A native Tucsonan, I am still getting used to all the white stuff that falls in Rim Country every winter. So as a lover of the outdoors, I find myself cooped up and depressed when the snow berms and frosty roads close down the Mogollon Rim, keeping me from the Rim lakes and views until spring.
But I recently found out a simple set of snowshoes can unlock all of the backcountry — and they work great, as long as you strap them on early instead of waiting until you are knee-deep in powder.
Fortunately, this activity doesn’t take much skill. If you can walk upright, you’ll pretty much master it within two steps.
Better yet, it doesn’t take a lot of equipment — $100 will get you set up.
And it doesn’t take a lot of planning. Just find a safe place to pull off the roadway and set off to explore.
A utilitarian activity that started some 6,000 years ago in central Asia out of necessity, snowshoeing has morphed into a sport of sorts. Some say it took off recreationally in the 1980s, when the equipment became lighter and cheaper.
Either way, I set out on only my second-ever snowshoeing jaunt Sunday, determined to put to use this Christmas present.
Wiping the dust from the snowshoes, I tramped away from Highway 260 — footgear in hand.
First tip: Snowshoes only work when you strap them to your feet.
With the crusty snow by the road easily holding my weight, I figured I should hike as far as I could without bothering with the snowshoes.
As my boyfriend knelt by the car to strap on his snowshoes, I strolled merrily past the Forest Service’s ranger station, situated just atop the Rim, across from Forest Road 300.
Bundled up with snow on each side, only the top of the ranger station was visible. I strolled on as our dog merrily bounded through the snow. She hopped further and further from the road, looking for snowdrifts to plow through.
I laughed at the dog’s excitement. And what was my boyfriend shouting from the street. Who knew? I didn’t care. I was walking in a winter wonderland, feeling clever and unencumbered.
Then I sunk. It happened so fast I couldn’t react.
Hard-packed snow had turned mysteriously into knee-deep powder. I fell through effortlessly, like it was a pile of feathers. I flopped. I floundered. My dance across water had ended.
I guess I needed these snowshoes after all.
I strapped them on, gouging my hands several times on the spikes on the bottom and then the hard plastic straps. My boyfriend caught up, explaining he had been yelling at me to put the shoes on.
With shoes now on, we sauntered on down the road, which hugged the lip of the Rim — offering a 100-mile view of a snow-frosted landscape. Only the occasional street sign or buried picnic table let us know we weren’t into the true backcountry yet.
It didn’t take long for the sounds of the highway to fade away, the stillness ours alone to enjoy.
The sweeping views of the forest below lured us further and further into the forest.
We walked awhile and sat down to enjoy the view and the hushed silence of the sound-swallowing snowpack.
The moment would have been made merrier if only my boots weren’t full of melted snow from my initial flounder.
I guess next time I’ll listen.
But please, don’t tell the boyfriend.