When the Mountain Calls

When the mountain calls, I must go. And so we went. At 7,730, Baboquivari towers above the surrounding valleys not far from the Mexican border. It is a technical climb to reach its summit, requiring ropes and gear. It is an iconic peak that has been beckoning me since my first day driving into Tucson, ~5 years ago. I can feel its pull and I know it watches me every morning and every sunset from where we sit in the Santa Rita Mountains.

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The Sun Setting to the right of Baboquivari a couple of days after the Autumn Equinox.

Two weeks ago on Christmas day Neon and I headed out for an afternoon motorcycle ride. I didn’t make it very far before my chest hit the dirt, skidding, and then the crunch of the motorcycle dragging against my right ankle sent the afternoon in a very different direction. There goes our plans for a motorcycle trip to Baja. My heart sank as I tried pulling myself out of the dirt.

The days passed and the swelling subsided. I’m not good at being sedentary for long periods. I sat in the studio looking out at Baboquivari, the beautiful peak that sits across the Santa Cruz Valley in our western view. I looked at the purple bruising still visible beneath the skin on my foot. I looked back at Babo and announced that we needed to get out, but not just anywhere, I wanted to visit Babo. And so we went.

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Baboquivari from the east side.

The next day we packed up the truck for an overnight. I also packed my trekking poles, three different ankle braces, and two Ace Bandages. We headed south through the town of Arivaca and then west to get a closer look at the east side of Babo. Up close on this side it becomes even more of a rock tower standing like a stone statue over the surrounding desert. It was still early in the day so we decided to head over to Baboquivari Park on the west side of the peak on Tohono O’odham Nation Indian land.

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Coral Bean
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Driving into Baboquivari Park on the west side.

We arrived as the sun was setting. Stories of I’itoli, the man in the maze, the Tohono O’odham God that lives in a cave at the base of Babo echoed through my thoughts. We’re here. The land approaching the peak was like a cathedral and glowed orange against the setting sun. It was perfect.

We pulled into camp as it got dark, cracked a bottle of port, and watched the stars emerge. Orion’s Belt, three beautiful stars, first appeared in the notch where Babo was glowing in the dim evening light. There is magic here and I felt privileged to be in its presence.

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The morning came soon enough. I stretched out my trekking poles, wrapped up my ankle, and packed enough food and water for the day. First, we headed twenty minutes up the wrong trail before turning back. Neon grumbled as I said, “no matter, I have no plans for the day and it’s all beautiful.” I did worry though that perhaps that “wrong way” was all my ankle was up for. We found the trail to the summit as the sun was rising over the ridge. The trail got steeper and rockier and I thought, “Ok, here we go,” as Neon was secretly thinking, “Ok, I guess we’re turning around now.” But me and my ankle kept stepping forward. The more steps I took, the more limber my ankle felt. I kept looking down at my foot to see if it was swelling, but it was fine.

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Near the saddle, Babo is behind us.

We made the saddle. Babo was in full view now. I don’t know what it is about spirey-summits, but they get my attention every time. We kept going all the way to where the real climbing starts. Neon scrambled up the rocks a little further while I rested my ankle. As I sat there looking out across the vast landscape a little yellow butterfly appeared. It flew around my hurt ankle then up to my face before it flew away. What a strange moment. I felt as though I had just been blessed by a butterfly. I smiled, and then smiled again shaking my head. Neon returned and we made an offering of Jager to I’itoli announcing that we would be back for the summit when my ankle healed.

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Baboquivari summit block.

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We headed down the trail. Still limping a bit Neon gave my a new nick-name, “Hobblena.” We made it back to the truck just before sunset, sipped some port and recounted the day. We watched Orion’s Belt emerge again in the notch before turning in for the night.

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Sunset
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Petroglyphs at Picture Rock.

The next morning we stopped at Picture Rock before leaving Baboquivari Park. As we parked I noticed what looked like a very large animal on the top of Picture Rock. We walked closer. Now I could see that it was two very large birds. They greeted us as the sun rose over the ridge near Babo. We walked down the trail looking for petroglyphs. I kept looking back at the birds. They are so big, I announced. I wonder what they are. We found the petroglyphs. There were so many and there were newer ones drawn on top of old faded ones.

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Northern Crested Caracara. If only I had a zoom lens…

We drove home feeling satisfied with our mini expedition. I later found out that the birds are Northern Crested Caracara. It was two days of magic and I am happy that I listened when the mountain called.

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