Marshall Gulch and Aspen Trails in the snow
I love snow. Love it. I can't help but smile and get all giddy at the sight of snow. Living in the desert I don't get to see as much snow as I did living in the Midwest. Luckily, there's a 9,000 ft mountain in my backyard.
On New Years Day Tucson woke up to a dusting of snow on the Catalinas. Even the lower parts of the mountain range were covered. It was a beautiful sight seeing saguaros covered in snow! Sadly, I did not get to hike in the snow covered desert. By the afternoon most of it had melted and it looked like the Sonoran Desert I know. My work schedule was thrown off with the holidays (thankfully we were closed Christmas Day and New Years Day but this changed my normal days off) so I wouldn't be able to go play in the snow for another week. During that week we got 3 more snow storms on the mountain and when it was finally time for me to go up there and play, there was 2-3 feet! Ski Valley Ski Resort had a 40" base! And yes, there's a ski resort on top of the mountain in Summerhaven. It's the southern most ski resort in the USA! This is the first year in the 8 years my parents have lived out here that they've had enough snow for actual skiing and snowboarding. To say the least, ALL OF TUCSON IS ECSTATIC!
When it snows on the mountain the entire city tries to go up the two lane Catalina Highway to see the snow. Pima County Sheriff's Dept usually closes the highway for the safety of drivers. All last week it was open, then it was closed, oh wait now it's open again, let's head up there, wait a minute, they closed it again..
I waited until the following week (my next day off) to get my own snow fix and I'm glad I waited. The roads were nice and clear, the first rush of people to see the snow had diminished, and school was back in session. Driving up the mountain at 9am this past Monday the road and trailheads looked like any other Monday I've gone hiking. I easily found a parking spot at the Marshall Gulch Trailhead.
I don't know why Marshall Gulch is my go to trail when the seasons change. It's one of the more popular trails and I tend to want to stay away from the crowds. But there's something about it that's beautiful. It's probably the brook that runs down the bottom of the gulch or the fact that you are surrounded by Douglas firs, ponderosa pines, maples, elms, and you feel far, far away from the desert.
It was a blue bird day, clear sky, temperatures in the 30s. And snow everywhere!
Marshall Gulch Trail was covered in snow but had plenty of boot tracks on it. A lot of people had been through here. Once I got to Marshall Saddle I wanted to continue up Aspen Trail as I've done several times but this time the trail was covered in two feet of snow and no one had cut trail yet. I decided I would be that person but after 50 yards of trudging I decided to turn around and let someone else handle that task. I really should have brought snow shoes.
I headed south and followed Aspen Trail back to the Marshall Gulch trailhead. There were boot tracks for me to follow but the last snowfall had covered them halfway. Even though I wasn't totally postholing the entire trail my body felt like it! By the end of 5 miles I was pretty tired and I didn't even gain that much elevation! Hiking in the snow is no joke.
I also got to use my Kula Cloth for the first time! This is the antimicrobial pee cloth designed specifically for women! I've never been so excited to pee outside before.
The Coronado National Forest closes some roads and trailheads when it snows so the normal trailhead for Marshall Gulch was closed for the season. You can still access the trail, you just have to park by the gate 1/2 mile from the actual trailhead and walk down the road. Luckily I was there early enough to get a parking spot but when I left there was a line of cars waiting for a spot. Some were even just parking on the road (please do not do this). There were a lot of families with kids who were playing in the snow, sledding down the hills, and building snowmen on the road back to my car. It's so fun to see everyone out enjoying the snow!
Marshall Gulch & Aspen Trail Loop
Date hiked: January 7, 2019
Total miles: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 870 feet
Total time: 4 hours
Land Acknowledgement: Ancestral lands of the Tohono O'odham and Yaqui