Cross Country Camp circa 2012

I had just broken up with my future husband and my new running buddy had just been laid off.  We both had some spare time on our hands and decided to spend it trail running.  So we planned a trip to Durango and Telluride, CO, packed up the camping equipment, and stole away to the mountains to become reacquainted with the things that made us “who we are” through lots and lots of trail runs. We dubbed this running vacation “Cross-Country Camp.” Upon arriving home, we vowed to repeat the experience every year to make sure we never lost touch again.  Six years later….we finally made it back out.  This time to Tucson, AZ.

Why Tucson?  The main reason is that it is the middle of October and anything North of there was risky when it came to weather.  But I had also heard enchanting things about the Tucson desert and wanted to see it for myself.

Day 1: Sabino Canyon
Sabino Canyon is a place of recreation right in the heart of the city.  In fact the hotel we stayed at was less than 10 minutes from this great place.  We used our National Parks Pass to park ($5 for users who don’t have an annual pass) and then paid $8/ea to take the shuttle to the top of the canyon.  Along the way, the shuttle driver pointed out significant geographical landmarks and shared information about the local flora and fauna.  We got off the shuttle at the final stop (Stop 9) and hiked up the switchbacks to the top of the canyon.  From there we ran down the Phoneline Trail and back to the Visitor’s Center.  This 4.5 mile run was a great way for us to get our legs under us while drinking in the Saguaro cacti.  They are truly spectacular and seem other-worldly when you are used to Aspens quaking in the breeze.

Some fun facts: 

  • The Saguaro is native to and only grows in the Sonoran Desert.
  • Saguaro can live to be 200 years old.
  • It takes 70 years for a Saguaro to grow its first limb.
  • Limbs usually grow in symmetry so that the cactus can keep its balance.
  • As a cactus limb dies, it starts to droop (I called these dancing cacti because they look like the are dancing or bowing).
  • When a cactus dies it leaves behind a woody rib cage (picture below) that can be used for building roofs, furniture, fences, etc.
  • Most of the Saguaro roots are only 4-6″ deep but is as wide-spread as the plant is tall.  It has one root that can be as deep as 2 feet underground.

Day 2: Saguaro National Park East
Saguaro National Park is split into two sections, the East and the West.  Tucson sits smack-dab in the middle of the two sections.  We used the trails map published by the park and did the Garwood Loop (5.6 miles).  We accidentally ran the loop backward and ended up finishing in the cacti forest.  I always save the best for last so I am glad we made the mistake.  The strangest thing about running in a cacti forest is that nothing moves.  All the different forms of cacti are completely still so when a gust of wind comes up there is no change.  This is what contributes to these Saguaro forests being so foreign.  It really feels like you are on another planet. Note: there is no water at the trail head or in the park so make sure you bring enough with you.  Even in October it was 90* by 10:00 am!

Day 3: Saguaro National Park West
There are more trails and a more extensive road system in the West portion of the park.  We ran Hugh Norris, to Esperanza, to Dobe Wash, to Hohokam Road.  This loop turned out to be almost 7 miles.  You climb to the top of a ridge line on Hugh Norris.  Then you traverse along the ridge on Esperanza (still uphill) until you drop quickly and steeply down on Dobe Wash trail.  Hohokam road is dirt so we still felt like we were trail running but you could also run in Bajada Wash if you don’t feel like you have enough sand in your socks yet or if you want to add a little extra mileage. This was my favorite run and we even had a really fun time doing photo shoots!

Day 4: Running on the Golf Course
We needed a break from sand in our shoes so we hit the golf course at the resort where we were staying.  Cart paths are awesome because they are a preset route with a little undulation.  We were out and about before the golfers and because we were staying at a private resort, no one kicked us off! Little known fact: most 18-hole golf courses have about a 10k in cart paths.

We also used our off day to do a some touristy things so we headed down to Tombstone, home of the OK Corral Shootout, to watch the gunfight reenactment and experience some overpriced old west.  It was a TON of fun (for a few hours). In case you aren’t familiar with it (I wasn’t) the shootout at OK Corral was one of the only actual factual gun fights that happened in the old west.  Wikipedia became a good friend of ours while visiting this little town.

Day 5: Mexican Border
For our final run, we decided that we were close enough to the Mexican-American border, we may as well run to it!  We found Coronado National Memorial where we ran the Joe’s Canyon Trail to Yaqui Ridge Trail and then back out the same way. We checked in at the visitor’s center to make sure we weren’t running ourselves into danger and we were glad we did when this sign was posted at the trail head.  After getting the go-ahead we did the 7 mile run sans trouble or any other living thing.  Notice: the human sized holes in the fence below.

The result of our running retreat? I got my running mojo back and we saw some amazing places! Would we go back to Tucson?  Absolutely!  The place was very runner friendly with good food and beautiful scenery.  But we like to see lots of running places so the traveling trail runner will likely choose a different place to host cross-country camp next time.


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