9,000 feet elevation! Hardly expected in the hot, arid, sandy, barren
desert. Wanna bet!? In the first place there is nothing barren about
the Sonoran Desert. It is hardly arid either as it gets an average
of 11" of rain a year (San Diego averages about 9"). Hot?
Of course. In the summer. But check out the summer evenings when everyone
is playing mini-golf, walking or swimming or just enjoying friends
at a back yard barbecue.
Ok, ok, but what about this 9,000-foot elevation stuff? Okay! Have
you ever heard of Sky Islands? (love that term!!) It's the name given
to the many mountains and small mountain chains that are scattered
over the southern Arizona terrain. Each is somewhat different from
the next and each has its own beauty. Our Santa Catalina Mountains
are one of the largest Sky Islands.
To get to the top, crowned by Mt. Lemmon, which was named after Sarah
Lemmon, who reached the peak on foot in 1881, you must hike (only
the hardy need apply) or, take the Catalina Highway, parts of which
can be seen from the valley floor.
Some of the charm of a visit to the top is in the drive itself. You
leave the desert and the prickly pear, fishook cactus, ocotillo, saguaro,
palo verde, mesquite and the other flaura that denotes Tucson and
the climb begins. Soon you will find yourself looking down on the
saguaros and out over the east end of the valley. Next you will find
yourself in the pinion pines (the nuts are delicious) and other scrub
About the same time you can look up and see ahead the outstanding
rock cliffs. Rappelers come from around the world to ply their passion
in the Catalinas. Soon you are close enough to touch them. Pull off
at the view points and look down over Tucson. Even a low level imagination
will easily spot shapes and characters in the odd formations left
in the sandstone by eons of rain and particularly wind erosion.
If fishing is your love, Rose Canyon Lake is small but a lovely place
to spend a few hours even if you don't have a pole.
Next you find yourself in the pines and fir trees. The air is cool
and smells woodsy. Hopefully you have brought a picnic lunch. Begin
looking for the picnic/camp grounds along the road. There are several.
Sometimes you will find above ground water running in the creeks.
If you brought no lunch, don't worry; Summerhaven is the tiny village
at the top and you'll find everything you need there. At the top you
will also discover Ski Valley, the United States southernmost ski
slopes. Take a ride on the lift to enjoy even more views.
If you want to spend a few days on the mountain, there are cabins
for rent most of the time. Be sure to book a place well in advance
of holidays as Mount Lemmon is a very popular place for families to
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