Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

The distant memory of winter in the desert – Upper Romero Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on May 24, 2016

Upper Romero Canyon 07

Palisades Canyon, 3CIII
Coronado National Forest – Santa Catalina Mountains
1/17/16

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SUMMER IS COMING.

Dreaded words here in the Valley of the Sun. It has hit triple digits, fire season has begun and winter in the desert is beginning to feel like a distant memory.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was predicting the winter of 2016 to be the strongest El Nino in 18 years dumping abundant and much needed rain in drought stricken California and the southwestern United States. Abundant water in the desert is something special when it happens. Unfortunately, the El Nino never delivered as only a few winter storms materialized leaving far less snow in Arizona’s mountains and canyon country than what many were hoping for. No doubt water managers are looking back on the last six months with disappointment. And they aren’t the only ones. Canyoneers were hoping for a robust winter and spring season of Class C descents. It never really happened. But for me and my partners timing did strike as within a week of the most productive and wide spread storm of the season we descended Upper Romero Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains outside of Tucson.

Upper Romero Canyon 11

The hike begins from Catalina State Park in that juxtaposed combination of brisk air and intense sun that helps define winter in the desert. We climb higher into the Santa Catalina Mountains. The roar of fast moving water can be heard distantly below in multiple places. The desert is alive and we are venturing to a place where we will become surrounded by that intense and fleeting energy. The nearly five mile hike and two thousand feet of elevation gain not only gets my heart moving but gives my mind time and space to absorb what I know will be a special opportunity.

Upper Romero Canyon 12

Into that energy we go and for the others who have been here before they quickly note the way higher flows. Negotiating down climbs, rope and rappels while being pounded by all that water requires focus. The swims feature hydraulics which also require attention to detail. It’s a wild and exciting ride that is experienced by all five senses encapsulated in a bubble of adrenaline: the deafening thunder of water pounding helmets, the taste and smell of agitated water in the desert, the glow of sunlight bouncing off the not so blank canvas of polished white granite and cold water surrounding every square inch of my flesh. I am alive and taking advantage of this time, place and all of this water; in just the same way the desert is. Fast forward four months and it’s all just a distant memory. Again, for both me and the desert.

-David

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