Mount Lemmon & more hikes at Catalina S.P.

Mount Lemmon
From the top of Mount Lemmon

Today we took a drive up Mount Lemmon. Topping out at a height of 9,157 feet high, Mount Lemmon is the tallest spot in Tucson and the highest mountain in the Santa Catalina Range. To reach the top we drove up the scenic Catalina Highway. Twenty-seven miles of twisting, turning road offer up sweeping views at every turn.

Mount Lemmon
Steller views from the Catalina Highway

From bottom to top we climbed over 6,000 feet and traveled through several distinct climates. Through low slopes covered with saguaros, higher elevations where low scrubby shrubs dominate the landscape, even higher where oak, juniper and pine trees form a thick forest of green, and finally high up above 8,000 feet where fir and aspen thrive in the cool mountain air. After spending so much time in the low desert environment of the southwest it was really exciting for us northerners to see some real trees again.

mount lemmon
Four climates in under 30 miles!

At the top of Mount Lemmon lies Ski Valley, the southernmost ski area in the continental US. Receiving an average of 180 inches of snow each year, this is a small ski area that opens and closes throughout the season depending on snow fall amounts. Ski Valley has no snow making or grooming which makes it a “what you see is what you get” experience.

Mount Lemmon
Skiing in the south

As you can see by the photos, the slopes were covered by a good amount of snow, but not not many skiers. Tim would have gladly taken a run or two, but sadly skiing equipment is no longer part of our minimalist belongings. Phineas was beyond excited to see snow for the first time this winter. He’s always been a cold weather kind of dog which makes us feel a bit guilty for denying him a real winter this year. He wasted no time getting busy with the cold white stuff- rolling, licking, eating and just generally enjoying himself.

mount lemmon
Finally…some snow for this winter loving dog!

Even though it was a long drive, about 2 hours each way, we really enjoyed the trip up to Mount Lemmon. It was nice to experience a little taste of winter and then come right back down to the state park where the temperature climbed to a perfect 72 degrees today.

mount lemmon
A little bit of winter

Speaking of the state park, the hiking trails here are seemingly endless and everyday this week we have enjoyed a different trail. On Tuesday Phineas joined us on the 4 mile Canyon Loop Trail. He was very excited to discover that the trail crosses three different streams. Or maybe it’s one stream that we crossed three times? Doesn’t matter- he enjoyed each one.

Mount Lemmon
A running stream in the desert provides a rare treat

We were excited to discover another crested saguaro not far off the trail.

Mount Lemmon
Another crested wonder

Wednesday and Thursday we took longer hikes, both without Phineas. He did great on Tuesday’s 4 mile trek, but we didn’t want to tire him out with too many long hikes in row.

* A quick side note about our old man dog- I have to mention that we took Phineas to the vet Wednesday for his yearly exam and she was very impressed by the flexibility and lack of arthritis in his legs for such an old guy. She also said he has “beautiful” teeth which we thought was pretty funny. As usual he hated every minute of the visit, but we were very happy with the vet we chose and especially liked that instead of making him get up on the table (which he loathes with a passion) they got down on the floor with him. I would highly recommend PAWS in Tucson for pet care. A wonderful place with a very caring staff.

Back to hiking. We hiked part of the 50 year trail, and another trail that took us out of the park boundary and into wilderness land. The hiking here is spectacular because everywhere you go are views of mountains and interesting desert plants. Everyday we see something different.

mount lemmon
Desert hiking at its finest

Today is our last day here at Catalina S.P. While we have enjoyed the park, I must admit that we are pretty excited to move back over to Gilbert Ray where the campground is sooo much nicer. As I mentioned in my last post, because the regular part of the campground is full we have spent the week in the overflow parking lot here at Catalina. The experience has been less than desirable. Especially in the last few days when suddenly the place filled to capacity. This means that we are essentially packed in here with RVs surrounding us on all sides. Surrounding us closely on each side I should say- very closely. This is exactly why we don’t stay at very many private parks, and it’s kind of disappointing to find these conditions at a state park.

mount lemmon
Can you even see us tucked way back in there?

I could go on and on about all the different reasons why this campground (I mean parking lot) frankly kind of sucks, but I will spare you my complaints and just say that even though we loved the hiking trails it doesn’t look like we will be coming back here any time soon. Enough said.

Mount Lemmon
The sun sets over our last night at Catalina S.P. Sadly we cannot see this view from our site.
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