Even in early February the sun was shining bright in the Sonoran Desert as Wild Arizona volunteers installed new Wilderness Boundary signs in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. On February 4th, 2023, seven volunteers met at the Gordon Hirabayashi campground to join Wild AZ for the second in this spring’s Sign Install Saturdays.
After our morning safety meeting we hiked down Sycamore Trail, which overlaps with the AZT, to its intersection with the Wilderness boundary for our first install location. Wilderness is the highest form of protection granted to public lands, and special regulations apply within its boundaries. This is why it’s so important that Wilderness Stewards, like Wild AZ Volunteers, make sure these boundaries are known to the public!
Following the one on Sycamore, we rallied back to the trailhead, and caravanned on down to the next two install locations: on Babad Do’ag and Soldier Trail. If it was pleasant up on the north side of the hill for the Sycamore sign, it was downright hot on the sunny southern side where the second two were located. We were glad we didn’t wait until Summer!
As some of you know, the Santa Catalina range, and the Pusch Ridge Wilderness it contains, is one of the region’s “Sky Islands”—so named because they’re like islands in reverse: cool, wet refuges from the hot, dry desert below. Their dramatic changes in elevation, and diversity in aspect, help make them some of the most biodiverse places in the world. From Saguaros to Douglas Firs. In fact, while we were burning up down low in the sun, there was still plenty of snow up top! In our own small way, Wild AZ volunteers help protect these wild places.
The following day, Wild Arizona hosted a “private day” of volunteering for a National Civilian Conservation Corps (NCCC) crew that was spiked out in the area. NCCC Independent Service Coordinator, Devanté Spencer reached out to Wild AZ to see how they could get involved on the weekend while in town working with Tucson’s Mission Garden.
Devanté brought along six other NCCCers and met Luke at the Sutherland Trailhead, near Oro Valley. It was another warm one, and the group hiked about a mile in to the first install location on Romero Trail. While taking breaks in the shade (if we could find it), we talked a little about Wilderness and the work Wild AZ does to protect it. Did you know Arizona has the second most Wilderness areas of any state, with a whopping total of 90?! Some, like the Pusch Ridge, are close to urban areas, and highly visited, so it’s extra important folks know where the boundaries are.
After hiking back down to the trailhead for lunch, we caravanned over to the access road for the next sign, located on lower Sutherland trail. Or, at least we tried to. As the 4×4 access road to the trailhead got rough, we decided to split into a couple groups and take turns piling into Luke’s Tacoma, and leave the NCCC van behind. As the road grew even rougher however, we finally decided for the sake of Luke’s truck, job, and the safety of the general public, that it would be best to turn back and leave that sign for another day. Next time, we’ll hike in the long way from the Sutherland trailhead. If there’s another group out there that wants to schedule a “private” day, wink wink, this could be a great activity!