Balancing Our Way Into Bear Canyon
We’ve been in Tucson for just over a month now, and with the last of our boxes unpacked and recycled, we’re settling in to the business of exploring our new town. One of the things we love is the easy access to trails in every direction. We live just a few miles from the entrance to the eastern section of Saguaro National Park, and it’s just about a 30-minute drive to the western section of the park and other national forest recreation areas to the north and south.
This past weekend, looking to shake out our heavy post-holiday legs and enjoy a spell of warmer-than-usual weekend weather, we drove up to the Sabino Canyon parking area in Coronado National Forest, on the north side of the city. We’d been to Sabino once before, in early November before we officially moved here, and we were eager to return and try another trail. But instead of heading back into Sabino Canyon, we set out from the visitor’s center on a trail leading east into neighboring Bear Canyon with a destination of Seven Falls.
We began with intentions of running the full trail, but after a mile or so of steady travel over rocky and hilly dirt terrain, we slowed down to tackle our first water crossing. The trail should have been called “Seven Tricky Water Crossings” since that’s what we encountered. It still strikes me as strange to find so much water in the desert, but it’s not uncommon, especially after rounds of rain in the valley or snowfall in the mountains. Several inches of mountain snow on New Year’s Day followed by temps in the 60s meant rushing water all along Bear Canyon, including by and across the well-traveled trail.
Most of the crossings were made possible by a series of large stones thoughtfully placed across the streams, but the rocks were slick and not always above the water line. A few crossings required a literal leap of faith, and at least one involved squatting low, fully extending a leg and trusting the strength of a random pile of sticks. We managed to make it across all the crossings (14 in total on our out-and-back route), and with one left-foot exception on the return trip, we were fortunate not to take an unexpected dip in the drink.
Bear Canyon Trail is maintained and marked, but not always well, and it took us a few extra minutes to find our way once or twice. The trail was crowded with families, couples and an apparent tour group or two, but for the most part, we had enough space around us to chat freely and experience stretches of relative solitude as we climbed deeper into the canyon. It took us a little more than 2 ½ hours to complete the 9-mile round trip adventure, including time to rest and snack at the hidden falls. Four miles from nowhere, deep off the grid, we watched a group of twenty-somethings brave the icy waters for a photo op. Perhaps we’ll return in the summer when a cool canyon dip will seem like a good idea to us thirty-somethings, too. –J.