Friday, May 23, 2014

Green Mountain, Catalina Mountains May 18, 2014

                  Sky Islands vegetation

Location: The Green Mountain trail is located directly off the Catalina Highway in southern Arizona. The trail is accessible from two different locations: San Pedro Vista and Bear Canyon Picnic Area.

The Hike: Nevada and I reached the trail head at 10 am. We parked at the Bear Canyon Picnic area because the main parking area was full. The first part of the trail follows Bear Canyon. Here the flora is Ponderosa pine, Limber pine, oaks, Manzanita and Velvet ash classic southern Arizona sky islands vegetation.  The trail ascends Bear Canyon for 2.5 miles before reaching Bear Saddle and the junction of the Guthrie Mountain Trail. Here I ate lunch with two older gentlemen and their very well behaved dogs. These guys were very friendly and we talked about various places to explore in southern Arizona.  After lunch Nevada and I hiked over the ridge toward the junctions of  Maverick Spring and Short cut trails. Along this section the views toward the San Pedro valley were extraordinary. 0.8 miles from Bear Saddle I noticed Nevada was getting tired so I decided to turn around. On the way back to the trail head we stopped many times for water and rest. It is frighting how dry the vegetation is in the Catalina Mountains. Hopefully these mountains do not burn this summer.  Near General Hitchcock Campground I watched a Coatimundi for a couple of minutes in the forest. This was definitely a treat because previously I only saw a flash of the mammal as it crossed the trail.  Overall we hiked about 6.4 miles. (Information Hiking Arizona's Cactus Country by Erik Molvar).

     Looking toward San Pedro Valley

          Blooming Hedgehog Cactus

                         Bear Canyon
             Nevada near General Hitchcock Campground

Esperero Canyon, Catalina Mountains May 16, 2014

                                   Saguaros with flowers

Location: Today's hike is Esperero Canyon at Sabino Canyon in the Catalina Mountains of Arizona. Sabino Canyon is located off of Tanque Verde Road  or Sunrise Road. The trail is accessible from the Visitor's Center at the entrance to the area. Remember there is a $5 fee for the day or a $20 fee for a year long pass.

The Hike: I arrived at the trail head before 7 am in order to take advantage of cooler morning temps.  In the afternoon forecasters were predicting temperatures over 100 degrees. The trail follows the foothills of the Catalinas dipping in and out of Rattlesnake and Bird Canyons. In this vicinity are some of the best stands of Saguaro cacti and Prickly pear I have seen in the Sonoran Desert. On this hike almost all of the Saguaros  had white flowers at the top. After Bird Canyon the trail enters a nameless canyon where it ascends to a high saddle that looks out over Esperero Canyon and Tucson. In this area I saw a Mojave rattlesnake coiled in a bush rattling at me. I gave him distance and the snake soon slithered away.  After leaving the saddle the trail then descends down to the floor of Esperero Canyon. The trees in the wash offer plenty of shade from the sun. There was no water in the canyon so don't depend on it as a permanent water source late spring and summer. Near (now dry) Bridalveil Falls I turned around because I was worried about how much water I had for the hike back. As I descended elevation I soon realized that water would be an issue. I had half a nalgene left for 2 miles of hiking. I conserved the water the best I could but ran out a half mile from the Visitor Center. Needless to say I was happy to drink  cold water at the trail head. In the future I will definitely have to bring six to seven nalgenes of water for these hikes. Near the trail head I did see a Roadrunner chilling underneath a Palo verde. He was definitely not enthusiastic to leave the shade and venture out into the 98 degree heat. I watched him for five minutes before finishing my hike. Total mileage was  10.2 with 2,000 feet of vertical change.

                                      In the nameless canyon looking back toward town

                                       Canyon wall

                             Mohave coiled up watching me.

                         Canyon wall with desert vegetation
                                                          Nice grassy spot at  saddle

                 Lizard in Esperero Canyon


Arizona Sonroan Desert Museum May 11, 2014

On Sunday afternoon Tara and I took Quintin back to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum for the afternoon. We like the museum because the grounds are beautiful and there are plenty of paths for him to walk on. On this particular day the animals were resting in the shade because of the warm weather. If you want to see the animals more active I would visit earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon. Enjoy the photos from our visit.

                    Quintin walking on museum grounds

                            Q in the desert
                               Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

                         Tara and Q looking at the Prairie dogs.

                                  Cactus wren on top of Saguaro

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pontatoc Canyon, Catalina Mountains April 27, 2014

                                  View toward the Tucson Mountains on the first real ascent

Directions: Finger Rock Trail head is the main access point for Pontatoc Canyon. This area has been featured on this blog before including hikes up Finger Rock Canyon, Pontatoc Ridge and a evening sunset expedition. To reach the trail head from campus take Campbell Road all the way to Skyline. Turn right and follow this road until Skyline Road turns off on the left. If you keep going straight Skyline becomes Sunrise Road. Keep going on Skyline until you see Alvernon Road exit on the left. The junction also has a sign for Finger Rock Canyon.

The hike: Today I am hiking to the end of the trail in Pontatoc Canyon. I have read in other blogs that the trail ends after 3.7 miles to protect Bighorn sheep habitat. The first mile and half the trail encounters two junctions. The first one is for Finger Rock Canyon and Pontatoc Ridge (both worthwhile hikes). They are both well signed and it is apparent which direction to go, This is low elevation country and can become hot in the afternoon. Flora in this part of the Catalinas is Saguaros, Prickly pear and Palo verde. After the second trail junction the trail descends back down to the bottom of the canyon. After crossing the canyon, the trail quickly ascends through a series of switchbacks. The vegetation changes to a mixture of grasses and shrubs. The view opens up at this point with great views of the Tucson Mountains and Pontatoc Ridge. The trail then descends back down to the drainage before another steep ascent up canyon. After this crossing the trail is more faint  and hikers need to follow cairns to keep on the trail. Watch out for rattlesnakes because they are active in the Catalina Mountains. As stated before the trail ends rather abruptly at a sign proclaiming trails end.  I think this is the only trail that does not connect into the rest of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. Despite this the views are splendid and few people hike this trail. Total mileage was around 7.5 miles with over 2000 feet of vertical change. (Information from "Hiking Arizona's Cactus Country by Erik Molvar).

                     Prickly pear, Staghorn cholla as well as Pontatoc Ridge

                  Blooming Ocotillo

                Upper part of Pontatoc Canyon

               Distinctive summit on the east side of Pontatoc Canyon

                           Beautiful grasses as well as upland shrubs

                         blooming Ocotillo and canyon scenery

Ventana Canyon, Catalina Mountains April 19, 2014

                            Arizona black rattlesnake

Location: To get to the trail head for Ventana Canyon take Sunrise Road to Kolb Road. Turn left onto Kolb Road and drive through the Ventana Resort. Follow  the signs to the trail head and park in the employee lot not in the lot in front of the resort.

After a week  filled with stomach problems  I needed to get into the field. I chose to hike at Ventana Canyon because it is close to where I live and beautiful. When I started out I had thoughts about hiking up to the window at the top of Ventana Canyon. After a mile on the trail I recognized that my strength hadn't returned. I stopped many times on the trail to catch my breath and look at the scenery. I arrived at Maiden Pools around lunch time so I stopped for 15 minutes. After lunch I continued on for another mile before turning around. Above Maiden Pools I saw an ornery Arizona black rattlesnake on the trail. At that point I was daydreaming and not really paying attention. It is scary to hear the rattle and not know where the snake is. The snake would not stop rattling for over 15 minutes. After getting by the snake the rest of the hike was uneventful. Overall mileage was around seven miles with about 1500 feet of elevation gain.(Info from "Hiking Arizona's Cactus Country" by Erik Molvar).

                            Invasive Bufflegrass on the canyon stream bed

                  Cholla Cactus flower

                            Pusch Ridge Wilderness flora

Bug Spring Hike March 29, 2014

         Looking toward the Rincon Mountains

The Bug Spring Trail is located on the Mount Lemmon highway. It is possible to access the trail from two different locations one at milepost 7.6 and the other at milepost 11.6. The upper trail head is located across from the General Hitchcock Campground.  If you want to hike the trail I would suggest using two cars so you don't have to double back.

My cousin and I started at the upper trail head. We originally  planned to hike Green Mountain but but  accidentally turned onto Bug Spring.. Immediately after leaving the trail head  Bug Spring ascended by a series of switch backs to the top of an unnamed canyon. It then enters the canyon and  stays inside for a half mile before ascending to a vista point. Vegetation is a Arizona sky island mixture of Ponderosa pine, Madrone, oak, Alligator juniper and sSholts yucca.  In this area my cousin and I saw a coatimundi cross the trail in front of us. This was a first siting for both of us. Coatimundis are slightly bigger than a raccoon. They aren't rare but visitors rarely site them.  After leaving the Vista Point the trail follows the top of the ridge giving hikers and mountain bikers fantastic views of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness and Tucson, Arizona. Special consideration: this trail is not in the wilderness so watch out for mountain bikers. Most of them are not watching for hikers so be alert. Total mileage for the hike was about 5.5 miles. (Info from

               Scenery from the trail looking east

     The scenic Mounnt Lemmon Highway.

The Mount Lemmon highway snakes its way toward the mountain community of Summerhaven, Arizona.