Pinal Mountains with Miami High School

On April 10th, 2019, 10 students from Miami High School left for what would become a very adventurous day in the Pinal Mountains near Miami Arizona. Our goal for the day was to hike a tough trail into the north-facing slope, allowing us to challenge our bodies, and experience what steep changes in terrain can do to the surrounding ecosystems and landscapes. The Pinal Mountains are the best opportunity to experience a Sky Island effect without having to drive too far or attempt to traverse 4×4 roads. Six Shooter Canyon Trail is steep, following a drainage with a series of switchbacks. Through hard work, we would have the opportunity to experience the mixed coniferous forests and spectacular views when reaching the summit. Though this was the goal, it was far from how the expedition would turn out.

When we first noticed the stripped tire, we were pulled over for gas about an hour from picking the students up. Luckily it did not deflate, but it did deflate our plans to summit the Pinal Mountains. It took over three hours for us to get the tire replaced and to the school to pick the students up. By this time the plans had changed. Instead of trying to summit, we would set out to the large drainage and follow its path up, seeing hidden wonders under the pine canopies. The students were not disturbed by the change in plans, though they were excited for the hard hike they were equally inspired to invite adventure of the unknown.

Our trail lent itself to animals of all kinds. We tracked bob-cats, foxes, coyotes, and much more. The group seemed to love the opportunity, so we hungrily searched for more. We also spotted yucca, which had tall stalks and the ability to capture the student’s attention. ‘Moths pollinate these, and they have a symbiotic relationship!’ I explained the process even further, information that blew the students minds. This was kindling on the fire, and we rushed on evermore. Soon our path came to a gushing creek, and shoes and socks were promptly pulled away. Bewilderment and confusion came to the faces of the students. They were unsure where the water was coming from. We ate lunch at the creek edge and discussed the winters snow that is still melting in places of permanent shade, and the sponge-like effect the mountain has after heavy snow. ‘It allows for our mountains and deserts to stay lush and hydrated. These mountains are like nets for moisture, which allow for the lush and diverse deserts of the valleys below.’ 

We dropped our bags, and with bare feet, we started up the creek. I was in the lead and moved through the creek using technical moves, helping the students develop a better sense of movement outdoors. Upstream we found pools of water with waterfalls pouring into and out of. ‘Jump in! We have to jump in!’ Most of these students have never seen a creek like this, and all of them had never jumped into pools of water. The students, nervous and excited plunged into the water, shrieks and screams were forced out after the ice water touched their skin, but only smiles showed on their faces. I had never seen a group of students so excited and courageous with cold water. Each successive pool we came to, bodies would splash in. Finally, we came to a large stone damn nearly 35’ in height where every bit of creek water came rushing over. Here the students used steady feet to get beneath the waterfall and feel the full nature of its power. Again, smiles and laughter filled the canyon with echos of joy. Water in the desert is a magical thing. 

We discussed what these places do for their mountain inhabitants, and looked for more tracks along the creek edge. We observed the differences in trees and foliage and felt the smooth surface of polished granite rock. This was a tremendous example of what a simple hike with the aim of adventure can do. Here we found wildlife life minnow fish and algae of all types, rare sights for desert people. Sometimes the best way to learn is to fully express and experience the subject of study. This was such a wonderful day of fun and exploration, a perfect way to plant the seed of love for the outdoors and learning.