A Second Try for I'itoi's Cave

This spring Steve and I have not seen a lot of each other. I have had a 10 day trip to Europe (WWW meetings!). When I returned, he left 2 days later for a 10 day business trip. A little after that, he had a 10 day trip to Europe. So we planned a weekend together in Tucson, with a pair of grandchildren and Steve's niece, in the middle of his 10 day business trip.

It is a little late in the season for many wildflowers, but the cactus, hedgehog, prickly pear and cholla are still going strong. On Saturday morning, Steve and I take Emmy and Tammy west on Ajo Road. We stop first along a dirt road off the Kitt Peak access road and hike up an arroyo to a set of hills where mariposa lilies bloom in profusion. It was too late for them now, although we could see the seed pods, but the ocotillo were all in wild red bloom, awaiting the hummingbird migration. We see a jackrabbit, some lizards and many birds, as well as a spectacular overview of the high desert landscape. We wandered back down the wash to the car and drove on west on Ajo Road to Sells, turning south there toward Baboquivari.

When we reached the turnoff, we drove the long dirt road up the bajada to Baboquivari Park. Steve had intended to hike along the trail to the old volcanic plug, not to the top, which requires a technical climb, but just along the trail, because it is beautiful and less steep than the other trail. However Emmy wants to hike to I'itoi's cave and Tammy agrees. I promise that I can find the real trailhead this time, so we start out, having made sure everyone has a hat, enough sunscreen on, and that we have water. We cross the streambed, go past the house and find a trail. We pass a couple of false starts and press on until the real trailhead appears and we start up the hill. In fairly short order, it seems, we reach the point on the trail where I decided to stop last time. Actually, it wasn't that short a time. The kids stopped to climb some rocks and have a snack. I took advantage of this time to wander farther up the trail. they soon caught up with me and we pressed on upward. It was quite hot today (in the 90s) and before we reached the top, I became concerned that we had not carried enought water. I was becoming dehydrated pretty quickly. But, when we reached the end of the trail, there was shade and a nice place to rest. We had Easter eggs to eat, crackers, fruit and a cave to investigate.

The entrance to the cave is quite narrow and a couple of feet above ground level, though the floor inside is low again. The cave is narrow but fairly deep so it is hard to see past the entrance area. Completely by accident, I happen to have a small flashlight in my pack. Steve and the kids crawl into the cave and examine the contents with the flashlight. I lean in through the opening and watch them. There are prayer sticks, baseball bats (aluminum), family pictures, and other offerings. Outside the cave is a campfire ring. A sage bundle, which has been burned, is held in a depression in the rock wall above the campfire. It is obvious that this is a holy place,and for good reason.

The view over the landscape below is incredible. Tammy can't believe that she can see into Mexico. As I sit there and eat my Easter egg, a canyon wren (yes, I carried my binoculars and a bird guide up the mountain) flits around the entrance to the cave. The kids tell me that sometimes it disappears into the cave entrance. We watch the bird and the bird watches us. We can see a volcanic dike in the bajada below and promise the girls that we will stop there on the way out to see the petroglyphs. After they eat their lunch, the kids go back into the cave for another look around before we start down.

In some ways, the way down is harder than the way up, especially if your feet are not much bigger than the rocks which make up the scree that lines this trail. I led the way and Steve followed, trailed by the girls. We soon found that we quickly outpaced them. They were coming down, quite literally, on all fours in places! I would look back and see them place a foot and then reach out a hand to hold on to something. Tammy wasn't used to the desert and made the mistake of reaching for the nearest tree-like object, which was a saguaro cactus one time. When we reached a shady spot, near where I had waited for Lori 17 months before, the girls took a break and climbed another rock. Emmy, having much practice, got down easily enough, but Tammy had trouble. As Steve talked her through a backwards descent, she reached around the rock for a handhold and got a cactus spine in the elbow. Shortly thereafter, Emmy got an acacia spine in her finger. All spines were extracted on the spot.

At this point we decided we had better start down before there were any other unfortunate encounters. As we came out of the trees and turned the corner, we heard a voice. A lone woman asked whether we were on the trail! She was standing just at the point where Lori and I decided we had better locate the trail. We replied that, yes, we were indeed on the trail. She asked that we tell anyone who asked that she was still on her feet and continued on upward. The rest of the trail was somewhat easier, except for a few large "steps," but the girls were still a bit tenative.

When we got back to the car, we got out the water supply and refilled the bottles and ourselves, and had a few hard candies to replenish our energy supplies. We still intended to visit the petroglyphs on the volcanic dike. A short drive takes us there and a scramble brings up to the face of the dike. Emmy shows Tammy the water pockets where offerings are left. There are some niches higher in the wall where coins and pieces of jewelry have been placed. Someone has hung a crystal on a cord on a small palo verde tree in front of the dike. We give the girls some coins and they climbed around looking for a special place to leave their offerings. As it was getting late, we hurried them back to the car. We usually see javelinas on this part of our visit, but there are none visible today. we drove back down the bajada , passing through several clumps of range cattle, on north to Sells and then east to Tucson.

All the way back, two tired girls played word games and giggled. We stopped by the house but no one was home. A note on the door told us they were at a fair at Emmy's school until 8. It was almost 8 but we drove to the school and met Julie and Rob just as they were leaving. Hannah was almost asleep so they decided not to come to dinner with us. We headed down to 4th Avenue. The line at Caruso's was out the door so we went to the small Mexican restaurant, La Indita, just up the street. The girls were still giggly, but a little subdued. We had a pleasant dinner and took them home to a mother who was making cupcakes and a birthday cake.

Tomorrow there would be a birthday party for Hannah at the Tucson Children's Museum, so we would take the morning to check our email and do a little work before meeting them at the museum for the party.

A page with information on satellite images of this area is also available.

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Answered Prayers: Miracles and Milagros Along the Border, Eileen Oktavec, Bernard Fontana, University of Arizona Press.
Of Earth and Little Rain: The Papago Indians, Bernard L. Fontana, John P. Schaefer (Photographer), University of Arizona Press.
Beliefs and Holy Places: A Spiritual Geography of the Pimeria Alta, James S. Griffith, University of Arizona Press.
Gathering the Desert, Gary Paul Nabhan, Paul Mirocha (Illustrator), University of Arizona Press.
The Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in Papago Indian Country, Gary Paul Nabhan, North Point Press.
Cultures of Habitat: On Nature, Culture, and Story, Gary Paul Nabhan, Counterpoint.
Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation, Gary Paul Nabhan, North Point Press.
Cultures of Habitat: On Nature, Culture, and Story, Gary Paul Nabhan, Counterpoint.
Counting Sheep: Twenty Ways of Seeing Desert Bighorn, Gary Paul Nabhan, University of Arizona Press.
The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places, Gary Paul Nabhan, Stephen A. Trimble, Beacon Press.
The Forgotten Pollinators, Stephen L. Buchmann, Gary Paul Nabhan, Paul Mirocha (Illustrator), Island Press.
Singing for Power: The Song Magic of the Papago Indians of Southern Arizona, Ruth Murray Underhill, University of Arizona Press.
Rainhouse & Ocean: Speeches for the Papago Year, Ruth Murray Underhill, Donald M. Bahr, Baptisto Lopez, Jose Pancho (Contributors), University of Arizona Press.
Papago Woman, Ruth Murray Underhill, Waveland Press.
Earth Movements/Jewed I-Hoi, Ofelia Zepeda, Kore Press. A Must Have!
Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert, Ofelia Zepeda, University of Arizona Press.

Books About Tucson

Tucson: The Life and Times of an American City, Charles L. Sonnichsen , Univ. Oklahoma Press.
A Frontier Documentary: Sonora and Tucson 1821-1848, Kieran McCarty (Editor), Univ. Arizona Press.
High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never, Barbara Kingsolver, Harperperennial Library.
Fighting Sprawl and City Hall: Resistance to Urban Growth in the Southwest,
Michael F. Logan, Univ. Arizona Press. (Hardcover)
Citysmart Guidebook Tucson, James Reel, John Muir Pub.
The Insiders' Guide to Tucson, Chris Howell, Rita Connelly, Insiders Pub.
Discovering Tucson: A Guide to the Old Pueblo . . . and Beyond,
Carolyn Grossman, Suzanne Myal, Univ. Arizona Press. (Hardcover)
El Charro Cafe: The Tastes and Traditions of Tucson, Carlotta Flores, Fisher Books.
Corazon Contento: Sonoran Recipes and Stories from the Heart,
Mary Tate Engels, Madeline Gallego Thorpe, Patricia Preciado Martin , Texas Tech Univ. Press.
Tucson's Mexican Restaurants: Repasts, Recipes, and Remembrances,
Suzanne Myal, Univ. Arizona Press.
Tucson to Tombstone: A Guide to Southeastern Arizona, Tom Dollar, Arizona Highways.
Tucson Hiking Guide, Betty Leavengood, Pruett Pub.
Arizona Day Hikes : A Guide to the Best Trails from Tucson to the Grand Canyon, Dave Ganci, Sierra Club Press.
Historical Atlas of Arizona, Henry P Walker, Don Bufkin, Univ. Oklahoma Press.

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© 1995, 2000 Karen M. Strom

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