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Hike, scramble, slip. Petroglyphs and a skull.

Exploring the Tucson Mountains. Bushwhacking off-trail to pull the bits of annoying red flagging that were tied to the bushes every 5 feet. A new trail being mapped, we presumed, by a mountain biker (tire tracks across the desert) who was illegally off-trail.

While trying to untie a piece of flagging knotted too tightly to a palo verde, balanced in steep scree, I lost my footing and pirouetted mid-air to avoid falling flat on top of a barrel cactus. Instead, landed on a Sangre-de-Cristo bush, leafless in mid-winter. Got to my feet, puffed up the undamaged bush, made sure the scratches and dings were to my pride, not my flesh. Just scratched, I celebrated the first fall of the season, since that’s the best way to make sure you can still fall gracelessly yet recover gracefully (and uninjured).

Next, we scrambled up scree across the canyon, beneath a cliff, to sit in the shallow cave where a herd of silhouetted animals are carved in the wall. Below these petroglyphs, we watch a live herd of deer and look again for the great horned owl who flew from one side of the canyon to the next, to disappear in plain sight, camouflaged tan against the tan and gray and brown cliffs.

At the mouth of the canyon, a found “totem” — the skull of a young javelina — a warning, perhaps, to keep your mountain bike on the trails.

Warning: mummified javelina skulls are not for the faint of heart.

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