Friday, April 24, 2015

Little Bushmaster Peak Second Time Tucson Mountains April 19, 2015

                     Staghorn cholla with yellow flowers

Today's hike was located at the main parking lot at Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountains of southern Arizona. If you are arriving from the interstate take the Speedway BLVD exit and turn west toward the Tucson Mountains. Speedway will soon become Gates Pass Road which is scenic but curvy. The parking lot is near the summit and it accommodates a large number of cars.This is a popular area for locals to see the sunset.

I arrived mid-afternoon to hike later in the day. Forecasts were calling for mid-eighties and sun so I wanted to take advantage of the cooler weather late afternoon provides. My goal was to duplicate a hike I did on February 7, 2015. On that day I summitted an unnamed peak on the same ridge as Bushmaster peak. On that hike I was using non-established but well-worn trails. At the beginning of the hike navigation can be difficult because visitors have made many different paths. If you pick the wrong path you might be  carefully traversing a forest of Teddy bear cholla. On this particular hike I did have to turn around below the summit because I found a bee hive. I was hiking along when I saw three bees enter a cleft in a rock wall. I stayed for a couple of minutes and watched about a dozen bees enter and exit. Luckily, I was upwind of them so they did not know I was present. Stumbling into bees in the Sonoran Desert is a scary proposition because many of them have hybridized with African killer bees and are very aggressive. On a hike I would much rather see a rattlesnake than bees. I quickly departed and returned to the car the way I came. On this hike I continued my run of beautiful flower displays. Today I saw Staghorn cholla and Teddy bear cholla in bloom. If you want a detailed description of the route please consult my February 7, 2015 post.

                       Tucson Mountains near Gates Pass

                              Teddy bear cholla

               Cholla blooms

                     Looking toward Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountais

                               Love the colors of spring in the desert

                    Staghorn cholla with yellow flower

Blacketts Ridge April 3, 2015

                                    Saguaro Cactus

Location: Sabino Canyon is one of Tucson's more popular places for hikes. From the University of Arizona take Campbell Avenue to Skyline Road. Turn right and drive Skyline (becomes Sunrise) until you reach Sabino Canyon. The parking lot gets packed on the weekends and later on in the morning so get there early.

I arrived early at the Sabino Canyon parking lot. My objective was to hike Blacketts Ridge. This hike is relatively short at six miles but the trail is rocky and steep in places so watch your footing and take your time. The route is easy to follow: take the main trail toward Bear Canyon and cross Sabino Creek turn left onto the Phoneline Trail. Hike this trail about half a mile until the junction for Balcketts Ridge on the right. After summitting the ridge I returned via Sabino Creek and dam. One of the memorable aspects for the hike would have to be the wildflowers. I saw many different species including Saguaro, Bitterbush, Mariposa lillies and poppies. Total mileage for the day was about eight miles with over 2000 feet of elevation gain.

                                  Blacketts Ridge

                                Bitterbush and vegetation along the trail



                                 Desert chickory and Hedgehog cactus

              Looking toward Tucson


                                          Mariposa Lilly

                                   Mariposa Lilly

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Pontatoc Ridge March 28, 2015


Location: Over the last couple of years I have completed numerous hikes out of Finger Rock Canyon. Devoted readers will find this location familiar. To get to the Finger Rock Canyon Trail head from the University of Arizona take Campbell Avenue north toward the Catalina Mountains. Turn right onto Skyline Road. After a couple of miles Skyline turns off to the left. Continue on this road until you see Alvernon Road on the left. Turn left and follow this to your destination.

A year ago I hiked the trail on Pontatoc Ridge which is about five miles roundtrip with 2000 feet of vertical change. After I finished the hike another hiker told me there was a mine on the ridge a little passed where the trail stops. It has taken me over a year but I have returned to hike the ridge and find the mine. I arrived at the trail head at 6:15 am in the morning. Temperatures in the afternoon have been getting warm and I wanted to get out before the heat of the day. The first mile of the hike the trail follows the Pontatoc Canyon trail before branching off 50 feet above Pontatoc Canyon. After departing the Pontatoc Ridge Trail sweeps back around to the front of the ridge before switchbacking up the ridge. Definitely one of the highlights of this hike were the wildflowers. The Brittle bush was blooming on both sides of the trail. I also saw other species including Globe mallow, Ocotillo, Hedgehog cactus, Mariposa lily, Desert chickory and Larkspur. In fact this was one of the best flower displays I have seen in the desert. A half mile after departing from a saddle a Forest Service sign tells visitors this is the end of the trail. From here it is another hundred yards to the old mine. The mine is not made out of timbers but uses rock walls as supports. Without some knowledge it would be easy to mistake it for a cave. I walked in a couple feet before returning to the front. A Tucsonian knowledgeable about the area told me there used to be a town on the canyon floor which was dismantled after World War II. I departed from the mine and arrived back at the car at 11 am. Along the way I saw blooming Hedgehog cacti which was definitely a treat. Total mileage was about six miles.

                              Blooming Ocotilllo

                                     Morning sun illuminating grass

                    Morning sun illuminating the grass with Ocotillos

                              The Brittle bush was fantastic

                          Globe mallow

                        At the cave looking toward town
                     Mariposa lilly

                           Desert chickory

                                    Blooming Hedgehog cactus

                         Blooming Hedgehog

                   Coulter's Hibiscus

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tohono Chul Park March 2015

                     Penstemon along one of the paths

Directions: Tohono Chul is located near the intersection of Ina and Oracle. If you are coming on Oracle Road turn onto Ina Road. Take the second right onto Paseo Del Norte. Admission: Adults $10 and children $3. Yearly passes are available for various prices.

At 49 acres these gardens are considerably bigger than the Tucson Botanical Gardens off of Grant. They have a variety of gardens including the Hummingbird Garden, Desert Palm Oasis, Riparian Habitat, Sin Agua Garden among many others. Nature trails including the Desert View Trail, South Loop Trail and Saguaro Discovery Trail give visitors a chance to see the Sonoran Desert landscape up close. Besides having gardens and nature trails, Tohono Chul has a gallery with paintings and sculpture which link the people of the Southwest with its landscape. I have visited these gardens twice with my son and the park is fast becoming my favorite place in Tucson because the gardens are well constructed and they have activities for children as well. This spring Tohono Chul is particularly beautiful because the wildflowers are blooming however, this summer and next fall will bring different surprises and beauty. (Some information from

                        The Spring Garden is especially colorful this year

                    Quintin in front of flowers

                            Bluebells and Poppies

                                Tohono Chul

                       Quintin in the Riparian Haabitat

                             Beautiful scene in the gardens

                          Red spring flower


                Bluebells and Poppies
              South Loop Trail with Pusch Peak in the background

                    Infusion of Penstemon

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tanque Verde Ridge to Juniper Basin Saguaro National Park East February 28, 2015

                       Along Tanque Verde Ridge

Directions: Tanque Verde Ridge is a popular hike in Saguaro National Park East. If you are traveling from the University of Arizona take Speedway BLVD east and then turn onto Freeman Road, Admission to the park is $10 per visit but yearly passes are available,

The Hike: This trail is one of the most popular backpacking routes in Saguaro National Park. It is about 15 miles one way to Manning Camp which is at 8000 feet. Along the way hikers can camp at Juniper Basin. The hike also gives trekkers a chance to see many different ecological environments from cacti along the first part of the trail to Ponderosa pine stands at Manning Camp.

My cousin and I arrived at the trail head early in the morning around 7 am. We did not want to be rushed to reach our destination. The previous weeks trek up Mount Kimball was fun but Nathan and I started too late in the morning to truly enjoy the summit. Today we also wanted to make a tangible destination. Juniper Basin would be the logical choice at 6 miles down the trail. The first part of the hike the trail ascends to the ridge line. Here is the stereotypical Sonoran Desert environment with Saguaro Cacti, Prickly pear, Ocotillos, Palo verde among many more. At 5000 feet the Saguaros and cacti disappear and are replaced by high desert grasses such as Sotol and Bear grass. From here on views from the trail are spectacular to the east and west. This particular day was windy so my cousin and I rested in gullies away from the wind. Cloudy skies also made for a pleasant hike. This trail can be hot during the late spring and summer so bring plenty of water when you hike it. Juniper Basin campground is set in the upper part of a basin among Alligator juniper and Pinyon pine. There is a creek near the campground that has water most of the year. The trail the last mile to the campground can be hard to find because it skirts along rock. Keep an eye out for cairns along the trail which guide the way. The hike back to the car was uneventful. We did see spectacular lighting the last mile of the hike with sun highlighting Saguaros in the foreground and dark clouds in the back, Total mileage was around 12 miles with about 2000 feet of vertical gain. (Some information from Hiking Arizona's Cactus Country by Erik Molvar).

                   Juniper Basin

                         Near the turnoff for the campground

                            Picturesque dead tree

                             Great view along the trail with the grassy environment

                        Splendid lighting

                               Front lit cacti with a dark sky