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Take A Hike: Author Explores, Promotes Diversity On Arizona Trails

It doesn’t matter if you live in a small town or the big city, if you live in Arizona, you probably live close to hiking trails. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you feel comfortable on them. In the final installment of KJZZ's series about hiking and diversity, we meet a woman who wants people from all walks of life to take a hike.

Part 1: Solo Hiking | Part 2: Hiking With Disabilities | Part 3: Diversity On The Trails

Sirena Rana Dufault has hiked up Mount Lemmon, near Tucson, more times than she can say. But as she walked past pine trees and thick brush, she still had a sense of wonder, noticing little things, including a tiny, dust-colored lizard skittering past.

“Oh my gosh!” she said, scooping him up. “Look at him! He’s adorable!”

The baby rested his chubby belly against her warm hands and quickly fell asleep.

“Oh my God,” she said. “He’s like a dinosaur!”

Dufault looks at home here, in the forest, on the trail.

“I want other people to experience this,” she said. “And I want other people to feel like they’re welcome to experience this.”

And the 44-year-old knows not everyone does, for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s about physical ability. Sometimes it’s about transportation. And sometimes it’s about the color of your skin.

“If you just see people who don’t look like you, it just feels different,” she said.

As the daughter of a man from India and woman from Italy, she gets it. Dufault has hiked the entire 800-mile Arizona Trail — twice — and says the farther you get into the backcountry, the fewer hikers of color you see.

“It’s just that feeling like — like an otherness,” she said.

And that can be intimidating — and limiting.

In Phoenix, 26-year-old Adriana Garcia Maximiliano loves hiking — but has never taken a backpacking trip alone.

“Not feeling safe has definitely — has kept me from enjoying that,” she said. “And you know, maybe one day I will, and but I don’t feel that right now.”

And just to be clear, Garcia — who was born in Mexico — was talking about safety from people. Jaye McAuliffe, who is white, feels that, too. She’s a transgender woman, who feels vulnerable in the wilderness in a way she never did before she came out.

“It might be way more likely that I get lost or get attacked by a bear, but the fear of other people, definitely weighs stronger in my mind,” she said.

That fear isn’t something that Anel Arriola feels — but her mother sure used to — whenever Arriola would go on a hike.

“And I think it has to do with the publicity that is given to, probably, hiking, in our community,” she said.

Meaning nowhere near enough publicity in the Hispanic community.  

“Right?” she said, “Like, it’s really not. I haven’t heard of it.”

The 35-year-old says that even now, in a time when there’s so much information about trails online and on apps, the Hispanic community — and especially the Spanish-speaking community — is largely left out of the conversation.

When she moved here from Mexico City, she was young and bilingual, but still, “it took me to meet someone who was hiking, for me to actually get out and hike,” she said.

And that someone was her sister. But not everyone has that person in his or her life, someone to help open the invisible door that keeps people locked out of the wilderness.

That’s where Sirena Rana Dufault hopes to help.

Back on Mount Lemmon, she spots a young Indian woman walking toward her with a baby on her back.

“Hi! Do you mind if I take your photo?” Dufault she asked, and the pair struck up a conversation.

Dufault is in the midst of writing a book, “Day Hikes on the Arizona National Scenic Trail,” set to be released in 2020 by Wilderness Press. The book will break down the 800-mile trek into dozens of shorter, digestible hikes for different ability levels. But also, and maybe just as important, it will include photos of all types of people on the trail.

Dufault will soon be submitting to her publisher pictures of black hikers, brown hikers, LGBT hikers.

“If you look through magazines and anything about hiking, and it’s just all a bunch of people that don’t look like you, it’s not as inviting,” she said, “and doesn’t make you feel like you have a place.”

And she thinks everyone has a place here — even her, a former Chicago girl, who only got into hiking in college, after she was hit by a car while walking and developed fibromyalgia.

Before she started hiking, she was on the road to up to giving up.

“This gave me my life back,” she said.

Then her eyes lit up and darted away, toward an explosion of blue flowers on the side of the trail.

And she looked delighted, like it was the first time she’d ever see them.

Learn more about Sirena Rana Dufault and her work at trailsinspire.com.

Part 1: Solo Hiking | Part 2: Hiking With Disabilities | Part 3: Diversity On The Trails

When senior field correspondent Stina Sieg was 22, she moved to the desert. She hasn’t been the same since. At the time, the Northern California native had just graduated from college and was hankering for wide-open spaces. So she took a leap and wrote to nearly every newspaper in New Mexico until one offered her a job. That’s how she became the photographer for a daily paper in the small town of Silver City. And that’s when she realized how much she loved storytelling. In the years since, the beauty of having people open up and share their stories — and trust her to tell them — has never gotten old to Sieg. Before coming to KJZZ, Sieg was also a writer and photographer at newspapers in Glenwood Springs, Colorado; Moab, Utah; and the Smoky Mountains town of Waynesville, North Carolina. She always had her hand in public radio, too, including hosting Morning Edition on a fill-in basis at WNCW in North Carolina. It’s still the best music station she’s found. When she’s not reporting, chances are Sieg is running, baking, knitting or driving to some far-flung town deep in the desert — just to see what it looks like.