Friday, April 11, 2014

Hugh Norris to Wasson Peak March 19, 2014

                                        Desert marigold

On this blog I have described two routes to the top of Wasson Peak (Sendero Esperanza and Sweetwater Canyon) both of which are beautiful routes. Today's post is about the Hugh Norris trail which is the longest trail in the Tucson Mountains and also one of the more popular for reaching the summit of Wasson Peak. The trail is 10 miles round trip with 2100 feet of elevation gain. Arrive early because the parking lot at the trail head only accommodates three cars. I would suggest hiking early in the morning because the entire trail is exposed to the sun.

Trail Description: This trail is well signed and easy to follow all the way to the summit.  After leaving the trail head the Hugh Norris trail switchbacks through a drainage with Teddy bear cholla and Saguaro. After two miles the trail reaches the west ridge of Wasson Peak. From here to the summit the views are truly exceptional. Bring a map along and try to identify some of the ranges. After about three miles the trail reaches the junction of the Sendero Esperanza Trail. After the trail junction the Hugh Norris trail gains elevation more precipitously entering a new habitat of Jojoba, yucca, grasses and Ocotillo. At about 4.5 miles the Hugh Norris trail reaches the King Canyon trail junctiion. From here it is about .4 miles to the summit. On this hike I saw Ocotillo blooming, Desert marigolds, blooming Hedgehog cactus and Staghorn cholla. (information from


                               Ocotillo and Saguaros on first part of Hugh Norris trail

                     Pink flower Hedgehog Cactus

                                 Blooming Hedgehog cactus

                          Me on top of Wasson Peak

                        Staghorn Cholla in bloom

                          Sonoran Desert in Ironwood National Monument

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Garwood Trail Loop Saguaro National Park East March 17, 2014


If I start hiking later in the day the Cactus Forest of Saguaro National Park East is one of my favorite places to hike It is possible to create a loop of five miles or a longer day hike of around 10 miles. On Monday I reached the Douglas Spring trail head around 12:40 pm. My objective was a hike around six miles. I accomplished this by hiking mostly on the Garwood, Wildhorse, Carrillo, Pink Hill and Loma Verde trails. Today the sun was definitely intense and I was glad I had three liters of water. Today I met a guy who actually enjoys hiking during the hottest period of the day. He is the first hiker I have ever met who enjoys hiking in 110 degree heat. Overall I hiked around 6.5 miles with minimal elevation gain. If you are looking for more elevation gain I would stay on the Douglas Spring Trail and hike either the Carrillo or Three Tank Trails.



                                           Blooming Ocotillo

Pima Canyon March 15, 2014

                            Scenery in the lower part of the canyon

Location: Pima Canyon is located in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness of Arizona. The best way to reach the trail head  is to take Oracle Road toward Oro Valley.Turn onto Magee Road and drive until you reach the parking lot on the left. Pima Canyon is one over from Finger Rock in the front range of the Catalina Mountains. The Catalina mountains are beautiful but dogs are not allowed in any of the canyons near Tucson because of Bighorn sheep reintroduction.

Nathan and I arrived at the trail head early in the morning to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. In fact I saw a huge difference in the amount of water I drank early on in the hike. The trail presented a profile very similar to Ventana Canyon with a couple miles of flat hiking followed by steep sections of rocky trail. If you are hiking to the top expect an elevation gain of over 2500 feet. Throughout the hike this canyon quickly became my favorite in the Catalina Mountains. Dramatic rock walls tower on either side and after three miles the view down canyon is fantastic. This hike is also less popular and it is possible to find solitude. One thing I was not expecting were the abundance of wildflowers along the trail. Nathan and I saw over seven species by the end of the hike.

Special Considerations: In the upper reaches of the canyon the trail becomes overgrown in places so some route finding is needed however I did talk to hikers who had made it up to the crest so the trail is definitely doable. In the final 1.5 miles of the hike we did see a Black-tailed rattlesnake. We gave the snake room and it very quickly became disinterested with us. Remember snakes play a vital role in the ecosystem and the majority of bites occur when visitors try and handle the snake or poke it with a stick. Total mileage was 10.5 miles with 2000 feet of vertical change

                Saguaros with sunlight on them

                             Agave and Ocotillos with the canyon

              Mid morning sun on grass

                           Canyon walls

                        Parry's Penstemon

                             Parry's Penstemon

                          A great lunch spot


               Black-tailed Rattlesnake

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Phoneline Trail and Sabino Canyon Road Loop February, 22, 2014

                               On the Phoneline trail looking down Sabino Canyon.

Last weekend I completed a loop at Sabino Canyon by hiking the Phoneline trail to the top of Sabino Canyon and back on Sabino Canyon Roads. This loop is about 8.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1600 feet. This hike has no route finding involved and the trail is easy to follow. However, if you are looking for solitude do not hike this route on the weekend. On Saturday I saw three large groups and the parking area was totally full by 10 am. I would suggest to visit Sabino Canyon during the week or get to the trail head around 8 am. Trams run up and down Sabino Canyon all day so it is possible to take the tram back to the Visitor's Center if you do not want to hike along the road.
                       A picturesque tree along the Phonline

                          Poppies in the Catalinas.

                          Great-tailed Grackle

                        At the top of the Sabino Canyon

                                                On the road.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Starr Pass Redemption February 20, 2014

                                                      Ocotillo in bloom with mountain in background

With my Master's Classes in full swing it is rare I get out for a weekday hike. Today I joined my cousin (Franak) and her twin sister Jasmine for a hike to Starr Pass. I rarely see Jasmine so it was great to spend time with her before she flew back to West Virginia this weekend. Part of me wanted to also atone for the embarrassment of getting turned around here in January with my cousin and having to have a mountain biker lead us back to the trail head. This area is tough because there are many illegal trail that are not marked on maps. Even though we were paying attention to all the trail junctions on the way back we did get off on a secondary trail which thankfully looped back to the main Star Pass trail. Total mileage for the hike was about 5 miles.

                               Trail sign with Tucson Mountains scenery

                                 Popeyes in the desert

Ventana Canyon February 15, 2014

                                  Northern Cardinal

Ventana Canyon is well-known among the Tucson hiking community because of its beauty and back country opportunities. It is possible to hike to the top of Mount Lemmon, climb Cathedral Peak, or access Esperero Canyon by way of the window. As a result the parking lot fills up fast on the weekend. Luckily Ventana Canyon Resort  lets visitors park in an overflow lot. Please do not park by the hotel as that is for guests of the resort. Today I hiked 10 miles round trip with an elevation gain about 2000 feet. In the future I want to hike into Esperero Canyon by way of the window which is an arduous hike of around 15 miles.

Trail description: The first mile of the trail crosses private land owned by the Ventana Canyon Resort. It is explicitly stated in many spots that future access to the public is dependent on the hiking public not straying from the trail. By the number of private property signs and warnings it is apparent that the resort has a love/hate relationship with the trail. After a mile the trail enters the canyon. Here the canyon is at its most scenic with steep walls on both sides. In this section the trail is also at the bottom of the canyon making for some hot hiking. I would definitely hike early in the morning in the future to avoid the sun. The trail stays fairly level until a mile from Maiden Pools when it starts to gain elevation. Maiden Pools turned out to be somewhat of a disappoint because of the lack of water. I will need to return after a rainy period.  After leaving Maiden Pools I met an older couple from Oregon who were climbing Cathedral Peak. I hiked with them for over a 1.5 miles because they set a good even climbing pace. They usually spend about three months of the year in the Southwest during the winter season hiking and  volunteering. At 1:30 pm I wished them luck on their climb and turned around because of a dinner engagement later in the day.

                      Looking down canyon near Maiden Pools

                            Rock, tree and sky

                         Scenery down canyon

                                             The tree zone begins in the Catalina Mountains

Friday, February 14, 2014

Tortolita Mountain Loop (Wild Mustang and Wild Burro Trails) February 8, 2014

                       Looking east Tortolita Mountain Park

Directions: To get to the Tortolita Mountains travel west on Interstate 10 until you see W Tangerine Road. Take the exit and turn right. Travel on Tangerine until you reach Dove Mountain Road. Take Dove Mountain all the way to the Ritz Carlton Resort. The big parking lot is the trail head for these mountains.

On Saturday morning at around 10:30 Nathan, his uncle and I arrived at the Wild Burro Canyon Trail head. Our objective today was a nine mile loop connecting the Wild Burro, Javelina and Wild Mustang Trails. Elevation gain is around 2000 feet. The view gets absolutely sublime after about two miles of hiking on the Wild Mustang trail. Toward the east is Wild Burro Canyon and the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. To the south is the Tucson valley. Around this time on the hike the vegetation regime also changes with more Yucca, Ironwood, grasses and less Saguaro. The last 0.7 mile to the Wild Burro trail junction is steep as the trail loses about 700 feet. The hike back to the trail head through Wild Burro Canyon is about four miles the first two of which are very scenic. I will definitely be back to explore more of this range in the future.

Special Considerations: During the months of May, June and July the temperatures in the Sonoran Desert can be over 115 degrees. Bring multiple gallons of water. During the fall, winter, and spring the sun can be very intense so still bring at least three nalgenes depending on the distance of the hike. Rattlesnakes are also very active so pay attention.


                                  Ocotillo in bloom

                              Yucca upper part of Wild Mustang trail

         Wild Burro Canyon
                       Impressive Saguaro

                     Beautiful Wild Burro Canyon