Desert and Mountains - a match made in heaven!

Trip Start May 09, 2009
Trip End May 27, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tucson has a wonderful juxtaposition of desert and mountain terrain.   Although situated in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson is almost completely surrounded by four mountain ranges:  the Santa Catalinas to the north, the Rincons to the east, the Santa Ritas to the south and the Tucson Mountains to the west. 

Although we had many sunny days, about every 7-10 days, a storm would move in, with rain in the desert valley and snow at the higher peaks, some of which are over 9000 ft tall.  It's incredible to be in mid 60s to low 70s and look up and see snow-capped mountains.  I’m sure that Tucsonans are used to this visage, but it continually amazed us while we were there.

In stark contrast, the Saguaro National Park abuts Tucson on both the west and east sides.  Created as a National Monument in 1933 to preserve dwindling numbers of Saguaro cacti, Saguaro was given national park status in 1994. Like its cousin Organ Pipe Cactus NM, it is beautiful and unspoiled desert terrain.

With mountains, canyons and desert, Tucson is a hiker’s paradise.  Sometimes, fronts moving in with high winds and colder weather delayed our hiking, but since we were on an extended stay, we were still able to get in a good sampling of mountain and desert vistas. 

Jim (who is in training for a Grand Canyon backpacking trip in late March) did two solo hikes in Saguaro NP East.  Together, we did some shorter hikes in Saguaro and in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area which is in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and is part of the Coronado National Forest. 

At Sabino Canyon, open-air shuttles take you up the canyon stopping at several intervals.  Due to recent rain, many parts of the road had water rushing over it, which the shuttle could manage.  Unfortunately, however, we didn’t realize that there would be water to traverse and hadn’t brought our water sandals.  So, instead we took the shuttle to the top, hiked around there and then took the shuttle back.  We then hopped on the shuttle to Bear Canyon to a spot where Jim wanted to do a longer more strenuous hike.  While he did that, I sketched some of the surrounding desert landscape.  It was a great day to be out with Mother Nature.

On a later date, we took the scenic Sky Island Parkway to Mt. Lemmon, which at 9,157 feet is the largest mountain in the Catalinas.  The climb up the mountain is slow and windy -- and breathtaking.  You start in desert and end up in alpine forest.  They say that the drive is equivalent to traveling from Mexico to Canada in terms of the plants, animals and terrain changes.  We had lunch at Summer Haven which is a popular destination for escape from summer heat and mainly consists of vacation cottages.  Most of these were closed due to snowy conditions.  There is a ski resort on Mount Lemmon, but the road to it and the peak were closed.  So we never made it to the top, but it was a spectacular drive under absolutely blue cloudless skies -- heaven!

Even with staying for five weeks, we were only able to sample a small portion of the beauty of Tucson's outdoors.  We will definitely come back again!

Next:  Tucson downtown
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