As a child growing up in Southern California, we did not go to Arizona
but I knew a great deal about this diverse state. How? My parents
subscribed to the Arizona Highways. I did not know it then, but many
of the award winning photographs in each issue were taken in and around
the city that would eventually become my own. One of the most lovely
and frequent "models" is the area we call Sabino Canyon.
One of the wonderful aspects of Sabino Canyon is that it is almost
in town! It is located at the base of the Catalina Mountains near
the northeast part of the city.
Archaeologists believe that the Clovis culture of hunter-gatherers
could have come into the cool canyon as early as 12000 to 15000 years
ago. They hunted Columbian mammoth, bison and other big game. Later
the Cochise were the most likely visitors closer to 8000 B.C. Their
food was small game and plants. Next came the Hohokam who were agricultural
people. Lastly came the Pima and Tohono O'Odham Indians who are still
To follow Sabino Creek to its headwater is a daunting task as it
flows through 10 miles of rugged terrain to the desert floor. Even
if there is no water in the stream when you visit, do not be fooled.
There may not be enough to come to the surface but underground it
is running into our groundwater wells. Snow melt in a good year will
produce flows that can cover the bridges. By May there usually is
no top level water. Particularly during the summer, the cool air in
the pines and firs on the mountain force air exchanges that lead to
the dramatic thunderhead clouds often seen in the afternoons. These
in turn produce the water that feeds Sabino Creek.
There are lovely natural swimming areas in the upper canyon. If Tucson
has a very active Monsoon (rain season from June-August), you need
to be careful as flash floods can be dangerous. This is a good time
to mention the signs you will see throughout our valley stating "DO
NOT ENTER WHEN FLOODED", THIS IS NOT A JOKE. This is deadly serious.
Either on foot or in a car, DO NOT GO INTO FLOODED AREAS!!! The water
can be tricky as the tiny rocks in washes have rolled down the mountainsides
and are like little ball bearings and can carry even your car out
into a heavy current. Sometime when you are talking to Barry, ask
him to tell you about his experiences in helicopter rescue and about
the night he spent saving people from the Rillito River!! The visitor
center at the entrance to Sabino Canyon will let you know the conditions.
At one time overnight camping was popular in Sabino Canyon but has
been banned as Tucson outgrew the area and the environment became
endangered. Next to go were the cars that could drive several miles
into the canyon. Since 1978 a shuttle bus drops you off and picks
you up if you do not want to hike into the canyon. At any time of
the year it is a wonderful place to visit. Collect sand rubies in
the sand at the upper part of the canyon. They aren't big and aren't
worth anything but are fun to find. Swim or wade, sit on a boulder
and take in the scenery or paint or read. Bring your lunch and a drink
a drink wherever you go. Walk back or take the shuttle when it comes
through and you will go home refreshed.
Another fun thing to do is take the moonlight shuttle (weather permitting)
to the end of the road. Words cannot describe the beauty of the canyon
at night in the light of a full moon. You may need to reserve seats.
Check with the station for times and prices.
Another nice site for more information and beautiful photography
of the Sabino Canyon area is the "Friends
Of Sabino Canyon".
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