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.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Blacketts Ridge Sabino Canyon Recreation Area Tucson, Arizona November 11, 2013

                               Me with Rincon Mountains in the background

Later in the afternoon on Veteran's Day I drove to Sabino Canyon Recreation Area for a hike before dark. I chose Blacketts Ridge because of its shorter mileage about 4 miles round trip and high elevation gain of 1900 feet from the Sabino Canyon Parking Lot. To reach the Blacketts Ridge trail hike the main trail from the parking lot toward Bear Canyon. After 0.8 miles you will see the Phoneline Trail exit to the left. Follow this trail about a half mile until a sign shows where the Blacketts Ridge trail exits on the right. From here the summit is 1.7 miles with an elevation gain over 1000 feet. This trail is steep and extremely rocky. Watch your footing and keep an eye out for loose rock. As you ascend views open up toward the Ricon Mountains to the east, the Tucson valley, and Sabino Canyon to the left.

                      Rincon Mountains in background with Sonoran desert vegetation

                             Sabino Canyon

                               A cliff from the trail

                      I wasn't kidding the trail is very rocky.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Douglas Springs Trail Saguaro National Park East November 10, 2013

                            A neat looking lizard

On Sunday I drove east on Speedway BLVD to the  Douglas Springs Trail head at the boundary of  Saguaro National Park East. This trail head is great because of its possibilities. Backpackers and long distance hikers can hike the Douglas Springs trail  to Manning Camp in the Rincon Mountains, a distance of 14 miles one way, as well as other destinations. Shorter trails are also available that require less elevation gain.  I would consult a map before planning a hike. To visit Saguaro National Park visitors need to buy a $10 pass.

The Hike: Today I am hoping to hike to Douglas Spring a distance of 12 miles (round trip) with about 2000 feet of elevation gain. The first mile or so is relatively flat as hikers travel through a classic Sonoran Bajada mixture of Saguaro cacti, Prickly pear and Palo verde. The next mile the trail climbs through a canyon with moderate elevation gain. At around 2.5 miles the Bridal Wreath Falls trail branches off on the right which is a popular destination for many hikers. (I would pay close attention to trail signs because there are at least four  other trail junctions in this section). The trail immediately gets allot steeper as it climbs farther into the Rincon Mountains. I would bring plenty of water because this section has absolutely no shade. The last mile to the camp is relatively flat with minimal elevation gain.  The views become good about four miles into the hike. I turned around close to Douglas Springs because I was worried about my water supply. First rule of desert hiking is pay attention to your water supply and bring enough of it to make it to your destination. Enjoy the photos of my hike.

                  Cool picture looking toward the Catalina Mountains

                  View from the upper part of the trail

               The Douglas Spring Trail flanked by tall grass

                           Looking toward the upper part of the Rincon Mountains

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

390th Memorial Museum at the Pima Air and Space Museum November 9, 2013

                              The 390th was known as the Square J Group because they had a capital J on the tail of each B-17. This photo also shows the signatures of all the veterans who have visitied the museum.

The 390th Memorial Museum at the Pima Air and Space Museum just recently opened after a major 2.4 million dollar renovation. The centerpiece of the museum is the B-17 "I'll Be Around," which is on the first floor of the museum. Built later in the war the plane never bombed any targets.The plane was used by the US Coast Guard in patrol and rescue missions.The museum also has an impressive amount of memorabilia associated with the 390th including pieces of flak, a Norden Bombsite, and jackets worn by servicemen of the different squadrons. On the second floor are photos the B-17 crews. It is sobering to remember that many of them never came home.

History: The museum honors the men of the 390th  Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force who were stationed in Great Britain. The 390th bombed many different targets including railway terminals, bridges, airports, factories and oil installations. From 1943-1945 the group flew over 300 combat missions over Europe with a loss of 181 aircraft and 714 men. Some of their achievements included bombing the coast of France before the Normandy landings, severing German supply lines during the Battle of the Bulge and dropping food supplies to starving Dutch a week before the war ended. The Group won the Presidential Unit Citation twice and held the record for the most number of enemy aircraft shot down in any one mission of 62; achieved in October of 1943. (Information from and the 390th Museum)

                                    Display showing nicknames of B-17s

                           World War II add

                       B-17 "Ill Be Around" on display

                  Another look at the B-17

Sabino Canyon Sabino Canyon Recreation Area November 5, 2013

                          Sun on the canyon walls

After Tara returned from teaching, I drove up to Sabino Canyon to explore Sabino Canyon. I overlooked Sabino Canyon because it has a road in it and wanted "real hiking." I left the parking lot at 4:30 pm and hiked a mile on the trail toward Esperero Canyon and Sabino Canyon Road. Once I reached the road  I walked it into the canyon. During the day shuttles transport people to upper part of the canyon so watch for them between 8 and 5pm. I turned around and hiked out in the dark enjoying the last light of the day. Enjoy my pictures of the evening hike. Overall I hiked about 4.5 miles with no route finding.

                       Glow on mountains in the upper part of the canyon

                      Last light of day

                                       Why I love the desert in the evening. Saguaros, sky and the moon

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

King Canyon Saguaro National Park West November 3, 2013

                             In the King Canyon wash

My main reason for returning to Saguaro Park on Sunday was to hike in King Canyon. King Canyon offers a number of neat washes to explore and excess to the Sweetwater Trail as well as Wasson Peak. This trail head is not marked because it is in the Tucson Mountain Park. To find it drive to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum and look for marker K 24 on the side of the road. There will be a parking lot with cars in it.

The Hike: Today I am hiking to a saddle with Wasson Peak as well as exploring a number of unnamed washes in the canyon. If you stick to the trail it is 5.4 miles to the saddle. Elevation gain is about 960 feet. Including my wash detours I hiked about 8 miles. The trail is very rocky and uneven so watch your step in places.

The King Canyon trail  is easy to follow with minimal route finding. Trail junctions are also well signed. The first mile of the trail is on an old road to a crumbling Civilian Conservation Corp picnic area called Mam-A-Gah. After Mam-A-Gah the King Canyon trail is above the King Canyon wash as it works its way to the saddle. If you are going to hike washes in the desert please follow leave no trace principles, watch the weather and do not hike beyond your ability. A storm miles away can cause downhill flooding. Also please carry more water than you can possibly drink.

                   Cholla cactus

                         Saguaros and wash rock obstacle.

                    Looking north and the canyon the Sweetwater Trail comes up

                              Looking down King Canyon; notice the King Canyon trail on the right side.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Signal Hill Petroglyphs Saguaro National Park West November 3, 2013

                                          Rock art showing both abstract and representational forms

On Sunday I decided to return to Saguaro National Park to hike King Canyon. After stopping at the Red Hills Visitor Center, I decided to make my first stop at Signal Hill. Signal Hill is the biggest petroglyph site in the park. It is believed that the Hohokam created the petroglyphs during the time period AD 300 to 1400. Both abstract and representational designs are seen at Signal Hill. Abstract art includes spirals and curvilinear lines while representational art includes human, animal and plant designs.

The Signal Hill is located off of Golden Gate Road approximately four miles near Sandario Road in the western edge of the park. The trail to see the petroglyphs is one mile round trip with 30 feet of elevation gain. Remember to stay on the trail and do not desecrate the art. While walking watch out for rattlesnakes in the area. (Information from the National Park Service).

                      This looks like a Bighorn sheep.

                    Spiral with Tucson Mountains in the background.

                                                  Wild animal can't tell species.

                                     Neat picture of rocks with the art.

Panther Wash Saguaro National Park West November 2, 2013

                  Upper part of wash

After hiking Wasson Peak it was early afternoon so I decided to check out Panther Wash off of Picture Rocks Road near Contzen Pass. In the desert washes often make for great hiking because they often offer a flat surface to hike on. Panther Wash is about 1.9 miles one way until it reaches Roadrunner trail. Today I hiked about two miles round trip before calling it a day. The highlight of the hike was definitely the magnificent Saguaro cactus I saw. Check out my photos below.

Special Consideration: Do not hike washes during the monsoon season or if rain is a possibility. Flooding is a distinct possibility. Some washes might also have rock obstacles for you to climb over.

                                One of the grandest Saguaros I have ever seen.

                                  Picture looking up trunk.

Sendero Esperanza Trail to Wasson Peak Saguaro National Park West November 2, 2013

                    Map of Saguaro Park West. This map is not very good and does not have many of the shorter trails on it. Buy a topographic map at REI or Red Hills Visitor Center before making a determination on a activity.

Directly to the east and west of Tucson, Arizona, is a wonderful national park oftentimes overlooked in the west. That is a mistake because Saguaro National Park is extraordinary. The Federal Government created the preserve in 1994 to protect the iconic Saguaro cactus and surrounding Sonoran Desert community.  The Saguaro is an amazing cactus: it can live for 250 years and it is a keystone species meaning it supports many other desert wildlife.  The park also keeps Tucson from developing more of the desert on the eastern and western side.

Saguaro National Park is divided into two districts separated by the city of Tucson. They are known as Saguaro Park East and Saguaro Park West. Entrance fees to the park are $10 for seven days or $25 for a year. If you are a Senior or Military member I believe the park service offers discounts. Both divisions offer a wide variety of activities including hiking and camping. Saguaro Park West has the 10 mile Hugh Norris Trail and multiple routes up Wasson Peak. Saguaro Park East offers more backpacking opportunities with trails climbing to the top of the Rincon Mountains including Tanque Verde Ridge.   

For today's hike I am starting at the Sendero Esperanza Trailhead on Golden Gate Road. (Golden Gate Road is rough and for high clearance vehicles only). This trail connects to the Hugh Norris Trail and King Canyon Trail as well as others making it a great place to sample a wide variety of trails. Today I am hoping to climb 4480 foot Wasson Peak. Total mileage round trip is 7.8 with about 1520 feet of elevation gain. The first part of the trail on Sendero Esperanza is flat; watch for snakes but enjoy the many different species of cacti. After a mile the trail joins the Hugh Norris Trail. Go left and follow the trail as it switchbacks toward Amole Peak. After Amole Peak the summit of Wasson is only about a half a mile. The last two miles to the summit gains 960 feet so it is steep in places. From the summit enjoy the view of the Rincon Mountains, Catalina Mountains, Santa Rita Mountains and many more. A hiker also told me you can see 23 wilderness areas.

Special consideration: even during the fall the sun is intense and there is very little shade so I would bring at least three water bottles depending on how much you drink in the dry desert air. I don't suggest this trail in the summer when temperatures can be around 120 degrees. Wear sunscreen and a wide brim hat to keep the sun off your face. (Information from

                                 The magnificent Saguaro cactus along with Prickly pear

                            A dead Saguaro; life goes on.

                     The first part of Sendero Esperanza. Notice the lack of shade.

                    On the Hugh Norris Trail looking west.

                Barrel cactus

               Looking toward Tucson from summit with Catalina Mountains in the background.

               Summit picture with vegetation

                 Looking south; notice the upper part of the King Canyon trail.