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Hiking Finger Rock Trail following a blizzard
A Winter Hike in the Santa Catalina Mountains
Hiking in wilderness areas can be dangerous and hikers are warned by signs at the start of wilderness trails to make sure they are adequately prepared before entering such areas. In most cases, common sense is what is really needed.
Before setting out on a hike on a long trail into remote back country, one should make sure they are well prepared. However, for those embarking on a planned short walk along the well-marked beginning of such trails may only require some comfortable hiking shoes, a bottle of water and sun screen.
Embarking on a hike into a mountain canyon almost immediately after a blizzard is not a good idea – that is unless the blizzard is nothing more than hype by ratings hungry media and local government nannies eager to appear to be doing something.
News Broadcasts Before the Storm Made it Sound Ominous
News reports a day or two before the change in weather described the change as a big storm was heading eastward across the western half of the nation. Southern Arizona, where I live, was in the path.
The news was full of warnings that temperatures were expected to drop by twenty degrees or more and be accompanied by a blizzard.
The local emergency preparedness crowd was also active as both my wife and I heard loud buzzing on our cell phones while having dinner the night before. Our phones warned us to be prepared for the coming blizzard and accompanying big drop in temperature.
This was apparently blasted to cell phones all over southern Arizona despite the fact that only areas in elevations above 2000 were considered to be in danger from the storm.
While a twenty degree drop is big, it must be remembered that the average February temperature in Tucson, Arizona fluctuates between 41 and 69 degrees with daytime temperatures ranging from the mid-fifties to low seventies and night-time temperatures frequently in the low forties. Daytime temperatures prior to the storm were in the seventy degree range.
Storm Hit on Wednesday
Wednesday morning dawned bright and relatively warm but temperatures dropped into the forties shortly before noon and it began to snow in the city.
Everyone ran outdoors to take pictures of the event. At noon my car and the other cars at work were covered with snow but there was no accumulation on the pavement.
By one o’clock the blizzard had become a light, misty rain and the only visible accumulation of snow was rapidly melting off the cars in the parking lot.
When I left the office at five o’clock the temperature was in the high thirties and the snow had completely melted the cars.
A light and very wet snow was falling but melted as soon as it hit the ground. Many people had apparently gone home early as traffic was less congested than usual but driving was somewhat difficult due to the continuing precipitation and light fog.
Rooftops Blanketed with Snow
As I approached the area where I live, which is a few hundred feet higher than central Tucson, there was evidence of snow on roof tops and ground. The road was wet but lacked both snow and ice.
As the Santa Catalina Mountains, which are close to my neighborhood and which had been obscured by the sleet and fog while driving, came into view I noticed they were white with snow from the base to the top.
Usually snow only falls on the top third of the mountains.
Daylight was quickly fading but I was able to pull over to the side of the road and take a couple pictures with my cell phone. All the homes on my street had snow on their roofs and satellite dishes.
Apparently satellite dishes installed in desert areas aren’t designed to work when covered with snow as all the subscribers in our area lost satellite TV for a few hours that evening.
Scenery Day After Storm was Spectacular
Thursday dawned cool and partly cloudy. Like many employers, mine was closed that day and the next for Rodeo Days, Tucson’s annual rodeo parade and rodeo which is the official start of the professional rodeo season.
While I didn’t attend this year, the parade and rodeo events proceeded as scheduled.
I had an appointment on the other side of town and the twenty mile drive on dry roads was spectacular as both the Tucson Mountains to the west of me and the Santa Catalina Mountains on the north were covered with snow and looked brilliant in the early morning sun.
City was a Photo Wonderland
I had my camera with me and took pictures whenever I could. The drive back was even better, especially once I turned north and had the Santa Catalina Mountains directly ahead of me.
The closer I got the more impressive they looked. That is when I decided to detour a little and swing by the Finger Rock Trail Head at the foot of the mountains.
My son, Victor, and I hike here frequently and it is a great area.
It had not occurred to me to go hiking that day and I really wasn’t prepared. I was wearing good shoes and dressed in a business casual outfit. I also had no water or snacks to sustain me on a serious hike.
However, I did have an old pair of shoes with rubber soles that I keep in the car to wear when I want to take a walk on my lunch hour at work. I also had a light jacket and, most important, my camera.
I Parked My Car and Took a Hike
The small parking lot was nearly full with cars, but I only encountered two or three other hikers on my hike.
The jacket turned out to be a mistake. While the weather was cool, probably high fifties or low sixties, there was no wind where I was hiking and the sun had come out which, along with the energy I was exerting, produced enough heat to cause me to shed the jacket and having to carry it.
Despite the presence of other hikers, we were well dispersed with each of us having plenty of solitude. The air was fresh and clean and the only sounds were of birds chirping. There were impressive views of the snow covered mountains ahead and spectacular views of the city laying in the valley behind me.
While the elevation increases as one heads up the trail, the slope is not that great for the first mile or so.
A Great Day to Enjoy the Outdoors
However, even this, semi-level, portion of the trail does produce a good aerobic workout.
The mouth of Finger Rock Canyon is located about a mile from the trail head. Here the trail becomes progressively steeper and, in the higher regions, the trail frequently becomes very narrow and rocky with an occasional steep drop off.
I was not prepared to hike up the canyon this day and I wouldn’t be surprised if the narrow trail in the upper reaches was slippery with ice and snow.
All in all, my impromptu hike left me physically and spiritually refreshed along with numerous pictures of the beautiful blanket of snow that covered the mountains as a result of the blizzard.
Map Showing Location of Finger Rock Trail Head
Approximate Location of Finger Rock Trail Head at end of N. Alvernon Way, in Tucson, AZ