Sirena Rana Talks Best Day Hikes on the Arizona National Scenic Trail

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Korrin Bishop | May 13, 2021

When it comes to long trails, there’s a decent amount of information out there on the big names like the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail. Beginner to advanced hikers can find the resources they need to explore these outdoor gems. However, being newer on the scene, the Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT) hasn’t had a ton written on it yet. It also comes with some special challenges for hikers to consider, such as traveling through desert environments.

Our very own Gossamer Gear Brand Ambassador Sirena Rana set out to change this. After hiking the full AZT and working on its promotion throughout the state, she wanted to make the trail more accessible to a variety of hikers. After years of research, writing, and editing, she recently released her first book with Wilderness Press, Best Day Hikes on the Arizona National Scenic Trail.

Interview with Sirena Rana on Her New Book, Best Day Hikes on the Arizona National Scenic Trail

We caught up with Sirena to hear all about her new book, learn more about the AZT, and see what her next projects are.

Gossamer Gear: Can you tell us a little about how this book came to be?

Sirena: I had the idea for this book many years ago. In fact, I recently found a document that had an outline of many items that eventually made it into the book. It was dated 5/28/09—two weeks after I finished section-hiking the AZT for the first time.

I’ve been hiking, promoting, building, and writing about the Arizona Trail for 13 years now, and whenever I speak to folks about the trail and mention it is 800 miles, I often get the question, “What parts would you recommend?” I also get a lot of folks who think that they have to do the whole trail to appreciate it, when that’s not the case at all. This book is my effort to help hikers find the best and most accessible parts of the trail to enjoy being a part of the AZT culture.

I approached Wilderness Press in 2018 to publish it and the Arizona Office of Tourism to be my partner for the project. It took me three years of hiking, researching, photographing, writing, and editing to finally hold the book in my hands and get to share it with people.

What was one of your main goals with this book?

My goal is to empower hikers with the knowledge and resources to get on the trail, and then offer plenty of interpretive information about what’s being seen. The desert is a unique place, especially for people not familiar with the plants and animals. I describe what to watch out for as well as tips and tricks for keeping yourself comfortable in the extremes of this environment. The descriptions are very detailed and each includes a short version of the hike perfect for beginners, families, or those short on time. The hikes also include information about history, geology, plants, and animals along the AZT.

For every hike, there is information listed for the nearest Gateway Community, what we call trail towns on the AZT. The guide includes suggestions on where to stay, what to see, and where to get that all-important tasty after-hike meal and beverage. I developed the Gateway Community Program while I worked for the Arizona Trail Association between 2011 to 2016, and these unique places are a fantastic asset to the trail users.

Each hike also has the Indigenous Ancestral Lands listed, and there is an essay in the book by Hopi archaeologist Lyle Balenquah, “Ancestral Trails through Ancient Lands.” For example, the cover photo was taken on the Ancestral Lands of the Akimel O’odham along the Gila River. I always think that outings are way more interesting if you have some context for what you’re seeing.

What do you think makes the Arizona Trail particularly special or unique?

My favorite thing about the AZT is the biological diversity that creates such a wide variety of environments and scenery. In addition to the classic Sonoran Desert landscape with towering Saguaro cacti, the hikes go through oak and juniper grasslands, Ponderosa Pine forests, and aspen groves. Far from “just a flat desert,” Arizona has incredible scenery with mountains, forests, and canyons. In fact, the AZT goes through the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in the world!

Speaking of canyons, the AZT is the only National Scenic Trail to go through one of the Wonders of the World: the Grand Canyon. It’s one of my favorite places on the entire trail, and I have day hikes from both the South and the North Rim, as well as information about the geology you’ll encounter on the hike and what to know to visit safely.

Besides obviously reading your fabulous new book, what’s one thing people can do to prepare to hike the Arizona Trail? 

On the AZT in southern Arizona, be prepared to encounter lots of elevation change through mountain range after mountain range. North of the Mogollon Rim, the terrain is much more forgiving and flat (except the portion that goes rim-to-rim in Grand Canyon). If you’re not up for the whole climb on a hard hike, I suggest a shorter turnaround for each hike in the book. To help you choose, they are also rated with a five-star system for scenery, difficulty, terrain, and solitude, as well as how appropriate they are for folks hiking with children.

Mentally: Feel prepared and gain confidence to go out in the desert by having the appropriate items on trail that I cover in a discussion of the 10 Essentials and Desert Hiking Tips and Tricks, as well as knowing what to do in case you run across the desert’s many critters. Luckily, my book covers those, as well, from rattlesnakes to Tarantula Hawks.

Research: The Arizona Trail Association website (aztrail.org) has great resources for researching the trail. The Guthook AZT app comes in handy on the trail.

Which piece of Gossamer Gear have you found particularly useful on the Arizona Trail, and why?

I absolutely love my umbrella! I started using one in 2007 and it remains one of my best pieces of gear. I use it mostly for shade because, even in the wintertime, the sun is intense. I also use it for rain protection, as well as the occasional hail or snowstorm. I really like being able to use both hiking poles and my umbrella with the backpack attachment system.

What other projects do you have on the horizon and what’s the best way people can follow along with your outdoor educational materials?

My consulting company, Trails Inspire, promotes the outdoors through writing, photography, public speaking, and trail design. I’m also in contract negotiations for my next book, which will be announced soon.

You can follow my latest projects at @desertsirena and @trailsinspire on Instagram, or on the Trails Inspire Facebook. I also have a Patreon for exclusive video and behind the scenes content for subscribers.

Grab Your Copy of Best Day Hikes on the Arizona National Scenic Trail Today

We hope you’re as excited as we are to plan your next hike along the AZT. To grab a copy of Sirena’s new book, visit: trailsinspire.com/books