Thursday, December 19, 2013

Carrillo and Wild Horse Loop Saguaro National Park East December 15, 2013

                   The three hiking trails involved in the loop denoted by three different colors.

If you right click on each image and select "View Image." The image will come up in a different screen where you can see the full image. 

Location: The Douglas Spring Trail head is located at the end of Speedway BLVD in eastern Tucson. The Douglas Spring Trail gives hikers and backpackers the opportunity to hike into Manning Camp and other destinations deep in the Rincon Mountains. There are also many trails in the Cactus Forest which originate near this location as well. Consult a park map to plan a hike.

The Hike: Today I am connecting two trails in the Cactus Forest- The Carrillo Trail and Wildhorse Trails. This loop is approximately six miles with over 1500 feet of elevation gain. The first part of the hike is on the Douglas Spring Trail.  (For more information on this trail please consult my November 10, 2013 post). After 1.4 miles the Carrillo Trail exits on the right. The first quarter mile the trail is at the bottom of a wash and then it becomes extremely steep as it summits a small hill topping out at an elevation of 3500 feet. The views toward the Catalina Mountains and Rincon Mountains are stupendous at the point.  From here it descends to a junction with the Three Tank Trail. Stay on the Carrillo Trail until the Wild Horse Trail junction. Along the Carrillo Trail are magnificent Saguaros many with three or more arms. I returned by way of the Wild Horse Trail (black on my map). This trail is two miles long, easy to follow and gives great views of the surrounding mountains. My favorite part was the Bajada Wash area where I saw beautiful riparian desert vegetation and two Jack rabbits.

                      Sonoran Desert vegetation with the Catalinas in the background.

                           View from the summit of the Carrillo Trail

                              Dead Saguaro. I think they are majestic in a morbid way.

                                       Bajada Wash on the Wild Horse Trail

                              Saguaro with many arms.

                                                     Desert jack rabbit

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Yetman Trail Tucson Mountain Park December 14, 2013

                    Golden Gate Peak in the Tucson Mountains

After lunch, I drove into the Tucson Mountains over Gates Pass to hike the Yetman Trail. The Yetman Trail is one of the longer trails in the Tucson Mountain Park at over five miles starting on Gates Pass Road and ending near the International Wildlife Museum on Speedway BLVD. I hiked for about three hours with total miles around 5.5.  This last week I have been suffering from a head cold so I did not want to over exert myself.  The hike was beautiful with lots of views of Golden Gate Mountain near Gates Pass and  surrounding desert vegetation. On this hike I saw more young Saguaros under nurse trees such as Palo verde or Creosote bush. Most people think Saguaros are hardy cacti but they can easily die during periods of cold temperatures and low rainfall. Saguaros are also a keystone species providing habitat and food for many species of wildlife.

Special Note: Bikers and hikers have created lots of unincorporated trails in the Tucson Mountains. Be sure to carry a topographic map so you do not get turned around.

                 Golden Gate Peak and Bushmaster Peak (to the right) in the background with desert vegetation   in foreground

                         Saguaro using a Palo verde as a nurse plant

                  Afternoon light on the Tucson Mountains

                     Looking east toward Saguaro National Park

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tuscon Mountain Park- Yetman and Golden Gate Trails December 8, 2013

               Looking toward Starr Pass

This last weekend my cousin Franak and I went on a hike at Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountains west of Tucson. I had never hiked at Gates Pass or Tucson Mountain Park so I was really looking forward to this hike. We drove west on Speedway BLVD passed the International Wildlife Museum and over Gates Pass to the Yetman Trail. The Yetman Trail is over six miles long and ends at Starr Pass. The first one mile is on a well established yet rocky trail. After one mile we followed the Golden Gate Trail toward Gates Pass. This trail was a lot steeper and rockier. The tricky part of the hike was dodging the many Teddy bear cholla balls on the trail. Cholla cacti have some of the nastiest thorns in the Sonoran Desert and will attach themselves onto skin or clothing. They also seem to jump onto clothing or skin (hence their alternate name Jumping cholla). I spent long parts of the hike watching for these balls so my dog Nevada would not step on them. Disaster almost happened once when he stepped on one but managed to kick it off. I was certainly relieved. Besides the scenery and hike I enjoyed reconnecting with my cousin. Growing up we never lived in the same town so I rarely saw her. Hopefully with both of us living in Tucson this will change.

Special Consideration: This area has many illegal trails created by visitors. As a result it is easy to get off the main trails. Pay attention at trail junctions and carry a good topographic map.

                                On the Golden Gate Trail hiking toward Gates Pass

                           Scenery in the Tucson Mountains with the Catalina Mountains in the distance

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sweetwater Trail to Wasson Peak Saguaro National Park West December 7, 2013

                         Looking southeast near the summit

On November 12, 2013, I summited Wasson Peak by hiking the Sendero Esperanza an Hugh Norris Trail. On Saturday I drove out Ruthrath Drive to summit Wasson Peak from the northeast side using the Sweetwater Trail. Total mileage of todays hike was 9.2 with a total elevation gain of 1900 feet. The Sweetwater Trail takes visitors through a classic Sonoran Desert community with Saguaro cactus, Palo verde, Ocotillo and Prickly pear. Vegetation did not change during the hike. The first mile and half the trail is not steep as it runs perpendicular to Wasson Peak. The last mile and half on the Sweetwater trail is considerably more steep as it climbs up to a saddle. From the saddle it is another 1.2 miles to the summit with 800 feet of elevation to gain. The trail is rocky but the views start to open up near the top. As always this is a desert hike so bring water, hat and sunscreen. REI and Summit Hut in Tucson have good Topographic maps to plan and execute any hike.

                    Sweetwater Canyon with Catalina Mountains in the background

                  Almost on top

                       Me on the summit.

Phoneline Trail and Sabino Creek Loop December 6, 2013

                  Sabino Creek riparian area

Friday afternoon the weather was gorgeous so I drove to Sabino Canyon to hike a short 3.5 mile loop before dark. I love hiking in Sabino Canyon in the evening because the sunset and last light on the Catalina Mountains is beautiful. (It is important to note that mountain lions are very active at dusk so be careful around rock overhangs). After a mile walking on the Phone line Trail a connector trail departs on the left descending down to Sabino Creek. This trail is rocky with moderate elevation gain.  It is important to note that during periods of high water it is impossible to cross Sabino Creek without a bridge. Today the creek was high so I followed the Sabino Creek trail and then  worked my way along its bank until I reached the Bear Canyon Shuttle Road. Some of the cottonwoods and willows had orange and yellow leaves adding to the beauty of the area.

             White-tailed deer

                                    Sunlight glow in the Catalina Mountains

                                  Back lit shrub. I love using this technique in the afternoon.

                 Glow on canyon walls in Sabino Canyon.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

San Pedro Riparian Area November 30, 2013

                            The San Pedro

After visiting the ghost town of Fairbank, Arizona, I hiked a four mile trail along the San Pedro River. The weather was cool with partly cloudy skies making for excellent hiking conditions. My dog and I hiked along the old road bed of the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad seeing the remains of the Grand Central Mill and the Fairbanks cemetery (more information on next post). After two miles the trail turned and followed the river back to Highway 82. Along the river I saw two Cooper's hawks and a number of small birds. This trail is easy to follow with minimal elevation gain. Dog owners need to watch out for snakes during the summer and thorns which will embed themselves into paws and fir causing irritation. To see more wildlife I need to hike early in the morning.

Ecology and History:  The San Pedro flows north from the Mexico border to the Gila River at Winkelman. Because it flows year-round the river provides critical habitat for both flora and fauna. Wildlife include White-tailed deer, Javelina, Bobcat and Ring-tailed cats. Throughout the year over 350 bird species use this corridor including the Vermillion flycatcher and Yellow-billed cuckoo making the San Pedro one of the best birding areas in the United States. Tree species include Cottonwood, Hackbury, Willow and Arizona walnut. In 1988 Congress created the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area to insure that 40 miles of riparian habitat be protected for future generations. (Information from 100 hikes in Arizona by Scott Warren).

The San Pedro Valley also has a rich history. Along the river are the ruins for six mills which processed ore from the mines in nearby Tombstone, Arizona. The mills needed water from the river to operate the huge stamps used to crush the rock. Today these mills are long gone but an explorer could find their locations in the valley.

                                    San Pedro flowing north

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ramsey Canyon Loop to the Crest of the Huachuca Mountains November 28, 2013

                                 Map showing my route with trails in different colors

Last Friday I returned to Ramsey Canyon to complete the ten mile loop I had set out to do in early September. On the September hike I encountered a horrendous hail and rain storm as I retreated back to my car. As shown by the map above this hike combines four different trails. The first trail in red is the Hamburg Trail which begins at the Ramsey Canyon Preserve and goes up the canyon to the old Hamburg Town site where only foundations remain. The first half mile of this trail is the most popular with visitors because it goes up to an overlook. The trail also follows Ramsey Creek so watch out for small waterfalls and beautiful pools. The second trail of the loop is the Wisconsin Canyon Trail (green on the map). This trail is about 1.5 miles and it takes visitors up to the crest. This trail is is considerably steeper with many more switchbacks.  From the crest the next two miles is along the Huachuca Crest Trail. This trail gives great views of Miller Peak, Ramsey Canyon and mountains to the west. It starts near the Mexican border and goes the whole length of the range. The crest trail provides the first leg of the Arizona trail which runs from southern Arizona to its northern border. The final link of the loop is the Pat Scott Canyon Trail. This trail is steep with many switchbacks the first mile and half before it gets to the bottom of Pat Scott Canyon. The upper part of the canyon is especially beautiful with tall Douglas firs and looks like it hadn't been logged. Near the junction with the Hamburg Trail is the remains of the Hamburg Mine. Today there is not much left but a few rusty pieces of metal and small tailings piles. I was told by people working for the Nature Conservancy that prospectors looking for gold and silver worked this mine for a short time.

I love the Huachuca Mountains because of its flora and fauna diversity. In the lower part of the canyon Big tooth maples, Silver leaf oaks and Sycamores are prevalent. In the upper part of the canyon White fir, Douglas fir, Arizona pine, Southern white pine and Pinyon pine are abundant. Fauna include hundreds of species of birds and mammals. In fact Ramsey Canyon is famous for hummingbirds during the spring migration. Today I saw four White-tailed deer, a Wild turkey, numerous nuthatches and a Downy woodpecker.

Finally, I return to the debate about whether these mountains are safe to hike in. While in Marana, Arizona, I talked to a Arizona Highway Patrol who said he would not hike in the Huachuca Mountains because of drug runners and drug smugglers. While at the Nature Conservancy Headquarters at the base of Ramsey Canyon I asked about safety in southern Arizona mountain ranges. They said in the 90s it was more common to see illegal immigrants begging for water and asking about far off destinations such as Chicago or Boston however, since Border Patrol stepped up enforcement along the border in the 2000s these interactions are rare. It is smart to present common sense such as watching your surroundings and not hiking after 5 pm. I probably would choose other ranges in Arizona to backpack.

                              The crest of the Huachuca Mountains

                             Looking north. This part of the Huachuca Mountains burned and has a oak-scrub woodland.

                                    Looking down Ramsey Canyon toward Sierra Vista from the crest.

                               Trail junction on crest for Sunnyside Canyon. Notice the beautiful pines and firs in the background.

                                  Douglas firs in Pat Scott Canyon
                             Looking up Ramsey Canyon from overlook,

                                         A Silver leaf oak with leaves that have turned colors.
                                                                  Late afternoon sun on tree with yellow leaves.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tumamoc Hill #3 November 26, 2013

                 Last light on the Catalina Mountains across the Tucson valley

Tumamoc Hill is a great evening hike in Tucson because of the view of Tucson and surrounding mountains. Hikers also do not have to worry about foot placement after dark because they are walking on a road and not a rocky trail. Do not let its popularity fool you because this is still a pretty difficult hike with elevation gain over 1500 feet and distance of three miles. (For directions to the trail head please consult my September 27, 2013, post on Tumamoc Hill).
                                   Southeast toward the Huachuca Mountains in the distance and Mexico
                Sunset over Tucson Mountains and observatory

                 Selfie on top,

Cactus Forest Trail Saguaro National Park East November 24, 2013

                                       Dead Saguaro off the trail

 On Sunday the weather cleared in the Tucson area after a Friday and Saturday filled with rain. (Most places in Arizona received over two inches of rain smashing their average November totals. In fact this was the first time in over thirty years that the El Tour De Tucson bicycle race had significant rain). Early in the afternoon on Sunday I returned to Saguaro Park East to take advantage of the cool dry weather to hike the Cactus Forest Trail. (Entrance fee is required because this hike is in a national park). Trail head parking is available on the Cactus Forest drive. The trail is five miles round trip with very little elevation gain. There is a side trail that branches off a mile and a half into the hike which takes visitors up a side wash for approximately half a mile. Including various side trips I hiked about 6.5 miles.
         I would recommend this hike for anyone unacquainted with Sonoran Desert vegetation.  All major cactus species are present including Hedgehog cactus, Ocotillo, Saguaro, Prickly pear, Barrel cactus, Teddy bear cholla, and Chain colla.   Palo verde and Mesquite are also prevalent. Keep an eye out for wildlife as well including rattlesnakes, Javelina, Coyotes, Roadrunners and different species of raptors.

                Desert vegetation with Rincon Mountains in the background

                         Great picture showing the immense diversity of flora in the Sonoran Desert,

                                  Saguaro Park West with Catalina Mountains in the background.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pontatoc Canyon Catalina Mountains November 19, 2013

Awesome photograph of canyon vegetation and wall

After Tara returned early from work I decided to get a hike in before dark. I drove to the Finger Rock Canyon Trail head (for directions please consult my September 29, 2013, post) and hiked into Pontatoc Canyon. The Pontatoc Canyon trail splits off from the Pontatoc Ridge after 0.8 miles. I managed to hike about 1.5 miles before I turned around as the sun was setting to the west.  This canyon is extremely beautiful and I will return in the future. I enjoyed a colorful sunset as I hiked back to the trail head. After the sun set clouds to west  turned yellow then orange and finally red. Enjoy my photographs.

                         Looking west toward the Tucson Mountains late in the day.

                    The trail in Pontatoc Canyon with Finger Rock Canyon to the left.

                 Saguaros with sunset.

                                   Sunset colors.

Finger Rock Canyon Catalina Mountains, Arizona November 16, 2013

                Grasses and shrubs. Looking up canyon.

The Catalina Mountains offer a wealth of hiking close to Tucson. Off of Skyline and Sunrise Drive trail heads are numerous offering many different hiking options for visitors. Popular ones include Sabino Canyon, Ventana Canyon and Finger Rock Canyon. Three trails start at the Finger Rock Canyon one of which, Pontatoc Ridge, I profiled in late September of 2013. Last Saturday I returned to the trail head to hike to the top of Finger Rock Canyon. Finger Rock Canyon is noticeable from Tucson because of a prominent rock feature that looks like a finger in the middle part of the canyon. Mount Kimball at the top of the canyon is a popular destination.

The Hike: This hike is hard and should not be taken lightly.  First reason is elevation change. The trail head is at an elevation of around 3200 feet. The summit of Mount Kimball is at 7255 feet and the Pima Canyon trail junction is at around 7000 feet. Simple math shows vertical change to be over 4000 feet to the summit of Mount Kimball and 3800 feet to the trail junction of Pima Canyon. The trail is about 5 miles to the summit of Mount Kimball which means that the trail is steep.  The second reason is that the trail is very rocky. Hikers need to constantly watch their footing. Finally, there is some route finding in the bottom of the canyon because hikers have created illegal. In a few places the trail is faint and you have to pay attention.

The benefits of this hike however are numerous. For example, in the upper part of the canyon the views are incredible. Hikers also see three different ecological communities. You start out in the Sonoran desert in the lower part of the canyon with many different species of cacti, in the middle part of the canyon grasses and small shrubs are prevalent. Finally in the upper part of the canyon oaks and pines take over. To see this transformation in one hike is amazing.

                        The view down canyon with canyon wall

               Mid canyon

                   Up on top

                                Starting to get more pines

          Looking down canyon. I am near the top.