A Royal Hike

On February 1st, 2018, 13 students from Imago Dei Middle School embarked on an adventure into Kings Canyon in Tucson Mountain Park. Our goal was to explore the anthropological significance of this area by observing petroglyphs and culturally important flora and fauna in this area. The students were very excited for another desert hike and the chance to adventure through endless arroyos. During this time of year, we were beginning to see the first flower blooms signifying that spring was coming. A good time to observe any natural landscape and ecosystem, a better time to play in them.

Our hike began like most do, with every student wound like a twisted rubber band, waiting for the moment they can be released and shot off to discover anything and everything. Luckily the trail immediately drops into a significantly wide arroyo, full of deep soft sand, large round boulders, and a cactus-free path wide and long enough for these students to move freely. In the desert, free movement usually comes with a high price. The students began bounding through the dirt, but not so long after came to an abrupt halt. A large piece of bedrock emerged from the dirt, and in it were three deep and round holes as wide as a large grapefruit. The students stood puzzled, so I asked them what might have created this? “Erosion!” “animals digging!” “rain!”. Martin Acuna, a Pascua Yaqui youth, City High senior and SOS intern gathered the students and explained what they were and how they formed. Tinajas are depressions in bedrock stone formed from seasonal monsoon rains, that were utilized by local indigenous tribes to collect water and process food.

As we continued, youth searched for animal tracks, bugs, birds, animal homes and interesting plants. Arroyos are galleries of the local flora and fauna. Since everything is drawn to the opportunity of water, we were able to observe the full biodiversity of this Sonoran Desert area. Further into our hike, we approached a spot where water seeped out of the ground, and nowhere else. A swarm of bees, maybe from multiple hives, congregated at this pool to soak up as much moisture as possible. With caution, we observed the bees’ behavior, and students and staff alike were hypnotized by the swarms docile yet energetic behavior. Together we discussed the honey bees’ introduction into North America, how they affect local flora and fauna in their large pollinating swarms, and what other pollinators are abundant in the Sonoran Desert. We also talked about honey bee behavior, and together we deconstructed false myths about aggressive bee behavior. Imago Dei students were excited to learn that bees were not aggressively murderous animals.

We stopped to eat lunch below petroglyphs that were marked on high rock faces. Seasonal water rushes and pulls loose soil beneath the rock, leaving the petroglyphs high above the arroyo. Together we marveled at the markings and discussed why people might have made them. We tried to interpret the stories these markings may have intended to tell. We discussed how important marking like these are to migrating peoples when understanding each other and the landscape around. The youth were interested, but ancient markings on the rock had a hard time capturing the attention of such young humans, who were obsessed with all of the moving beauty that surrounded us.

Eventually, the sun became heavy on our shoulders and made hiking very difficult. Kings Canyon provided less and less shade and required more breaks and careful calculations. Eventually, we had our fill of sun, and decided it was time to hike back.  David Holiday once taught a lesson about friendships he develops the wild things we encounter outdoors. As we hiked back, we saw all of the things that captured our attention, newest to oldest. This excited the youth and gave them a sense of relationship with the things we spent so much time pondering and observing. By the time we returned to the vehicles, it was as if the youth were leaving a home. It is often said, the more we learn, the more we love. The more we love, the more we will protect. Hopefully,   the youth from Imago Dei Middle School will continue to learn, love, and protect the wild places that are so important to us.