Bye, bye Tucson (and visits by two rattlesnakes)

A week and a half ago I left Tucson. It was 85 degrees and I had a twisted ankle, bad cold and a heavy heart. I didn’t want to leave. Living for so long in Alaska, I had forgotten what a gift it is to wake up to warm temperatures and sunshine. It made me realize that I’m more of a warm weather person than an Alaska person, though I do love Alaska dearly and madly, especially in the summer when the twilight spreads out over the land and I run Flattop after midnight, no one else around, and all of that silence.

Trail to Seven Falls
Catalina State Park
Phoneline Trail, Sabino Canyon
Black Bear Trail.

My last week in Tucson MM arrived and we moved from the beloved house I had sublet for six weeks (hopefully I’ll be back there again in December and January) to a week-long vacation rental with a very tiny kitchen and very lovable dog, Ben. After losing Beebs earlier this year, it was nice having a dog to pet and hug, nice having the smell of dog in my nose, nice curling up with his head pressed against my leg.


I ran a lot while in Tucson, averaging about 40-45 miles a week, and most of it on trails during the weekend, when I rented a car and headed to Sabino Canyon or Catalina State Park. During the week I ran at Reid Park or around the side streets. What I love about Tucson is the low-keyed atmosphere of the side streets. Third Avenue is a designated bicycle route and cars aren’t allowed access off main streets, which keeps the traffic down. Riding a bike and running through Tucson, with the heat pressing down on my shoulders and the sky blue and nothing but the sound of my feet over the pavement and birds singing (the birds there sing all day, not just morning and evening) felt so peaceful and serene that I often couldn’t stop smiling.

The second to last week I twisted my ankle and stupidly kept running. Why do I never learn? Why can’t I accept the fact that when something hurts, it’s probably time to stop running and start walking to the trailhead?

View from Blackett’s Ridge.
Sabino Canyon

I bought a cheapo ankle brace at Target and MM and I ran lightly and hiked for the rest of the week. Okay, maybe I didn’t exactly run lightly but I did try and keep my mileage down. We hiked Blackett’s Ridge and ran (lightly!) all over Sabino and Ventana Canyon.

Top of Blackett’s Ridge

One of the most memorable times was running up Phoneline Trail at dusk and then down to upper Sabino Canyon Road. We crossed the creek and lay in the sand, staring up at the sky. Then we ran to the top of the canyon and back in the moonlight, no on else around, the canyon gleaming white in the moonlight. It’s something I’ll never forget.

Two days later, we returned. It had become hotter in that short amount of time, with temps rising from the 70s to the high 80s, and we started off right before dusk, to escape the worst of the heat. A half mile up the trail we heard a rattle and both jumped back. “Rattlesnake,” I yelled, but I wasn’t too worried. The snake was off the trail in the brush and basically saying, “Hey, I’m here, just let me be, okay?”

Our friend, the snake

Later, we lay on a large rock stretching out over the canyon and watched the sun set, the sky glowing pink and darkness falling around us.

Halfway down, in the dark, we heard it again, another rattlesnake (what are the chances of coming across two different snakes in one evening?), this one louder, more persistent. We jumped back and rummaged in our packs for our headlamps. We didn’t see the snake in the trail but we could hear it, and it was close. I led, since I knew the trail, with MM close behind me. We had to walk past where we knew the rattlesnake was, and we had to do so in the dark, with the puny glow of our headlamps. There was no other way, since directly to our right the trail dropped down to the canyon and to our left was the ridge.

So we moved forward and really, it wasn’t that bad. Right when I rounded the bend, right when I thought we had made it, there was the rattle again, and it was loud and fierce and angry sounding. MM pushed me and I ran like hell, stumbling through the dark until the rattle died down.

We had to walk the rest of the way (about two miles) down to the bottom of the canyon in the dark, with every step wondering if we’d encounter another snake. We sang dumb songs and laughed, the way you always laugh when you’re on edge and trying to distract yourself from your own precarious vulnerabilities.

When we reached the creek we lay in the sand again and stared up at the sky. There was a large ring circling the moon and it felt like such an undeniably perfect moment, the warm darkness and the sound of the creek and memory of the rattlesnakes leading us in and out of danger.

8 thoughts on “Bye, bye Tucson (and visits by two rattlesnakes)

  1. Mary

    I miss Alaska, but I have to say I could never happily live in the rain forest full time. (I know you live farther north, just saying). I once stepped on a rattlesnake while hiking. That was interesting.


  2. Mary

    I miss Alaska, but I have to say I could never happily live in the rain forest full time. (I know you live farther north, just saying). I once stepped on a rattlesnake while hiking. That was interesting.


  3. Karen

    That trail outfit suits you so well, love it! 🙂 I went on a hike the other day that had snakes slithering off into the grass every minute or two. Scared the crap out of me even though they were just garter snakes, but still, I had to sing my way back up the hillside to keep from freaking out more. I can handle bears and moose just fine but tiny snakes are a problem?! What the heck.


  4. Cinthia

    I miss Alaska too, Mary, but will be back by this weekend. I've been away for over nine weeks, the longest I've ever been gone from Alaska. It's been an interesting time.


  5. Cinthia

    I love snakes but after I got back from the rattlesnake encounters I researched rattlers on the Internet and discovered that the bites can be worse than I had realized. Thankfully there are no snakes in Alaska, lol. Good luck in Boston next week!


  6. EB

    Beautiful pictures. I've never been to the southwest but I love the scenery. I can't handle snakes. I am a total whimp and would have freaked out a bit with two in one night. I'm ok with big creatures, just not snakes. Too sneaky! Sounds like a lovely trip!


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