Night Hiking By Infrared Light

It's dusk but instead of calling it a day and heading inside for dinner, you don a pair of night vision goggles and head off into the night. No, you're not on a highly classified covert operation in the Middle East. You're actually in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains on the outskirts of Tucson.

Believe it or not, just an hour earlier you were taking an Aqua Zumba class at the Canyon Ranch luxury resort. At present, you've traded your suit for warm layers and your eyes are trying to adjust to a different pair of goggles. For you and the other five hikers in tow, the night is just getting started.

In 2012, the Sports & Outdoors department at Canyon Ranch began offering night hikes. One night a week, a Canyon Ranch guide leads a group of up to six guests into nearby Sabino Canyon—a popular recreation area by day and a dark, deserted refuge by night. Each guest is outfitted with a pair of Yukon Night Vision Tracker Goggles. They resemble binoculars except they come with headgear that allows for hands-free hiking.  

This particular model features an infrared illuminator that works like a flashlight but instead of emitting a visible beam of light, it emits a beam of infrared light.  In layman's terms, the goggles are able to detect light that humans can't pick up and convert it into a visual that the human eye can understand.

As seen on TV, this image is usually green because the human eye is most sensitive to light wavelengths around 550 nanometers. Green falls on the spectrum between 520 and 570 nanometers. Night vision goggle manufacturers use green because in doing so the device's display doesn't have to be as bright. As a result, battery power can be conserved which is important because you wouldn't want to be left without light late at night in Sabino Canyon.

Fortunately, your Canyon Ranch guide is carrying a large infrared spotlight. While Canyon Ranch offers a number of physically demanding hikes, their night hikes are more about high-tech observation. In fact, Randy Kinkade, the director of the Sports & Outdoors department at Canyon Ranch does not recommend using night vision goggles for hiking long distances unless you're completely comfortable and accustomed to wearing them. This is because the goggles severely limit the wearer's peripheral vision.

Although beautiful, Sabino Canyon, like many natural wonders, is an entirely different beast at night. In addition to cacti and cliffs, hikers can encounter wildlife including deer, javelinas, roadrunners, tarantulas and snakes—the reason Canyon Ranch does not lead night hikes in the summer months.

Although wildlife sightings are never guaranteed on Canyon Ranch hikes, you and your fellow night hikers can get your animal fix from the constellations like Ursa Major and Scorpio which are amplified with the aid of night vision. Your guide will also point out an invisible house on the perimeter of Sabino Canyon. Completely hidden in the dark, the house is only visible because of a small infrared light installed on the back deck. The light is not visible to the naked eye, but it can be seen through the night vision goggles.

Kinkade doesn't know why the homeowner would have this light, but perhaps it's because they want to amuse the goggled group below. Regardless of the reason, curiosity is why you've come to Sabino Canyon at this ungodly hour. At the end of the hike, you may not get to keep the goggles, but yours to keep are the memories of experiencing the dynamic nighttime desert that most people only know as darkness.  

For more information on the night hikes offered by Canyon Ranch click here