Going for a Swim in the Desert

From Gordon Hirabayashi to Hutch’s Pool

The desert of southern Arizona can be one of the most beautiful and enjoyable places on earth during the months surrounding the winter solstice. But that same desert will make concerted efforts to kill unwary travellers the rest of the year, especially in the summer months when temperatures regularly top 120°F and even the most reliable water sources all but vanish. Many a summertime hiker has longed for a deep pool of cold, clear water to relieve the burning of the torturous desert sun overhead. Hutch’s Pool is just such a place.

From Tucson a hiker has the choice of two routes leading to Hutch’s Pool. The first and easier route involves taking a shuttle from the Sabino Canyon visitors center three miles up a mostly paved road to the trailhead, then walking a couple mostly downhill miles along a well established trail to the pool. Those who really want to earn their dip in the secret desert reservoir, or just like walking long miles over rocky, mountainous terrain in scorching heat, may start their journey at the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area. Naturally, we chose the latter option.

Hiking in the Southern Arizona desert is not for the weak. In order to avoid walking through heat-intensifying canyons during the hottest part of the day we started our adventure just after day break. Once their was enough light to see the trail in front of us, and after double checking our packs, we stepped off.

The trail starts out fairly level heading west, routes over a small rise and then follows a dry wash-come-jeep-trail north before turning westward and upward for the first real climb of the day. Standing atop that fist little mountain pass we felt victorious, but not energetic enough to climb a few dozen more feet to a nearby geocache. From here, the trail forks, with one route continuing to follow an old road downward at a fairly steep grade, and the other taking a more gentle, but slightly longer drop. We opted for the gentler-on-the-knees route, and picked up a little extra shade to boot as the hills blocked much of the morning sun.

After a mile or two of meandering down hill, the trail heads up again, then down into a pleasant little canyon with abundant shade and cool breezes. Then the real climbing begins. Despite the fact that Hutch’s pool is several hundred feet below the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area, the trail seems to demand endless climbing. In the end, though, we dropped down into one last canyon and made the final, gradual ascent up the heart of the canyon. After following a little stream for a ways we arrived at its source, the tiny desert reservoir we had been sweating so hard to find.

The water was cold, clear, and more than deep enough to swim in, so swim we did. Even before we made camp we bathed our feet, then waded in a little. Before long we had all but forgotten about the miles of dusty trail that led us here and the burning desert sun above us. No resort pool ever felt so good.