Our month-long winter break in Tucson whizzed by as we went about completing maintenance on Betsy, socializing, hiking, birding and checking out local attractions. And we thought we might be bored here! Be forewarned that this post is a little lengthy, as we did a lot while concluding our sojourn in the Sonoran desert 🙂
Although our home base was in an urban setting, Tucson has a lot to offer in terms of our outdoor interests – hiking, birding and socializing. As mentioned in my previous post, the city is surrounded by five mountain ranges, and except for the rolling Rincon Mountains to the east we managed to follow at least one trail on each range. Much of these mountains is protected as parkland and rich with excellent hiking trails.
Romero Pools – Santa Catalina Mountains
The trailhead to this popular trail is accessed from within Catalina State Park, one of my favorite state parks in Arizona. It was an out and back trek of about 5.6 miles along rugged and rocky terrain. As we climbed to higher elevations we noted not only a large diversity of cacti but also several pine and juniper covered peaks near Cathedral Rock and Romero Canyon.
With the recent rains we frequently heard and saw flowing waterfalls and streams. Several folks had already staked out spots for photos and lunch as we approached the pools, and we had our lunch on a boulder overlooking the pools. The Romeo Pools are shallow catchments for canyon streams and a good stopover for weary hikers and folks who want to take a swim during the summer months.
The trail is scenic with several panoramic views of area mountains.
We were excited to complete our hike, as we had been invited to an early happy hour at Jodee and Bill’s site in the park. It was our first time meeting them and also Cindy, Walter and Geneva. Also at the gathering were John and Pam and Dave and Sue (who had moved to the state park a few days earlier).
Relaxing, eating good food and shooting the breeze with these folks while gazing up at the nearby Santa Catalina Mountains was a great way to spend an afternoon!
Old Baldy Trail/Super Trail loop – Santa Rita Mountains
The Santa Rita Mountains lie some forty miles south of Tucson, and although they’re not as large as the Catalinas they boast the area’s highest peak, Mt. Wrightson at 9,456′. But the main reason I persuaded Steve to make the drive was to check out Madera Canyon – a world-famous spot for birding. Happily, extensive hiking trails also cover the mountains, making this a good place to get a change of pace from our recent desert hikes.
We chose to follow the Old Baldy Trail, intending to go all the way to Mt. Wrightson peak. The trail began at 5,400′ of elevation and because it’s situated on a northerly aspect, deep snow from recent storms still covered the higher elevations. As we climbed higher I began losing the spring in my step, as patches of snow and ice on the trail became a real hazard. It was time to consider a change of plans.
When we reached Josephine Saddle at 7,080′ we made a decision to forego summiting Mt. Wrightson and head back via the Super Trail. At the top of the saddle was a clearing with an old wooden memorial. It marks the spot near where three young boy scouts died during a sudden blizzard in 1958. The storm ended up being the largest on record in Arizona, and it caught the young and inexperienced scouts by surprise. Steve downloaded the book Death Clouds on Mt. Baldy by Cathy Hufault which he really enjoyed (and which I have yet to read).
We followed the south-facing Super Trail back to the car, enjoying great views down the valley and completing a 6.2 mile loop.
As for the birds, I didn’t have to go far. The Santa Rita Lodge has numerous feeders at their wildlife viewing area and I had three new bird sightings – a Yellow-eyed Junco, a Hepatic Tanager and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. What a great day it was!
Roadrunner/Panther Peak/Cam Doh Loop – Tucson Mountains
We had already hiked at the Tucson Mountains with John and Pam, trekking up to the peak of Mt. Wasson, the highest in that mountain range. This time we followed a moderate, flat loop trail – meandering through washes and Saguaro and Cholla forests for 4.4 miles.
As you may know our friend Pam has been labeled the Queen of the Crested Saguaro, and her enthusiasm for them has rubbed off on us. Now we not only have to watch our step while looking for birds and unusual landscape, we also have to add a scan for Crested Saguaro. On this hike we sighted two, a crested top and a rare crested arm. But no birds!
Wild Burro/Wild Mustang Loop Trail – Tortolita Mountains
At the Tortolitas we chose to combine the Wild Burro/Wild Mustang/Upper Javelina trails for an 8.2 mile workout. The Wild Burro Trail weaved in and out of a dry riverbed before getting a bit more rugged as we started a steep climb. But we barely got onto the trail when eagle-eyed Steve spotted a Javelina engrossed in chomping on some Prickly Pear for breakfast. We still don’t know how they can eat that stuff!
After a couple of miles we picked up the Wild Mustang Trail, which climbed about 1,400′ to an elevation of 4,100′ on a subsequent ridge.
The trail was very scenic, as the path crossed several saddles that opened to new views, including a look at Mt. Lemmon and the Catalinas to the east. Further along we could see other mountain ranges near and far.
I would say this trail brought together classic prickly desert and other more colorful landscapes very nicely.
The wonderful hike was capped off by a surprise birthday cake brought by John and Pam, and a round of drinks purchased by Joe and Gay at the Dragoon Brewing Company that evening. This was our first get-together with Joe and Gay, whom I’ve been following since 2013.
It’s always exciting to meet a fellow blogger that you feel you already know, even before actually meeting them. My wonderful friends made me blush a little bit that evening, and they really made my birthday celebration special. Thank you all!
Wildlife of the desert
You all know of my fascination with birds, big and small. Our visit to Patagonia in 2013 started it all when I saw the elusive and colorful Elegant Trogon, and then thousands of Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw. Since then I’m constantly on the lookout for my feathers friends.
During this Tucson stop I limited myself to urban birding at areas designated as places to watch birds by the Tucson Audubon Society.
I was thrilled to see not only birds, but also some other not-often-seen animals along the trail.
Finally, Brenda and Hector rolled into town for a quick visit, and we met them for dinner in downtown Tucson.
Steve remembered having good tapas at Casa Vicente with his pilot buddies several years ago. We decided to give it another try on our final night in Tucson and enjoyed yet another meal with friends before moving on.
Next up: An exciting detour for Betsy