Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tortolita Mountains Alamo Springs January 19, 2015

             Alamo Trail scenery

Directions: The Tortolita Mountains are an overlooked mountain range to the west of Tucson, Arizona. Visitors tend to stay in Saguaro National Park or hike in the Catalina Mountains. This is a mistake because the Tortolita Mountains are very scenic. From Interstate 10 take the Tangerine Road exit. Turn east, crossing the train tracks, and drive until you reach Dove Mountain Road. Turn left onto Dove Mountain and follow it until you reach a sign for the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. This area has been built up significantly in the last five years. You will see signs for the Wild Burro Trailhead where there is a big parking lot.

Hike: Last year I hiked the Wild Mustang and Wild Burro Trails with my friend Nathan. The objective for todays hike was to hike the Alamo Springs tTail and then come back on the Wild Burro Trail. Total mileage was about nine miles with over 1500 feet. I started late in the morning and the temperature was already warm under the sun. I was glad I brought the six containers of water with me. There is not a lot of shade on the Alamo Trail but hikers can find some shade under Mesquite or Palo verde bushes. In the future I want to get started earlier in the day especially on this trail. When I arrived at Alamo Springs I returned to the parking lot via Wild Burro. On the way back I met two older gentlemen from Ohio who were geocaching in the mountains. They were following their GPS and wanted to go cross-country to the cache. I advised them that it would not be a wise decision because the Sonoran Desert is one of the most difficult deserts to hike off-trail in.

                    A hot but scenic section of the Alamo Springs Trail

                    Looking toward Wild Burro Canyon

                                  Neat looking Saguaros

Carillo and Wildhorse Trails Saguaro National Park East January 18, 2015

                      The Carrillo Trail

Avid readers will find this post familiar because I have hiked in the cactus forest of Saguaro National Park many times in the past. This trailhead is located about 20 minutes away from Pima Air and Space so it is an attractive destination after volunteering at the museum.. I arrived at the Wildhorse Trailhead, located at the end of Speedway BLVD,  at 2 pm. Today's objective was to hike the Carrillo and Wildhorse loop. This loop is about five to six miles (depending on deviations on other trails) with most elevation gain occurring in the first mile on the Douglas Springs Trail. All trails are well signed; however, a map is necessary to keep from getting confused and turned around in the many trails. For visitors who are new to the Sonoran Desert these trails give a nice introduction to vegetation and terrain for the area. Remember this is desert country so wear a long sleeve shirt, hat and sunblock and carry plenty of water.

                        Saguaros on the foothills of the Rincon Mountains

               Saguaros with Catalina Mountains in the background

Monday, January 19, 2015

Picacho Peak Tucson, Arizona January 17, 2015

                     On the backside of Picacho Peak near the cables

Directions: Picacho Peak is located directly off of Interstate 10 about 24 miles west of Tucson, Arizona. If you are traveling west from Tucson to Phoenix on Interstate 10 travelers cannot miss it on the left side of the road. This peak is not the tallest of the peaks in the location but it is by itself so climbers are rewarded with a 360 degree view. Because the peak is on a state park it cost $7 for a day pass.

Trail Description: Round trip to the summit on the Hunter Trail is about 4 miles with 1800 feet of elevation gain. The first part the trail ascends about 960 feet by a series of switchbacks to a saddle. The tricky part of this section is their are many loose rocks and footing can be treacherous.  In the afternoon this section also gets intense sunlight making it much hotter. After the saddle the fun begins. This part of the trail would not be possible if it were not for boy scouts who built cables in sections to aid hikers. After leaving the saddle, the trail descends precipitously about 400 feet to go around a steep section of rock. From here the trail is easy to follow but there are four sections that  require scrambling. One of which requires visitors to use strength to pull themselves up. A second one is almost a vertical section of rock for a short distance. In these sections there are many foot and hand holds so the climbing is not too technical but it does require confidence. Because the peak is relatively isolated in relation to other mountains the view from the top is great in all directions. Highlights include Casa Grande to the west, the Catalina Mountains to the east and Kitt Peak to the south.

Special Considerations: This is a winter hike because summer temperatures can be well over 100 degrees. Visitors have died in the park because they get lost and do not have enough water. However, daytime temperatures can be warm in southern Arizona at all times of the year even the winter. Please bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water. Finally, the hike might be short but it is intense. Do not attempt this peak if you are not in good shape.

                            Steep descent from the saddle

                                 Me on top looking west

                  Looking east from the summit; Interstate 10 is on the lower left part of the photo

                             One of the smaller summits

                            The rocky trail

Phoneline Trail and Sabino Creek Loop Sabino Canyon, Arizona January 11, 2015

                   Foothills of the Catalina Mountains

Directions: From the University of Arizona campus take Campbell Avenue to Skyline Road. Turn right and follow this road all the way to Sabino Canyon Road. Turn left and then an immediate right.

Around 2 pm after volunteering at Pima Air and Space I arrived at Sabino Canyon for an afternoon hike. After our cold snap over the New Year the weather has been gorgeous every day I chose one of my favorite short hikes in Tucson. It is a 3.5 mile loop connecting Phoneline and Sabino Creek trails. This hike truly has it all with great views and a desert riparian area. Along Sabino Creek I had the added bonus of seeing the cottonwoods with fall foliage. I was surprised and some of these trees made for great photos. For a more detailed description please see my December 2013 post.

                             Rocky Phoneline Trail

                   Cottonwood with fall color

                     Nice light with dark clouds over the Catalina Mountains near Sabino Dam

                            Looking south from Phoneline Trail

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sasco, Arizona January 10, 2015

                                 A shot up BLM sign

Location: To get to Sasco, Arizona, take Interstate 10 west of Tucson, Arizona, for about 23 miles to the Red Rock Exit. Exit the interstate and turn left. Immediately after exiting the highway immediately look for Sasco Road. The first part of Sasco Road goes through a recently built subdivision for the town of Marana, Arizona. Keep driving and soon the road surface becomes a graded dirt road. The road to Sasco might be passable for passenger vehicles with higher clearance. The problem is that Sasco Road does ford the Santa Cruz River which might present a challenge if it has rained recently.

History: Sasco is an acronym for the Southern Arizona Smelting Company. Founded in 1907 Sasco served as the primary smelting location for the mines at Silverbell and Picacho Peak. The town once had 600 residents a smelter, company buildings, saloons, stores, and the Hotel Rockland. In 1919 mining in the area declined resulting in a decline at Sasco as well. Today, no one lives at Sasco but there are extensive ruins throughout the area including a cemetery with victims from the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic.

Special Consideration: Residents of Arizona use the ruins of Sasco as well as the surrounding desert for target practice and "war games." When I visited on Saturday I heard many shots echoing in the area. Near where I parked there was a group of males firing shotguns as well as automatic weapons. It became apparent that walking around would not be a wise decision. Sadly, I also saw a significant amount of shell cases on the ground and trash related to target shooting. I also saw individuals had spray painted their name on some of the ruins. Nevertheless, I still want to return on a weekday when it is safer to explore the area. (Information from Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps by Philip Varney).

                 Impressive ruins

                              Concrete foundations

                   More concrete ruins; you can see the vandalism I talk about.

                      More foundation

Museum of Mini Time Machines Tucson, Arizona January 6, 2015

                                   Miniature birds

Last summer while hiking on Mount Lemmon a visitor made a glowing recommendation for the Museum of Mini Time Machines in Tucson. He told me that surprisingly the museum was delightful for grownups as well as children. After the holiday season I decided it was time to visit. I arrived at the museum at 10 am in the morning. The museum costs about $9 per person while children under three are free (for individuals who want to visit multiple times they do offer various memberships). Miniatures are grouped into three different areas according to theme. These include the History Gallery, Enchanted Room (fantasy-themed) and Exploring the World. All together there are approximately 300 antique and contemporary dollhouses each with very detailed scenes in each one. The Enchanted Room was Quintin's favorite part of the museum because some of the displays were at his level. He became bored with some of the other displays because they were higher up. For me I enjoyed many of the displays in the History Gallery and Exploring the World. There is no food or drink in the galleries which can be an  inconvenience for visitors with young kids because of the constant need to exit the galleries.

The Museum of Mini Time Machines is located east on Fort Lowell Road (toward the Rincon Mountains). After 3 1/4 miles the road becomes Camp Lowell Drivel, The museum is on the left side of the road just passed Columbus Boulevard. It is open Tuesday-Sunday and closed Monday.(Information from

                    Quintin at the holiday display

                            Another good one of Q

                 Display in the Exploring the World section

                                      Industrial Revolution

                            My favorite house in the museum. A french chateau.

                      Miniatures from Thailand

Bisbee, Arizona Historical Stairs Exploration December 30, 2014

Staircases in Bisbee became prevalent for a number of reasons and they evolved over time. First, miners built old-town Bisbee in a valley in the Mule Mountains. The only way to accommodate  the many workers who came to the town to work in the mines was to build onto the surrounding hillsides. Second, workers built houses close together so paths and alleys were necessary.  To reach these houses from the streets at the bottom of the valley residents built dirt paths; however these paths became slippery and they flooded during storms. After a couple years residents replaced  these paths with wooden stairways and concrete sidewalks. During the Great Depression the Works Progress Administration (WPA) paved dirt roads and replaces wooden stairs with concrete. Many of the stairs have the stamp "WPA/ USA" still inscribed.

Today, Bisbee still has its historical structures and newer development has not wiped out its charm. As a result, the best way to see Bisbee is to wonder and explore its alleys and stairs. With over 351 staircases in Bisbee of varying length the possibilities for a wanderer are endless. Time has not been kind to some of these stairs and some of them  are crumbling and in disrepair. The annual Bisbee 1000 or Great Bisbee Stair Climb, raises money to maintain and repair this heritage. This is a 4.5 mile run that includes nine sets of stairs. However, many residents claim the funds raised for preservation have been mis-managed and have not been used to rebuild some of the stairs. This ongoing battle has led to contentious editorials and articles in the local paper. (Information from The Bisbee Stairs by David Ryan). I have included some of my favorite photos from my limited time spent exploring over the holidays.