The Big Apple to the Baked Apple, Life of a Tucson Hiking Guide


Toroweap – Grand Canyon

The young lady started hiking up Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail under a hammering summer sun. Because she was visiting the canyon from England she was not used to the desert heat. A few days prior, I cajoled her into hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I was 23, she was 22 and we met a couple of summers prior at a coed sleep-away camp in update New York’s Adirondack Mountains. But the southwest was an entirely different story. Despite not knowing what was in store for us, she went along with the plans and off to the canyon we traipsed.

We were two miles above Indian Gardens, the halfway point of the hike, when a monsoon storm rolled in and the sky opened. It rained torrentially and there was thunder, lightning and rocks crashing all around us. We took refuge under an overhang and attempted to wait out the storm. The temperature dropped about 50 degrees and, the wind blew hard. In a matter of minutes, we went from roasting in mid-day heat to shivering in the chill of the storm, wearing only light shirt-sleeves. We finally made it up to the rim of the canyon after a brutal ascent.

When this ill-fated trip was over, she boarded a return flight back to England. Subsequently, I never heard from her again! This experience taught me a valuable lesson, never push people beyond their capabilities.

I grew up in New York City, surrounded by asphalt, concrete, and towering buildings. But one summer, my parents sent my brother and I away to a summer camp in the woods of Pennsylvania specializing in backpacking and hiking. That stuck with me so i majored in geology at City College of New York and longed to get back into the outdoors. I got my chance while working on my degree, taking a field trip to the Bighorn Basin, Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

I was almost obsessed with the West and its wildlands after that. My next trip was to the Southwest and that sealed the deal. My wife and I decided to move west, and we examined San Diego, Tucson, and Albuquerque as possible home bases. We settled on Tucson in 1984. The warm climate was really appealing; I was tired of the snow, ice, and gray skies along the eastern seaboard. And there was something about the desert here that fascinated me.

I began hiking and exploring Arizona and the Southwest. Eventually, that led me to rejoin Sierra Club, and, in 2006, I began leading hikes for the Rincon Group. I met many friendly people who were environmentally minded. When the Rincon Group Outings Chair position opened in late 2008, I stepped up and took on the task. I now lead about twelve hikes a year while ensuring that the Rincon Group has an ample stable of outings leaders who meet the necessary qualifications and, with my help, put together appealing hikes for people of all interests and skill levels.


House On Fire

I organize several long backpacking trips each year. In recent years, I’ve led excursions to spectacular places such as Kanab Creek, the longest tributary to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. Our group followed it from the Indian Hollow trailhead to the Colorado, a hike of 55 miles.

Another version of that very popular trip was a nine-day outing that started at Monument Point at the North Rim, descended to Thunder River and Deer Creek, then traversed the Colorado River to Kanab Creek and back to the Rim at Sowats Point. I have also led trips to the Sierra Nevada of California, the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and the canyon country of southern Utah.

Three years ago, I founded Southwest Discoveries – an adventure tour company specializing in fantastically beautiful and secluded places in the southwest. Taking people to the unique and special places that we have discovered makes them more willing and more focused on working, often with the Sierra Club, to protect these areas and to ensure that our nation has solid policies to keep them special. That’s the driving motive that led me to start Southwest Discoveries.

Some of my favorite places in the southwest include the trails of southern Arizona, the Grand Canyon and the canyon country of Utah. We recently completed a trip to the inner recesses of Canyonlands National Park. The park is an archeological treasure trove, rich in granaries, ruins and rock art of the ancient Fremont culture. Other places we’ve canvassed include Utah’s Cedar Mesa, Capital Reef National Park and Arizona’s Keet Seel.


All American Man

About the Author
Mitch Stevens has been leading hiking and backpacking outings throughout the southwest for over ten years. As a Sierra Club hiking leader, writer and photographer, he has promoted the enjoyment and conservation of our remaining wild lands. Born and raised in New York City, Mitch came to discover the great outdoors and fall in love with Arizona’s special places. Through his countless trips across the state and region, Mitch made it his mission to encourage fellow hikers and enthusiasts to protect the beauty of the desert. Now, he continues to embrace his fascination with the desert beauty by creating and leading multigenerational tours throughout the southwest. His experience coupled with his passion for the great outdoors make him a unique tour guide and outings leader.

Leave a Reply