Thanks for the advice! I picked up the Specialized this afternoon. It's awesome. I'm very happy with it. The improvement in the components and weight is amazing.
I'm not going to be racing at all, just doing single track around Tucson. I did look for a steel-frame bike in my price range, but no luck.
If anyone is interested - though I don't know the consensus on these - Specialized has a closeout on their carbon-frame 29er for $1200. It weighs in at around 21 lbs!
I'm gonna go ride now - thanks to everyone for the advice!
Suzy 2001 Subaru Forester
2011 Specialized Rockhopper LTD