page 2 >>Tucson and Southern Arizona Hiking Guide
Honey Bee CanyonThis honey of a hike begins in a city park in Oro Valley, near Tucson. The canyon's name could refer to a buzz of activity, which will likely come from humans rather than bees because of its urban location. The hike's trail winds around the outskirts of the park's picnic tables, grills and ramadas before descending into shallow Honey Bee Canyon via a sandy desert wash. Lined with creosote bushes, mesquite and paloverde trees, the mostly dry wash is home to bright emerald-hued hummingbirds that flit from plant to plant. Eventually, the wide, flat wash tapers into a narrow desert arroyo, so be sure to keep your eye to the sky for potential rain that can create deadly flash floods. Along the way, you'll find a couple of dams built by early ranchers to promote cattle grazing along the riparian corridor and you'll have to circumvent these, but the views of the Santa Catalina Mountains and sightings of petroglyph-covered boulders are worth the effort. The full length of the wash is 5 miles, but you can cut the hike down to 2 or 3 miles round-trip.
Trail GuideLength: 2 to 3 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: Less than 100 feet
Directions: From Tucson, drive north on Oracle Road about 7 miles north of Ina Road. Turn left into Rancho Vistoso Boulevard; drive 3 miles to park.
Travel Advisory: Don't hike this trail during rainstorms as the possibility of flash flooding exists along the route.
Information: Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Department, 520-229-5050
Hot Springs LoopSome geologists claim that the water that originally carved this route near Bass Canyon, in Southern Arizona, dates to the last ice age. Sounds funny because the area lays claim to some of the hottest natural springs in the state. Nevertheless, this hike begins just downstream from the hot tubs at Muleshoe Ranch headquarters, a guest ranch operated by The Nature Conservancy. Following an undeveloped and rocky streambed route that's fairly level, Hot Springs Loop takes in views of Bass Canyon, a rock formation born by a volcano two million years ago and which has eroded into undulating cliffs and spires. Coatimundis, mountain lions, mule deer and javalinas are a few of the wildlife species that inhabit the area. In the late 1800s, Chiricahua Apache Indians hid in canyons here, staging attacks on whites who settled the region, making it one of the most dangerous in the state. But nowadays, a soothing hot-spring soak awaits when you return, and the only sounds you'll hear along this peaceful trail are the rustle of cottonwood trees and birdsong.
Trail GuideLength: 3 miles round-trip
Elevation: 3,900 feet
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Directions: From Tucson, drive east on Interstate 10 to Willcox (Exit 340). Go south to Bisbee Avenue and turn right. Continue past the high school and turn right (north) onto Airport Road. After 15 miles, bear right onto Muleshoe Ranch Road. Follow this road for another 14 miles. The Muleshoe Ranch CMA Headquarters is at the end of this road on the left.
Travel Advisory: Two-thirds of this hike is in rocky creek beds requiring hikers to walk in water. Wear sturdy boots and long pants; carry a walking stick and a change of socks. The 26 miles of dirt road from Willcox to Muleshoe Ranch may require a four-wheel-drive vehicle after heavy rains.
Information: Casita lodging at Muleshoe Ranch is available by reservation from late September through May, 520-212-4295; www.nature.org
Table Top MountainA hike to the top of this mesa near Sonoran Desert National Monument between Tucson and Phoenix yields majestic views of southern Arizona's mountain ranges. The Santa Catalina, Superstition and Baboquivari mountains can all be seen from the 4,356-foot peak of Table Top Mountain. Situated about 40 miles southwest of Casa Grande, this 3.5-mile hike winds through the eroded hills of black basalt surrounded by desert vegetation such as chainfruit chollas, saguaro cactuses, creosote bushes, ocotillos and paloverde trees. Beginning in a campground, the trail's first 1.5 miles is relatively flat, but it soon becomes more challenging. The slope's pitch ascends more steeply, and after climbing a staircase of rocks, the trail unfolds into a series of switchbacks until it tops out onto a 40-acre saddle. During the spring, following good fall and winter rains, the surrounding landscape is carpeted with splashes of color from orange globemallows, blue larkspurs and red penstemons.
Trail GuideLength: 3.5 miles
Elevation: 2,300 to 4,357 feet
Directions: From Tucson: Drive north on Interstate 10 to Interstate 8 and go west about 28 miles to Exit 144. The 15-mile drive south from Exit 144 is marked by small arrows on slender 4-foot signs at several junctures. Keep right at the first fork, at about 2.1 miles. At 7.8 miles, wind past an old barn and continue south. The surface turns rough beginning at the 11.8-mile turnoff to the left, marked by a corral and yellow cattle crossing. Stay right from there to the campground and trailhead. From Phoenix: Drive south on I-10 to I-8 and proceed west to Exit 144 as from Tucson.
Travel Advisory: To reach the trailhead, a high-clearance vehicle is necessary. Always carry plenty of water, at least 1 gallon per day per person. Hike this trail in the early spring, fall and winter. The trail is virtually impassable in wet weather.
Information: Arizona Bureau of Land Management, 623-580-5500; www.blm.gov/az/rec/tabletop.htm
San Pedro TrailThe hike to Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate offers an easy, level and mostly shadeless walk through desert creosote and short brush, with accompaniment from constantly moving lizards below and a generous sky above to break the sameness of southern Arizona's terrain. In terms of physical remnants, the presidio, established in 1775, offers only a stone foundation and a few adobe walls, likely part of the commandant's quarters, barracks, a chapel and some defensive walls. They stand on a rise above the San Pedro River, with interpretive signs to explain why the Spanish came here and the difficulties they faced. From the trailhead parking lot off In Balance Ranch Road, the hike to Terrenate measures 1.5 miles, partly along an old railroad bed. Consider it a link between different eras. The Presidio is part of the Bureau of Land Management's San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, which includes the ruins of the Grand Central Mill and the railroad town of Fairbank, both born amid the Old West silver boom. Farther down the trail, the old mill overtakes an entire hillside with neatly placed stones that rise from the trailside in four steps, like a cliff dwelling. The stamp mill probably had 10 to 15 stamps going at once, pounding silver from rock hauled from the nearby mines.
Trail GuideLength: 1.5 miles from the trailhead to Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate; 1.5 miles from Fairbank to Grand Central Mill
Elevation: 1,900 feet
Directions: From Tucson, drive east on Interstate 10 about 43 miles to Exit 302. Take State Route 90 south toward Sierra Vista for about 19 miles. Just south of the little community of Whetstone, turn left (east) onto State Route 82, drive about 10 miles to In Balance Ranch Road and turn left (north). Follow this good dirt road 2 miles to the Terrenate trailhead parking lot. The turnoff to the town of Fairbank is also located off State 82, 2 miles east of In Balance Ranch Road.
Information: Bureau of Land Management, Sierra Vista, 520- 439-6400; www.blm.gov/az/nca/spnca/spnca-info.htm.
Sugarloaf MountainThe peak of Sugarloaf Mountain juts from the landscape. At 7,310 feet, it is the highest point in the Chiricahua National Monument. A trail, built by Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, spirals upward to the Sugarloaf Mountain summit, where a lonely stone firehouse stands. The structure doesn't require a tall lookout tower, because no trees interrupt the long-distance views. From the parking lot, the trail begins modestly on its way to climbing 479 feet in a little less than a mile. The higher the trail climbs, the flora becomes more diverse, ranging from Arizona white oak trees to blooming Schott's yuccas. The summit offers a 360-degree view – Cochise Head to the east, the San Simon Valley to the southeast, and Echo Canyon to the south. The bizarre fused-ash hoodoos and pillars of the canyon form the heart of the monument, including the thousand-ton Big Balanced Rock. The Dragoon Mountains, including Cochise Stronghold, lie to the west beyond Sulphur Springs Valley, and to the north, the dog-eared Dos Cabezas Mountains watch over Apache Pass. Just beyond, the metallic glimmer of Willcox sparkles in the sun.
Trail GuideLength: 2 miles, round-trip
Elevation; 6,830 to 7,310 feet
Directions: From Phoenix or Tucson, take Interstate 10 to Willcox; turn south on State Route 186 to State Route 181 and continue south into Chiricahua National Monument.
Information: Chiricahua National Monument, 520-824-3560; www.nps.gov/chir
The Anza TrailThe explorer Juan Bautista de Anza II opened this part of Southern Arizona for us latecomers. In December 1759, he became captain of the Tubac Presidio, a southern Spanish outpost in the New World, and later he headed a momentous expedition west that led to the founding of San Francisco. This trail bears his name. It begins at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park and proceeds 4.5 miles along the river, ending at the ruins of the 200-year-old Tumacácori Mission at the Tumacácori National Historic Park. The trail's first leg is wide, dusty and hardly remote. It parallels the back walls of luxury homes in the Barrio de Tubac development, and, at times, depending on tree cover, we can hear the hum of traffic along Interstate 19 farther west. But the Santa Cruz River is the real star of this hike. It flows year-round along this stretch of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail – strong enough in a couple of places to form minirapids. You'll encounter three river-crossings, the first coming after about 1.5 miles, and consisting of logs and wood slats over marshy ground. The first real bridge comes immediately after this crossing, and there's a second one about 2 miles beyond, just after passing through the gate into Tumacácori National Historic Park. The bridges are made of ropes and planks that shake and rattle as you walk over them, but they're well-built and good fun.
Trail GuideLength: 4.5 miles, one-way
Elevation: 1,600 feet
Directions: To the Tubac trailhead: From Tucson, drive south 42 miles on Interstate 19 and take Exit 34 to Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. The trailhead lies south of the museum. To the Tumacácori trailhead: From Tucson, drive south 46 miles on I-19 to Tumacácori and take Exit 29 to park. The trail begins at the northwest corner of the national park property.
Information: Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, 520-398-2252; pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/tubac.html; Tumacácori National Historical Park, 520-398-2341; www.nps.gov/tuma.
San Bernardino Wildlife RefugeBlessed by reliable surface water on a songbird migration route that connects the tropics with all of North America, the San Bernardino Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Arizona draws a wildlife bounty. The Black Draw Trail offers a 2.5-mile saunter along dirt roads and passes artesian ponds and open cienegas. Thick desert vegetation walls us in until suddenly the trail opens into a cienega and Double PhD Pond. A desert anomaly with artesian wells and ponds, this region comprises the headwaters of the Rio Yaqui Basin. Willows, Fremont cottonwoods and cattails furnish nesting areas for birds. The trail reaches the barbed-wire boundary fence between Mexico and Arizona where a 12-foot-high monument explains that 1882 and 1889 treaties fixed the current border. Following the fence east, drop into Robertson Cienega, where a fenced enclosure protects threatened Chiricahua and lowland leopard frogs. Tree-lined Black Draw holds a small pool. Bullfrogs croak at our intrusion, but the fragrant Texas mulberry blossoms are welcoming. The trail loops back through desert vegetation to Double PhD Pond and the Slaughter Ranch.
Trail GuideLength: 2.5 miles, one-way
Elevation: 3,750 feet
Directions: From Douglas, drive east on 15th Street, which turns into Geronimo Trail. Go 15 miles, then follow Slaughter Ranch Road to the right. You will see the gate with a large "Z" (Slaughter's brand) on the front. The Black Draw Trail starts at the Slaughter Ranch parking area and goes into San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge. To reach the refuge headquarters from Douglas, follow U.S. Route 191 north to .33 mile past Marker 11, then turn left (west) for 1 mile to the refuge office.
Information: Slaughter Ranch Museum, 520-558-2474; San Bernardino Wildlife Refuge, 520-364-2104 or www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/arizona/sanbernardino.html
Parker Canyon LakeWhen Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado wandered through southeast Arizona in search of the seven cities of gold, he missed Parker Canyon Lake in the San Rafael Valley. He never heard the early morning cacophony of songs from birds hidden in the shoreline vegetation, never fished its waters and never hiked the encircling Lakeshore Trail. That's because the lake would not exist for another 450 years, when, in 1966, the Arizona Game and Fish Department built an earthen dam in the southern reaches of the Canelo Hills to capture runoff from the western slopes of the Huachuca Mountains. The 5-mile Lakeshore Trail begins at the general store and boat-launch area. For the first 300 yards, the trail is paved and barrier free. From the nearby Lakeview campground, several trails radiate out toward the lake and the Lakeshore Trail. The flat yet winding trail, never more than a stone's throw from the lake's shore, draws you into patches of willow thickets, oak savannahs and rolling grasslands, littered with rounded juniper trees. At about the halfway point, near the north end of the lake, the trail passes a wildlife-viewing bench, one of several along the trail that overlook the lake.
Trail GuideLength: 5 miles
Elevation: 5,328 feet
Directions: From Tucson, drive east on Interstate 10 for 21 miles to the State Route 83 exit. Drive south on State 83 for 27 miles to Sonoita. Continue south on 83 for approximately 25 miles to Parker Canyon Lake.
Information: Sierra Vista Ranger District, 520-378-0311; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado
Perimeter TrailThe 3.7-mile Perimeter Trail connects Miller and Carr canyons, and ultimately reaches the Carr House visitors center. Hikers can make this a one-way hike by leaving a vehicle at either trailhead. The hillside glows with colors – the pale green and golden grasses of the slope are accented by white rock outcroppings, the darker green of Emory oaks and everywhere, the blooming stalks of waist-high pink penstemons. Southeastern Arizona is renowned for hummers and butterflies, with some species found nowhere else in the United States. Most migrate up from the tropics and many don't go much farther than this scattering of mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona. After an initial short climb, the route levels, following a rolling course in and out of small gullies as it traverses the perimeter of the Huachuca Mountains to Carr Canyon Road. The trail offers wide-open vistas of the San Pedro River Valley. On the southern horizon loom San Jose Peak and other distant mountain ranges in Mexico. Rising from the Upper Sonoran chapparal landscape of the Perimeter Trail to pine-forested peaks above 9,000 feet, the Huachucas form a sky island refuge harboring one of the most diverse gathering of plants and animals north of the tropics. Down a path to the left, just before Carr Canyon Road, lie a grassy meadow and a view of the intermittent 300-foot Carr Falls. The path continues west through a shady wooded area to the visitors center.
Trail GuideLength: 3. 7 miles, one-way
Elevation: 7,500 to 8,800 feet
Directions: From Tucson, travel southeast on Interstate 10 for 35 miles to Exit 302. Travel south on State Route 90 for 30 miles to Sierra Vista. From Sierra Vista, travel south on State Route 92 for 8.9 miles to Miller Canyon Road. Travel west on Miller Canyon Road for 1 mile to the parking area. Pick up the trail on the north side of Miller Canyon Road.
Information: Coronado National Forest, Sierra Vista Ranger District, 520-378-0311; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado; Carr House Visitor Information Center, 520-378-1563, or 520-803-6865 on weekends.
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