Monday January 28, 2013
Since I’ve already done a few mommy/daughter days on my visit here, it was time for a daddy/daughter day. Back when we were first planning this little side trip out to Arizona, and the whole 7 days it took from when they asked to when I left, I was asked what I wanted to do while visiting. At the top of my list was to do some mountain hiking. Back when Matt and I had come here a few years ago my parents had brought us out to Piestewa Peak, and the two of us had a blast climbing up to the top. Or more accurately, my brother and I slowly climbed to the top while Matt ran it, came back down to get us, and went back up again. Since I didn’t have anyone as nimble as me to do a hike to the top of a mountain with, we changed plans so my dad could take me to Mt. Lemmon, just outside of Tucson. Although there are trails that lead all through this mountain, there is also a long and winding road that leads up to a ski resort and a little town at the top. This sounded like something we could handle.
First things first though, my dad had to get a little work out of the way and visit one of the local colleges in Tucson to do a little recruiting/informational seminar. This meant a 5:30 wake up call for me as there was still a two hour dive before the 8 am meeting. Having chugged a coffee on the way down, I quickly cracked open a Monster Energy drink as soon as we hit the cafeteria, trying to recover from the five hours of sleep my busy brain left me with. But there was wifi and guilt free time to do work on the blog, so I happily sat among the students while my dad went to do his thing. I was even feeling, shall we say, half awake by the time he came back to pick me up.
Since the dark weather cloud was still hanging over my head, the weather for the day was forecasted to be slightly less than favorable. We had encountered downpours almost the whole ride down (Really Arizona? That much rain in one visit?), and there were many low lying clouds covering the tops of many of the mountains we passed. My big worry was that we’d get to the top of this 6.500 ft mountain that’s supposed to offer beautiful views into the valley, and not be able to see anything but the dense fog in front of our faces. Temperatures were low as well, high 40’s while we were driving through the valley, and my dad declared that for every 1,000 feet you go up in elevation, the temperature drops approximetly five degrees. Still starting over 2,000 feet over sea level we only had about 4,000 feet to go up, but that might equate to a drop of 20 degrees in the temperature! That would put us under freezing, and might even give me the chance to see snow.
As we drove along the stretch that led to the road at the base of the mountain we saw one of those flashing roadside signs, blinking ‘ICY’, and we just laughed. Dismissive at first, and then we began to watch the temperature drop. Just a few degrees here and there, but it was enough to make us keep a close eye on the roads. As we drove up, there was a drastic change in scenery every 1,500 or so feet. The bottom most level was filled with rocks and cacti as far as the eye could see. Even though there was 20 miles from the beginning of the road until you reached the town, we kept rising in elevation and left the cacti behind for small trees and shrubs. By this point the temperature had also dropped into the 30’s and we were taking that ‘Caution, Icy’ sign very seriously now, as we were in a pickup truck without rear wheel drive, and skidding on these icy roads could have very dire consequences.
It was also around this time that we had reached those clouds that had been hanging so low in the air. Visibility went down to just a hundred feet in front of us. There’s such a strange sensation when you’re driving at the edge of a cliff with only a guardrail protecting you from a thousand foot drop, and not being able to see a thing past the guardrail. I still can’t tell if it was giving me a false sense of security, not being able to see what was down there, or the images in my head which were probably 10x worse of what was down there. Which is strange because normally I’m not scared at all of heights and love the thrill of looking over the edge of a cliff. Maybe I’ve finally realized that we’re not as invincible as we all think we are. There were a few more times when my heart jumped up as the temperature had dropped below freezing and we’d hit a slick spot in the road, tires spinning for just a second before kicking back into gear again.
The little bits of snow that we had seen here and there on the side of the road were now beginning to cover everything and the pine trees we were now passing were caked in icicles. We had finally reached the top of the mountain though, at 8,200 feet. Doing a quick pass of the ski slopes we then turned on to the main road of the town and pulled into one of the restaurants for lunch. As we started walking up to the door my dad observed, “I think I just saw a snow flake”, at which point we both looked up, but couldn’t tell if there was snow falling from the sky, or if just a few flakes had blown off the trees in the high wind. Rushing inside to get out of the cold, we took a booth against a side wall, trying to keep away from the windows that were letting frigid air in. My dad talked about the few times he had come up before with my mom, and how they always talked about renting a cottage up there for a weekend, as each time they had come before didn’t seem like long enough.
As he was telling me this, we both kept glancing out the windows to see what the weather was doing. It had in fact begun to snow. Just a light little dusting at first, creating a picturesque postcard scene of the mountain. We browsed the menu, ordered our food, and by the time our drinks hit the table it was no longer just a dusting out there, it was snowing hard! Still watching, we made little jokes about how we were probably going to have to skip having our wine while sitting out at one of the picnic tables further up the road, our original plan after lunch. By the time our food came, it was a whiteout outside. And to make matters worse, the wind was still blowing, hard. When it would die down we could see the flakes falling directly down from the sky, but most of the time it was coming in sideways, and sometimes swirling in circles.
At this point we were worried about being able to make it back down. Even though the food was amazing (Come on, a shaved beef brisket dip with sweet potato tots? I can’t say anything bad about that), we were starting to rush through our meals, allowing ourselves to get going again as soon as possible. Looking at my dad I was still able to make one crack. “You know how you wanted to stay in a cottage here? Maybe that will be tonight”. Keeping an eye to make sure things didn’t get worse, he was still confident with the weather as it was, and wasn’t ready to leave quite yet. Paying the tab we got back in the truck, digging out the winter coats we had brought for just this reason. Driving up the road a little more he wanted to show me the picnic area that him and my mom like to visit, full of boulders and trees, and described as pure heaven.
Driving the one mile up the road to this area, we got there and found they had closed that section of the road! Gates had swung out to keep any vehicles from traveling down it, and we were now shut out. From what I could see, it did look like it would have been beautiful, and I still jumped out of the truck to snap a few pictures. Since that plan was now out, we decided to stop in the general store for some of their famous fudge. Talking to the guy behind the counter we made some comments about the snow and he replies with, “Yup, we’re supposed to get about 6-8″ today, but the good thing is, they haven’t closed the road down yet”. Excuse me, did I hear you right? 6-8 inches of snow? Roads closing down? This was all we needed to hear before jumping back in the truck to make it out while we still could (fudge in hand, of course). Possibly sounding a little too much like my mom on the drive down I kept giving my dad instructions of “Make sure to go really slow, we’re not in any kind of rush.” “If someone comes up behind you, just pull over and let them pass. Don’t feel the need to speed up because they’re on your tail”. I know, I know, I’m terrible. But plunging off a cliff in icy roads was not something I felt like experiencing that day.
We were able to get out of the snow just fine, and as soon as we hit 6,500 ft, the snow disappeared, and the skies cleared up. It was still cold as hell out (we hit a low of 25 near the top of the mountain), but at least now we could stop at all the little scenic looks and get out to see the views. They were much better this time around, now that we could actually, you know, see. Stopping near the bottom we did finally enjoy our wine and cheese, the now 45 degree temperatures feeling like a heat wave compared to where we had just been an hour ago. But even wine can only keep you warm for so long, and as soon as the clouds rolled in and the wind kicked up again, it was back in the car and on our way home.
The views from up here are a-m-a-z-i-n-g!
Snowball fights in Arizona, why not?