Woods Hole

Before we moved to beautiful Tucson, we lived on Cape Cod for six years. Last week we visited friends on Cape Cod. It was wonderful seeing everyone again. We loved visiting our favorite haunts, especially Woods Hole.

Woods Hole is our favorite Cape Cod village for so many reasons:

1. It’s a working port, not a tourist attraction. It’s home to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) (pronounced who-eee, if you want to say it like a native) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) (pronounced Noah). It’s teeming with scientists and research vessels, dedicated to exploring the oceans from Iceland to the Antarctic and beyond. Yet it has several nice art galleries. Many artists call Woods Hole “home.” Our favorite art gallery is Woods Hole Handworks, located at 68 Water Street, right next to the drawbridge.

2. Woods Hole is located on one of the most beautiful scenic drives on Cape Cod. The shore road route takes you by Nobska Light which has magnificent views of Martha’s Vineyard, the Elizabeth Islands and Woods Hole Passage. You can park at the lighthouse and walk around to admire the views. The Martha’s Vineyard Ferry crosses back and forth in front of you from Woods Hole to Edgartown, MV.

3. The Shining Sea Bike Path ends in Woods Hole. While the National Seashore and its bike paths farther down the Cape get all the glory, the Shining Sea Bike Path is stunning. It begins at a parking lot on route 151 in Mashpee and travels through Falmouth to Woods Hole for approximately 12 miles. If you don’t have time to bike or walk the whole route, you can park at Old Dock Road in Falmouth for a shorter trip. Shorter still is the Depot Road parking lot in Falmouth. No matter which starting point you choose, you will be treated to a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, a beautiful view of Martha’s Vineyard (located just six miles out to sea), a beautiful, hidden harbor which is home to a Coast Guard base, and, of course, the quaint port of Woods Hole.

4. Woods Hole has the cutest little drawbridge at the center of town which allows boats to enter the harbor. It is operated by an attendant who sits in a booth all day waiting for boaters to come and go.

5. Woods Hole is home to a spectacular hike called the Nob. It is located at Quisset Harbor, just outside of town. The Nob is a wooded peninsula with magnificent ocean views. It can be difficult to find and parking is limited. It is not to be missed.

6. The Woods Hole Aquarium is free and open to the public. Donations are requested but not required. There is a seal pool out front that is very entertaining. There are two seals that were rescued as pups and unable to be returned to the wild.

7. If all this hiking, biking and walking gets you hungry, there are a handful of restaurants and watering holes at the center of town. Our favorite is a bakery called, “Pie In The Sky.” “Maison Villatte” is a delicious French bakery on Main Street, Falmouth. It’s just a short drive out of Woods Hole. “Dana’s Kitchen” is also a great choice for breakfast or lunch. It was featured on Diners, Dives and Drive-thrus on the Food Channel and is located at 881 Palmer Avenue, Falmouth, MA.

Signal Hill Petroglyphs

A thousand years ago the ancients stood on Signal Hill and carved beautiful symbols into the rocks here.   There are approximately 200 petroglyphs at this site, making it one of the most important sacred spaces for Tucson’s ancient people.

What do these symbols mean?  Why did they carve so many of them here in this one place?  Nobody knows.  No one will ever know.  That’s what makes Signal Hill so very special.  These petroglyphs were carved by the Hohokam from 450-1450 CE.

Visitors are forbidden from climbing on the rocks.  Even touching the rocks is forbidden.   Only about a dozen ancient petroglyphs are visible and photographable from the viewing area.   It is still an amazing experience to stand where the ancient ones stood so many years ago.

Signal Hill is located on the Bajada Scenic Loop, off of Hohokam Road, in Saguaro West National Park.  It is an unpaved road.   The speed limit is 25 m.p.h.  It is open from dawn to dusk.  It is closed to motor homes, buses and vehicles pulling a trailer.

Saguaro West National Park is located in the beautiful Tucson Mountains.  It is free, if you have a national parks pass.   Otherwise you must pay $20.00 at the Red Hills Visitors Center on Kinney Road.  The $20 pass is good for seven days.

The “hike” to Signal Hill is very short and very easy.  It is an unpaved walk with rock steps built in the 1930’s.  It is only a third of a mile loop from the parking lot.   The views of the surrounding area from the top are beautiful.  It is a perfect outing for families with little ones.   There are picnic tables and a covered Ramada.

If you wish to hike longer, there are many other trails intersecting the Signal Hill Loop, such as the Cactus Wren Trail, the Desert Winds Trail and the Manville Trail.  The Wild Dog Trail is just .9 miles and is accessed across the street from the parking lot.   Free trail maps are available at the visitors center.

Saguaro West National Park has over 40 miles of hiking trails for hikers of various abilities.  Signal Hill is an excellent place to start.

Finger Rock Trail

At the end of Alvernon Road, located in the Catalina Foothills, is a little slice of heaven.   It is the beginning of the Finger Rock Trail.  A parking lot is located across the street from the trailhead.

The Finger Rock Trail has something to offer every kind of hiker.  If you are a seasoned hiker and in excellent condition, you can hike 8 miles up to Mount Kimball.  Beware:  the trail becomes very steep, narrow and slippery about two miles in.  One false step and you can be seriously injured or even killed.  We have seen many young people hiking this part of the trail, however, without any hesitation at all.

If you are looking for a shorter and easier hike, you can do what we do:  meander in for one or two miles, enjoy the magnificent scenery,  stop to take lots of photos,  and find a comfortable spot to have a snack before heading back.

We usually hike about 1-2 miles in to where the trail becomes very steep and narrow.  There is a large flat rock nearby that makes a perfect spot to sit and enjoy the beauty of the canyon before heading back.

In the winter, the trail follows a rushing stream with small waterfalls tumbling about.  Listening to the rushing water adds to the “zen” feeling of this trail.  The trail crosses the stream three or four times but there are plenty of stepping stones.  A hiking pole helps keep my balance while stepping from rock to rock.  By April, the level of the water was significantly lower and most of the rushing waterfalls were merely a trickle.  This did not hinder our enjoyment of the trail.  The trail was in full bloom with wildflowers everywhere and flowering ocotillo in abundance.

The trail runs through a canyon for 1-2 miles and is slightly rocky before it starts to climb.  Magnificent views of the Catalina Mountains, covered with stately saguaro, surround you.  The farther you hike, the quieter it becomes.  All you hear is birdsong.  Behind you, you will enjoy distant views of Tucson.   It won’t take you long to discover why this is one of our favorite trails.

Oracle State Park

Oracle State Park is another beautiful place to hike.  It is located in the rural town of Oracle, Arizona, about 24 miles north of Catalina State Park on Oracle Road (Route 77).  It is about a 30-minute drive there from the entrance of CSP, yet many locals fail to explore it.   An annual pass to CSP includes free admission to OSP too.

OSP is located 4,524’ above sea level, whereas CSP sits at 2,600’.  That means OSP is always at least ten degrees cooler than CSP.  If you love the outdoors as much as we do, a ten degree difference in temperature can feel like a nice break from the heat.

The difference in elevation means OSP has a completely different landscape than CSP.  While we love the hundreds of saguaros found at CSP, OSP offers a strange and interesting landscape that feels otherworldly for the Sonoran Desert.  Manzanita trees, yucca and agave are in abundance here.  You will also find strange boulder formations, called hoodoos, that look like they belong in a spaghetti western or even a sci-fi movie.

One of the most important reasons to hike here are the long-range views of the Galiuro Mountains.    They are beautiful and majestic and remind me of the Grand Canyon.

We have been to OSP several times.  Each time we have found it to be very quiet, with very few hikers.  The guardhouse is always empty.   Park fees ($7.00 per car) are paid on an honor system.

If you go, you must explore the visitor’s center first, which is located in the former Kannally Ranch house.   It looks like a Tuscan villa, not an Arizona cattle ranch.   If we win the lottery some day, we will build a replica of this elegant home.

There is always a friendly park ranger there who lets the public wander the beautiful estate.  There is a gift shop too.  A public restroom is outdoors in the parking lot.

The Nature Trail is an easy loop about one mile long.  It has beautiful views of the Galiuro Mountains.  There are a couple of plaques on the trail, explaining the flora and fauna.  The trail loops around to an interesting wildlife viewing area, which is a concrete blind with windows cut into it.

Our favorite hike at OSP is the Granite Overlook Loop Trail. It is well-marked, with gorgeous views of the Kannally Ranch House, the Kannally Wash and the Galiuro Mountains in the distance.

The Granite Overlook Loop Trail has very strange and interesting boulder formations.  It can be a little steep in a couple of spots.   A hiking pole helps.  There are plenty of park benches and even a covered Ramada sprinkled along the trail.  It’s only about a two mile loop.  It is less steep if you hike the loop in a counterclockwise direction.

OSP received a designation as an International Dark Sky Park in 2014.   The Park has telescope-viewing parties with performances by local musicians almost once per month.

There are 4,000 acres to enjoy.  The Arizona Trail runs right down the middle of it.   With such beauty in abundance, it is difficult to understand why so few people visit OSP.  Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Catalina State Park

We first visited Tucson in April, 2018.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Oro Valley, which is located just a couple of miles away from Catalina State Park.    After a long flight from New England, we wanted to hike someplace close to our hotel.  Catalina State Park was a five minute drive down Oracle Road.  It wasn’t just convenient.  It was breath-taking.  

Spring in Catalina State Park

We fell in love with the magnificent Catalina Mountains that day. Tucson is surrounded by five beautiful mountain ranges. The Catalina’s, our favorite, are the most rugged. We never tire of looking at them, photographing them and hiking them.

There is something for everyone here. The Nature Trail is perfect for families with children. It’s just a short loop and contains plaques explaining the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.

The Birding Trail is an easy loop trail that takes you a short distance into the park. It’s perfect for birdwatchers, photographers, families with children, and anyone looking for a leisurely stroll with beautiful views. There are a couple of shade trees too.

Romero Ruins Trail is an easy walk, with plenty of park benches to rest on. It’s also one of the most important Native American archaeological sites in the Southwest. There are plaques explaining how the ancient ones lived and farmed. There are even the remains of a ball field upon which the ancients played. The biggest saguaro we’ve ever seen is inside that loop trail.

Our favorite trail is the Canyon Loop Trail. It is a two-mile-long loop with magnificent mountain views. The trail itself is wide and sandy. You won’t need to worry about where to put your feet on this trail. Except for a short, but steep, hill at the beginning, the trail is relatively flat. There are a couple of park benches upon which to sit, rest and admire the beauty of the Catalina’s. Look for the rock formation locals call the “Green Elephant.” Hint: it’s right in front of you as you sit on the park bench, just before you loop down and around the stairs leading to the water. Use your imagination.

The Canyon Loop Trail runs parallel to the mountains for about one mile, then loops around to follow a stream. In the winter months, this stream is full and swift with cold snowmelt from Mt. Lemmon. If you don’t wish to get your feet wet, you may have to remove your shoes and socks five times to cross. Or, as I prefer, wear an old pair of sneakers and walk right through it. At its highest, the stream was only mid-calf deep and the cold water felt good on my feet. Your sneakers will be dry again in ten minutes or less. This is Arizona afterall.

Montrose Pools is another great trail. It is also wide and flat and sandy like the Canyon Loop. In fact you have to traverse Canyon Loop a short distance to get to Montrose Pools Trail which bears right off Canyon Loop and heads straight into the mountains.

The views on the trail to Montrose Pools are just as magnificent as the ones on the Canyon Loop. At the end of the trail which goes about a mile after you veer off Canyon Loop, there is a park bench to sit on and admire the Canyon.

After you sit for a few minutes, you can walk down a trail into the Montrose Pools itself. Be careful because the trail is a little narrow and slippery. It is so worth it though. In the winter the pools are full of water. People climb on the rocks in both directions to admire the Pools. Just be careful where you put your hands and feet. I find a hiking pole helps with balance and keeps us safe from creepy-crawlies.

If you are in excellent physical shape and want to try a very challenging hike, Romero Pools is for you. It is long, steep, extremely rocky, and even a little scary in places. You need to get an early start to reach the Pools. Bring plenty of water and food. It’s a very strenuous trail. I am short which I think made it even tougher. Long-legged folks definitely have the advantage on this trail. A hiking pole helps.

The views along the trail, however, are truly magnificent. Hikers are very encouraging. Their kind words will keep you going. “You’re almost there,” etc. even when you still have a long, challenging hike ahead. It took us about two hours to make it to the Pools. It was a little faster hiking back because some of it was downhill.

The Romero Pools themselves consist of long, flat rocks, surrounded by knee-deep water, where you can rest, eat, nap, if necessary, and converse with fellow hikers. We enjoyed the sense of camaraderie, although we prefer the beauty of the Montrose Pools.

Romero Pools is in Bighorn Sheep Country so no dogs are allowed on the trail. There is a sign posted in case you forget. It isn’t a comfortable place for a dog anyway …… too many big rocks to scramble over and some narrow paths along sheer cliffs.