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Photography by Heather Wuelpern

Feature Story — Spring/Summer 2018

To the Top of Tumamoc

What I learned from walking up a big little hill near downtown Tucson | By Heather Wuelpern

After spending two weeks in Italy devouring plates of pasta, trying every flavor of gelato, and sipping prosecco daily, I knew I had to jumpstart my workout routine when I returned to Tucson. I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. and made a plan to walk up Tumamoc Hill—off Anklam Road, just west of “A” Mountain—which I had only done about a dozen times in the last 10 years. I remembered the walk wasn’t a piece of cake but I was up for the challenge.

The stretch of Anklam Road adjacent to St. Mary’s Hospital was already lined with cars of other hikers who arrived before sunrise. I grabbed my water bottle and headed up the hill in the dark.

The paved road makes about six switchbacks as it winds up to near Tumamoc Hill’s summit 1.5 miles later. That may not seem like much of a workout, but when there’s nearly 800 feet of vertical gain within that distance, you get a lot of bang for your buck. No matter how fit you are, you’ll still get your heart pumping and your lungs working overtime.

I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I made it to the top and loved seeing the sunrise fill the sky with gorgeous hues. I thought it was a perfect way to start the day, and then convinced myself it would be a good idea to walk the ‘Moc every day for a month. I began to keep track of how long it took me and set a goal to shave three minutes off my original time. I ended up accomplishing that and so much more. Here’s what I learned.

Pointers for a great walk

Be friendly. Smiling is contagious. Someone can have a miserable look on their face but when you smile and they smile back, their whole face lights up. You may have just made their day.

Give encouragement when someone looks like they’re suffering. Even someone who isn’t in tiptop shape can reach the top. They just need to take their time.

Listen to your body and take a breather if needed. There are several informational displays telling about the animals, plants, and history of Tumamoc Hill strategically placed exactly when you most need them. Educate yourself while you catch your breath.

Listen to audiobooks. I listened to Neil deGrasse Tyson narrate his book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry and felt smarter with each step I took.

Take pictures. Whether it’s a magnificent sunrise, sunset, wildlife, or a beautiful saguaro, there will be plenty of images you’ll want to capture.

Etiquette: 101

Share the path. Leave enough space for people to pass you. It’s hard to do so if you are walking more than two or three people wide.

Even though you’re outside, use your indoor voice. Many people walk Tumamoc for therapeutic reasons and it’s hard to remain zen when someone is in close proximity talking to their companion at the top of their lungs, especially when it’s about a subject matter that should be kept private.

Use earbuds. Everyone may not share your taste in music. Keep it to yourself.

Mission Accomplished

Regardless of if you walk Tumamoc Hill once in a while or for 30 days in a row, just walk it. By the way, I did shave off three minutes from my initial walk and I lost the pounds I had packed on from my vacation in Italy. Challenge yourself. You’ll see an excellent cross-section of Tucsonans sharing the same love of a big little hill that’s steeped in history. And now that there’s a Tugo Bike Share rack at the base of Tumamoc, you don’t need to find a parking spot.

See you at the top!

Download the app

The University of Arizona Science Center created a Tumamoc Hill app, which is narrated by David Yetman and accompanied with music by Calexico. It’s perfectly timed with an average walking pace and is packed with tons of fun facts about the history, vegetation, and other interesting information.