Judith Tunell goes to her trail alone to listen to the animals talk.
In the past year and a half, the northeast Phoenix woman has gone to the trail at least 50 times — the Judith Tunell Trail at South Mountain Park, that is.
Blind for more than two decades, it’s a freeing experience for the 62-year-old to be able to climb the mountain alone and get away from the city.
"I know lots of blind folks who hike the Grand Canyon," Tunell said. "There are a lot who do really serious hiking. This is a little different. It’s the in-between stage where you’re a couch potato and wanting to get some exercise. And believe you me, a lot of blind people are wearing out the seats of their pants."
Though able to listen and feel the presence of nature since the trail opened in her honor, the work of a Mesa Eagle Scout has made the trail even more accessible for the blind or visually impaired since February.
Jordan Carlson, now 14, spent 200 hours raising money to create Braille signs along the trail for the visually impaired to read about the nature before them — just as seeing guests can already.
He raised so much as part of his Eagle Scout project that he was also able to create CDs to hear while walking the milelong trail just outside of the South Mountain Environmental Center. He made taped books about the wildlife for guests and even classrooms of blind children who want to learn about Arizona nature and experience it for themselves.
"I’m so blessed," Tunell said of the trail, the honor and now the equipment. "I’m so humbled by it. I love to come up here. You can hear the animals’ conversations."
The trail was originally envisioned four years ago as a wheelchair-accessible hike. Tunell, a former member of the Phoenix mayor’s commission on disabilities, retired and was honored as the trail’s namesake shortly after.
Jordan’s mother, Becky Carlson, is a clerk for the special education department at O’Connor Elementary School in Mesa, where she works with Becky Feliz’s class for visually impaired students. Feliz helped Jordan plan what the trail would need to help students go on field trips there.
"Unfortunately, so many things are not geared to them," Becky Carlson said. "They get left out of a lot of stuff. I was happy to see Jordan pick what he wanted to do."
Jordan has never before known anyone who was blind, but said he’s learned a lot about visual impairment.
"I just wanted to do something for the blind," he said. "It’s pretty cool. Now they actually get to experience the outdoors and kind of visualize instead of just hear about it."