I first visited the state of Arizona on a girl’s trip in the fall of 2008. I was a mountain girl, in love with Colorado, and hadn’t spent much time in the desert. Much to my surprise, I fell in love! As soon as I got home, I started researching my next visit, and I decided on Saguaro National Park. I signed up for a Sierra Club service trip, which involved a week of trail maintenance in and around Tucson. For around $500, Sierra Club includes camping, meals and transportation to the job site each day. Participants provide their own camping equipment, transportation to the campground, and muscle power for the tasks at hand!
This trip would officially be the longest camping trip I’d ever done. Up to this point, camping had consisted of one or two nights over a weekend. This time, I’d be in a tent for the whole week at the Gilbert Ray campground, which is not in Saguaro National Park, but nearby . Sierra Club is pretty experienced at running these trips, so everything was well organized. We had two trip leaders plus a camp cook, who provided breakfast, sack lunches and dinner, often with organic, local ingredients.
We all met at the campground on a Sunday and had the whole day free – several of us decided to explore the nearby Sonoran Desert Museum. This is a beautiful outdoor museum showcasing the local flora and fauna. My favorite was the tiny little hummingbird nest! At 34, I was the youngest person on the trip by decades, so there were lots of birders and gardeners in the group.
The week was split between two work sites – one in Saguaro National Park, and the other on county land.. It was hard work, and you had to cover up in long pants and sleeves to keep from getting stabbed by the cactus, not to mention lugging our tools in and out from the trailhead each day! We had frequent rest breaks to drink water and find shade. Even in early March, it was pretty hot by mid-day.
In the middle of the week, we had a free day to spend as we wished and several of us chose to go hiking at Mt Wilson. We also had some guest speakers and presentations in the evenings, so it was a really well rounded trip, not all hard work!
I have to say, this was a fun experience, and this mountain girl definitely fell in love with the desert! Falling asleep each night to the sound of coyotes was an awesome experience. I definitely hope to return to the Tucson area someday, and would absolutely consider another Sierra Club service trip. Check out the list of offerings – there is quite a wide variety of trips, from restoring historical sites in Philadelphia to wildlife encounters in Hawaii.
For more photos, click here!