Kayaking under the Saguaros

 “I just need a break,” I said to my family and friends – from work, long hours, restless nights; from being on the go for too long; from multi-tasking my way through the day to accomplish everything I need to do; from the long, hard Wisconsin winter; from being cold even in my parka and insulated stocking cap; from brown grass, leafless trees and gray skies. I just need a break from my everyday life.

Spring break was just what I needed… and my husband’s business trip to Arizona was the perfect timing and destination to fulfill my need.

I checked out for the week, determined to avoid my work email and any unrequired demands on my time. I packed four books, sunscreen and running shoes—along with kayaking sandals and a drybag.

We landed in Phoenix late Saturday night and picked up our rental car. It took 80 frustrating minutes to get through the rental car line, but I’ll forgive Budget since they upgraded us to a brand-new, gorgeous white Ford Mustang at no extra charge. Just past 10 p.m. (midnight to our bodies), we hit the road, driving south for an hour and 45 minutes to Tucson for the night.

Continuing our National Park quest, we spent the next day touring Saguaro National Park on the outskirts of Tucson, hiking for hours in the Saguaro West Tucson Mountain District before lunch and exploring the Saguaro East Rincon Mountain District in the afternoon. The saguaro cacti are incredible, living up to 200 years and weighing up to 7 tons. Saguaros grow very slowly at first, an inch or so during their first six to eight years. It may be 70 years before they sprout branches, or arms. They reach full height, 40-50 feet, at about age 150. The tallest may reach 75 feet.

We loved working up a sweat and basking in the warmth after a cold Wisconsin winter. Around every bend and over every hilltop, the views never ceased to amaze us: saguaro, hedgehog, barrel and fishbrook cacti, staghorn and teddy-bear cholla, Texas prickly-pear, palmer agave, creosote, catclaw, ocotillo, and trees like mesquite, ironwood and palo verde along with multicolored rock formations and mountains.

Precipitation this winter resulted in a green (per Arizona standards) spring and numerous wildflowers, creating a vision of golds, blues and oranges under the saguaro forests. Sunny and warm, the skies bright blue and cloudless day after day, spring in Arizona was the change I needed. I let the heat seep into my body and the sunshine boost my spirits.

To end the day, we drove four hours north on curvy mountain roads to Show Low, Arizona. It was probably best for us to travel in the dark as to not see what lay far, far below the edges of the road. And the elk warning signs are legit; we saw a stunning elk cow along the side of the road as we approached the city.

On Monday, we drove a short way to Petrified Forest National Park. The landscape is scattered with fossilized logs, a kaleidoscope of fiery reds, oranges and purples, and some even sparkle with crystals. Rivers carried the trees to the floodplain here 225 million years ago. Silica-rich volcanic ash buried the trees before they could decompose. Groundwater dissolved the silica, which seeped into the logs and eventually crystallized into quartz, iron, manganese and other colorful minerals.

We took in most of the sites from the Rainbow Forest Museum & Visitor Center on the south side to the Painted Desert Visitor Center on the north side. And of course, two visitor centers meant the purchase of a few items to take home: National Park Geek stickers for the girls, a shirt for Greg and a Smokey the Bear baseball cap for me.

We returned to Phoenix for my husband’s business conference on water stewardship, and I was blessed with two full days to do whatever I wanted, two days where I could have chosen to shop and go, go, go across the city, but instead, I rested: slept in, sunned myself poolside, went for short walks to the coffee shop and read books. In one book, A Little More About Me by Pam Houston, the author shared her adventures in the wild west as a hunting guide, whitewater rafter, mountain climber, and more, serving as the perfect inspiration to keep moving and living life to the fullest.

We took Houston’s advice and planned one last adventure for the week: kayaking on Saguaro Lake, a man-made reservoir in the Tonto National Forest. We met the kayak outfitters at the Butcher Jones Recreation Center. We arrived early and so did they, and they allowed us to push off from shore at 9:30 a.m., 30 minutes in advance of our original start time.

The kayaks were different than our own sit-in ones. They were sit-on-top kayaks, putting us a little higher on the water but we felt comfortable, never unstable.

We paddled away from shore. And we just kept paddling, jaws dropping at and phone cameras capturing the incredible scenery: rock formations, saguaro along the lake and up the hills, wildflowers, mountains in the distance. The water was warm and we saw speed boats pulling water skiers and wakeboarders. But for the most part, this Friday morning, the lake was quiet and peaceful. I forgot it was actually March!

We turned around at 11:15 a.m. and made our way back the way we’d come. The wind had picked up, gusting through the canyons, reminding us to focus more on our paddling than the scenery. Like a game of keep-away, the wind lifted my baseball cap off my head and sent it swirling into the lake—my new Smokey the Bear hat, just purchased days earlier at Petrified Forest National Park. I turned my kayak around to grab it but didn’t get close enough and missed it my first attempt. Panicked as it continued to sink into the water, I quickly twirled around again and snatched it, completely soaked from the lake.

We continued our journey back to the recreation center. Our kayaks due back at 1 p.m., we pulled ashore at 12:57 p.m.—the first ones on the water and the last ones off, getting the most out of our rental dollars.

All in all, a rather uneventful paddle but a most enjoyable day, the perfect way to finish off our week in Arizona. My seven-day agenda was to rest, relax and rejuvenate. Mission accomplished.

While spring has arrived in Wisconsin per the calendar, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Yet I feel I can now make it through the coming weeks of rain and chilly weather until it becomes warm enough that I can hit the local lakes in my two orange kayaks.  

4 thoughts on “Kayaking under the Saguaros

Add yours

  1. What beautiful pictures. All your information on the cactus was very interesting
    had no idea there were so many different kinds. Sounds like you had a wonderful
    trip nice and relaxing.


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