Arizona

I spent the last two weeks in Arizona, first hiking in the Saguaro National Park, then at a math conference in Tucson, and finally at the Grand Canyon.

Tucson, the largest is city in southern Arizona, is surrounded by a desert full of cacti. There are several small mountain ranges around and I went to one of them (the Rincon Mountains) to hike for 6 days. As I was walking gradually up the mountains, the nature around greatly changed: from desert in the lower parts, through dry grass- and scrub-lands upto “European” pine forests in the upper reaches (the highest point, Mica Mountain, is 8666 feet above sea level).

All was very simple. After hiking throughout the day with some bread or tortillas, cheese and carrots for lunch, I arrived at a campground. The most important amenity there was a “bear-box”, into which you put all your food and smelly things, so that when a hungry bear or mountain lion comes at night, it doesn’t eat you and your tent. Then the main difficulty was to find water. Spring is generally a relatively wet season there, which meant that you can find an occasional puddle of stale water in a natural rock basin. The joy of encountering an unexpected or “large” pool of water is hard to describe or imagine in our normal, civilized lives. I had to treat the water with chlorine to make it safe – but still it was much better than in the summer, when there is simply usually no water at all.

Then build the tent, collect some wood, make fire (a big advantage of the general dryness is how easy it was!), cook some basic dinner, watch stars, maybe read a little (Cormac McCarthy’s Crossing), and go to sleep. Although the days were relatively warm even high up in the mountains (in the 60s), there was still some snow lying around and nights were often freezing. So I had to put on some clothes to stay warm even in my relatively thick sleeping bag.

And in the morning get up, make porridge for breakfast, pack everything and walk on. That was all; I was really enjoying the simplicity combined with lots of physical activity. Once in a while I got a bit sunburnt at some random place, sometimes got snow into my trusted sandals. Twice there were other people camping nearby me, often there were birds flying above my head. I’m not sure whether fortunately or not, but I haven’t seen any dangerous animals, no bears, mountain lions or rattlesnakes. Total I have probably walked over 65 miles, gaining and losing again maybe 13000 feet of elevation – out of which 18 miles, 3500 feet up, and 4500 feet down were during the longest 5th day, when I walked from Happy Valley Campground down to the hot desert, back up to Cow Head Saddle, and another couple miles down to Douglas Spring Camp.

The conference afterwards was pleasant. I learned some new math, made quite a few friends, and enjoyed hanging out in the jacuzzi at our hotel. And I’ve even seen lots of rattlesnakes and a couple of mountain lions, wolves, and other animals in the Desert Museum (which was rather a zoo than a museum).

Kärt and Gülin, two crazy Fulbrighters from Ann Arbor joined me for the final trip to Grand Canyon. You can read about it and look at some photos at Kärt’s  blog.

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