Hiking into the Sunset

On March 29th, 2018, 9 students from Mansfeld Middle School embarked on a rugged adventure into the Santa Catalina Mountains. This was the second of three expeditions, and on this day, we planned to hike Sunset Trail to explore the secret flowing pools of water that crown this area. Our goal was to discuss the relationship between desert Sky Islands and perennial and seasonal water, while playing in the mixed conifer forests that thrive at this elevation. Some of these students had never explored Mt.Lemmon, most have never swum and played in the deep pools that can be found here. March is the month of perfect weather, which means it is the perfect month for outdoor adventure and learning.

We parked at the trailhead and began our descent into the entrance of the canyon. The trees grow large and are swollen from the perennial water. The riparian qualities add marshes of grass and reeds which brings more diversity to the expedition. As result, the birds and insects seem t be loud and busy t work and play. In a thick grove of foliage, the sound of hundreds if not thousands of bees brought anxiety to the students, who have been taught to fear bees. We discussed the myths and facts that swarm bees, and what the appropriate behavior and actions are when encountering various situations. In this case, sweet budding flowers and an abundance of water provided an oasis to the bees. The flowers hung from a young grove of unidentified trees, adding the option of height to the layers of sound. It sounded like a hive might exist in the area, but upon further inspection, we learned it was only a popular spot. So one at a time with extreme caution, students stepped into the bee market, and were able to submerge themselves into the thousands of vibrating and buzzing wings. Disabling myths and reconstructing them into an honest experience is what learning is all about.

As we hiked we found the beautiful pools that highlight this trail. The students took turns dipping their heads into the freezing cold pools, enjoying the moisture that is so hard to come by here in the desert. Inside these pools existed a whole other world that was in complete contrast to the dry mountain environment above. Looking in, students were able to see the flora and fauna that created an entire ecosystem. It is always shocking to youth to see such complicated systems existing in such a small, and relatively rare place. So pool after pool, we peered into the hidden aquatic worlds, dipped in, and moved on to explore further.

After a while, the trail takes us to a    wide open area of exposed garnet bedrock, which halts at a 50’ cliff that drains a waterfall into a large pool below. Here we ate lunch, and marveled at the vast views of opposing valley walls that are furry with tall pine trees and jagged rock monoliths. Here we took a moment of silence, to listen, feel, and observe the landscape around us as it was. Often this is what students describe as their favorite part of expeditions. It offers them an opportunity that is almost exclusive to the outdoors. The opportunity to be silent and listen to anything else besides human sounds. We talked about what wildlife live on this mountain, and what this perennial water provides to those animals. Students are always fascinated by the descriptions of bears, lions, jaguars, coatimundi, deer, and so many others, that roam or roamed this area not long ago. It lets their imaginations wander into the reality f the wild places we explore, that are so close to our homes. Reminding youth about the wild places and things that are our neighbors reminds them to be polite, caring, and active in their role as desert dwellers and caretakers.

The hike back was almost nostalgic. We learned and experienced so much in such little time, wandering back to the vehicles lets us remember how little we knew only moments ago. David holiday describes his experience hiking like meeting new people, and returning past the trees and bugs and pools and rocks is like bumping into those things as if they were old friends. For Mansfeld, they made many friends, and they’ll be able to return to say hello hopefully for the rest of their lives.