A memorable hike in
Why, Arizona

by Ann Ulrich
© 1999 (all rights reserved)

Every winter I take a trip to Why, Arizona, for a week or so of escape from reality. Spending time in and around Why is like visiting a place "out of this world." It's not a fancy place, nor is it most people's idea of an exotic vacation spot. But it is beautiful, and the topography of the Tohono O'dham Reservation and surrounding public land is awesome. One can easily visualize the landscape of another planet.

hedgehog jpg
Photo by Ann Ulrich

Overlooking distant Why, Arizona from the top of the mountain

The dot on the map known as "Why" is a 120-mile drive west of Tucson. When I was there in early March, I stopped to admire the wildflowers and owl clover along the highway.

These photos were taken the day of our BIG HIKE. We started out at 8:00 in the morning and walked to the cave, which is a good three miles across the valley floor from the park. We had perfect weather for hiking and saw wild burros and a desert bighorn sheep.

Saguaro jpg

My hiking partner then asked me if I wanted to climb the mountain -- Rosa Rotunda I think the name of it is -- and, not wanting him to think I was a wimp, I agreed, even though I had doubts at the time that I could make it.

We climbed up and I soon discovered I was getting blisters from my hiking boots. Fortunately, I had brought moleskin along. We stopped and ate our packed lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, oranges and cookies. We enjoyed the views and the cactus, which wasn't quite in bloom yet.

highway jpg
Photo by Ann Ulrich

Then it came time to head down. We walked a ways and by that time my feet were hot and hurting and my knees were starting to ache. The moleskin helped, but it didn't solve the problem. We were on top of the mountain and suddenly didn't know how we were going to get down!

Finally we found a spot where we thought we could descend. I was tired and uncertain. It didn't look very convincing to me. We were about 1,000 feet above the valley floor. My feet hurt and all I wanted to do at that point was get off the mountain, so I agreed to try.

barrel cactus jpg

It was extremely steep and the rock was loose. We had to find footholds and handholds, and I became panicked because I was sure one of us was going to fall and we'd be stuck. If he fell, how was I going to get down and get help? So finally we decided to pull ourselves back up to the top and we continued on to try and find another way down.

By now it was about 4:00 in the afternoon and we had a long ways to go. The mountain top just kept getting more rugged. By now I had completely lost my fear of rattlesnakes and didn't care anymore if I saw one. All I wanted to do was get down! My knees were in pain with every step.

saguaro forest mpg
Photo by Ann Ulrich

A "forest" of prickly pear among a few scattered saguaros in the desert near Why, Arizona

We finally decided to go down the other side of the mountain. It was long and hard, but eventually we made it. We stopped and ate our last orange -- the best darn orange I ever tasted -- and then we started walking toward a pass that we thought would take us toward the park. When we reached that pass, we saw that we had to cross two others! I was getting really tired by now, but kept plodding along.

cholla jpg

Now I was getting worried about dark overcoming us. The sun was going down. We were still climbing over rocks. All I wanted to do was have my feet find the valley floor.

It was dark by the time we saw the park's lights. The moon was almost full, thank goodness. We walked toward the lights and finally -- at 7:30 pm -- we were home. I took off those tortuous boots and thought about the nice shower I was going to have. I ate soup for supper and was in bed by 9:30, exhausted.

Photo by Ann Ulrich

      It had been a beautiful and memorable day in a place "out of this world!"

      evening sky jpg


Thank you for taking time to let me share with you these beautiful photos from the Sonoran Desert. My last trip to Why was in 1999 and I miss it. Please feel free to contact me with your comments at my e-mail address.



This page updated March 24, 2014

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