes) did I not leave the back of my Subaru Forester open.
I set the alarm for 5 am so as to leave the park without being asked to pay. I know, not a good standard, but it has been many years, more than a decade since I slept-n-ran at a National Forest campground. And given that my phone had died, the time slewed, and my 5 am alarm woke me at what I later realized was 3:30 am, I didn’t feel too bad. (Yes, it occurred to me that the sun should have been up, not a star in the sky, yet I didn’t put all the pieces together until later …)
I enjoyed four, maybe four and a half hours of sleep before driving the last half hour to the top of the mountain. I drove through Summitville, and explored a trail head on the far side. Back to a turn-out that looked over the Eastern side of Mt. Lemmon and the Oracle Control Road.
Wrapped in a blanket, the calming sound of pine trees moved by a constant breeze, I intentionally missed the sunrise by my eyes, but enjoyed its warm greeting on my face.
Despite the early rise, shuffle, and sleep spent in two beds, by 7:30 am I had slept better than I had in weeks. I woke to a breakfast of yogurt and a bagel, then went to use the National Park Service restroom. To my surprise, a bird was flitting from one side to the other while I was inside, just over my head. It was unable to get out while the door was shut. I opened the door, and it immediately departed.
Then something caught my eye. Its nest was made on the corner of the interior window sill. As an NPR story I had listened to the day before shared the results of researchers moving bird nests to see if they would be discovered again resulted in a positive pattern, I thought it would be best to move the nest just outside the door, less than a meter away.
However, upon carefully lowering the nest into the palm of my hand, I discovered four sleeping chicks, incredibly small, fuzzy, and not even disturbed by the motion. Only when I made too abrupt a move did they stir, lift their heads, and open their beaks. I photographed them, then returned the next to its original location.
I returned to my car to make a sign to hang on the wall, to ask patrons of this facility to NOT close the door so that the mother can come and go. Upon re-entering the restroom, the mother bird had returned to the nest. That’s good.
I attempted to make my way down the backside of Mt. Lemmon, on Old Mt. Lemmon Road. While I had done so easily in a low-clearance Subaru hatchback many years before, my Forester struggled to find angles of approach that did not expose its underbelly to sharp rocks and small boulders that now stood out in this clearly unmaintained road.
With a conference call looming, I had no choice but to turn around and head back up the seemingly one-way road, back onto the pavement, and home.