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

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