Tuesday 30 October 2019
The Tucson Mountains
Hike to the Bowen House via the Bowen and Yetman Trails
It is not often Betsy and I get out on a hike in the afternoon. When leading hikes or getting out on our own we always head out at least by mid morning and are often back home by the time we started today's hike.
Above I mentioned leading hikes. Since January of 2012 I have been leading hikes for a local Tucson MeetUp group.
For several reason I decided this year to start up our own MeetUp Group called: Hiking Tucson. I know it is a uniquely un unique name but I wanted something brief and easy to remember. Sorta like: "Tucson Hiking" the group I used to lead for.
And these days it is not just me leading. Betsy leads from the rear by assuming the role and obligation of being "The Sweep". Her job is to make sure no one strays and to stay back with the slower hikers. And if need be alert me to any problems which I am not aware of.
This is important since I'm the first in the group and I am eyes forward most of the time. Betsy on the other hand can see the whole group and can tell if something might be amiss.
If you look over the list of hikes I/we have led over the years you will see a lot of repetition and I am always trying to add either new hikes or modifications of previous hikes to keep things interesting and to accommodate all hikers as it relates to distance and elevation gain.
And that is what took us out today - to scope out a "Beginners" hike which would be about 3 miles out and back and 400 feet (+-) of elevation gain with our goal and endpoint being the 87 year old stone ruin known as the Bowen House.
The Big Picture - Tucson's West Side
Here is our back yard and the hiking route in yellow. As you can see we could easily hike the 3 miles (6T) to the Bowen house from the Rancho Relaxo. And we have.
But today we are starting from the Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort and water wasting facility in order to find a short pleasant hike for beginners and those new to the Sonoran desert.
This rather austere, some might say forbidding looking landscape belies the beauty we will see today.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
Today was a bit cloudy and cooler than it had been so that helped in deciding to take an afternoon hike. Although one wonders - is this a hike, a stroll or walk? What is the difference? One of life's more perplexing questions to be sure.
To date this is the biggest barrel cactus we have ever seen. Most never reach this size and most would have a severe lean or already be prostrate. And no - you shouldn't drink the "water" from this barrel! Read why here.
A look back towards the start of the trail. The actual trail is on the right above the arroyo. As you can see, the Saguaro forest here is well developed with some really nice specimens.
Betsy the Birder.
At one point the upper trail drops down into the arroyo. You can make it out on the right if you look carefully. From here we are only minutes away from the Bowen House.
This nice interpretive sign was placed at the Bowen house a coupla years ago (2017?). Prior to that there were a few sheets of paper in a zip lock bag stuck in a cavity between two of the stones in the wall. The sheets were pages copied from Betty Leavengood's Tucson Hiking Guide which explained the history and origin of the Bowen house.
Betty Leavengood was once the Grande Dame of Tucson hiking and her book, now in its 4th edition, was for many years the hiking bible for the Tucson area.
If you turned around after reading about the Bowens, here is what you would see.
Heaven. And in the 1930s? Quiet.
The Bowen Homestead aka The Stone House was built by Sherry Bowen, a typesetter and later editor at the Arizona Daily Star. He and his wife, Ruby, came from Illinois in the late 1920s. They homesteaded approximately 2000 acres and lived in a small wooden cabin on the site. He started building in 1931 and finished in 1942.
The walls and two fireplaces for the new house were built of native stone from the small canyon. It had large windows, a concrete floor and a tin roof, with the inside paneled in redwood. Water from the well and windmill fed a pond and provided household water.
Their daughter, Gloria, was born in 1943. They lived in their stone house until 1944. After that, it sat empty except for transients and vandals. The roof burned in the 1970s.
The homestead became part of Tucson Mountain Park in 1983. In 2014, Pima County dedicated the still-standing walls of the stone house as an historic venue. Access is from the David Yetman Trailheads and from the Bowen Trailhead west of the JW Marriott resort in Starr Pass.
Ruby Bowen wrote “Arizona Homestead: An Adventure in Beauty.” She could not travel because of her heart condition, so spent most of her days at home in “this mystic beauty of desert and mountains”. She described the annual harvest visit of a Tohono O’odham family in their wagon, ready to gather saguaro fruit with their long sticks and ollas.
They built a temporary shelter nearby where they made ceremonial wine, syrup, and dried the fruit. Coyotes called. Javalinas got in the garden; deer browsed on the shoots. Once she saw a herd of wild horses. Another time, a mountain lion looked in the window to check out her roasting meat. Bighorn sheep climbed the cliffs at dusk
In 1944 the Bowens moved from Tucson to New York City where Sherry Bowen worked for the Associated Press. I can't imagine. Nearly 20 years of desert solitude and then off to New York City while the war was still on.
I would sure love to wake up to this every morning.
Lots of windows for this rustic beauty. But they did have a shower and a bathtub. Such luxury.
The two fireplaces would have kept the house nice and toasty. Imagine sitting hearth side on a chilly evening and hearing the serenade of a nearby troupe of coyotes.
Betsy and I have been to the Bowen house a number of times. But this was the first time we had it all to ourselves. Not one other soul passed by or through the house while we were there.
“This mystic beauty of desert and mountains”.
This is the intersection of the Bowen and Yetman Trail. We will turn right to return. If one went straight ahead they would end up at the eastern terminus of the Yetman trail and the Camino de Oeste Trailhead.
This well trod path has been shaped by thousands of foot steps yet we saw nary a soul.
The Hidden Canyon trail is one of my favorites. It is secluded and has many fine views of the surrounding mountains.
And all too soon we were back to the Land of Luxury and on our way home to the Rancho Relaxo.
This is one of many groups we have brought here on our hikes. The Bowen House makes a nice spot to relax and have a bite before the return trip.
See you next time...
Mike and Betsy