I have lived in Tucson, AZ a few times, graduating from the University of AZ with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Tucson is where I started studying holistic health and spiritual therapies in 1973. Tucson is where I really started studying and playing guitar. Tucson is where I had my profound near death experience in 1987. I used to hike there up to 7 days a week and sometimes I’d do 2 hikes in a day.
One of my favorite hikes and one that I spent a semester going to every day, is Upper Tanque Verde Falls. It is a pass between the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Rincon Mountains, huge granite boulders. You reach it by driving out Tanque Verde road which turns into a dirt road called Reddington Pass Road. You continue past the signs for lower Tanque Verde Falls and look for usually at least a few cars parked on the left hand side of the road. There is a metal sign that marks the main trail head. The trail is only about 1/2 mile down to the beach and falls. You can just park yourself there or scramble up or down stream. The rocks are slippery so be careful. When the water is running it is beautiful and cooling. Even in the winter when there is no water, it is very lovely as the water has carved out these beautiful shaped boulders. It is clothing optional so be ready for nudity. The upper falls are kept cleaner, there are less people and it is an easier hike to it than lower tanque verde falls.
When I came back to Tucson in March and April this year I went back to a few old hiking places but went online and found more options, exploring areas I hadn’t been to before. Some of the hikes I did several times. I was often the only one on the trail, and really pushed myself to go further, doing over 20 hikes in the two months I was there. One of the new hikes I went on was a loop trail combining the Camboh, Panther Peak Wash and Roadrunner trails adding up to 4.6 miles. it is out in the Northern part of the Saguaro Forest West park, my favorite for its plethora of Saguaro Cactus and the beautiful road leading to it. The Camboh trail takes you curving through low desert plants and I passed a rattlesnake sleeping partly underneath a bush. You then turn north, crossing the road and head into Panther Peak wash, walking in the wash north and then west with the Tucson Mountains on the north side. Then you turn south and walk the Roadrunner trail, walking through a forest of cholla cactus. People have often seen roadrunners here. There are a few houses next to this part of the trail but it is still beautiful.
Another new one I discovered in Dec. when I was in Tucson and then returned to in March and April is the Camino de Oesta trail to the Stone house. You drive out Speedway heading West and that turns into Gates Pass Road. As the road curves left to change names, you will intersect with Camino de Oesta. Follow that to the end and park. I liked this trail because it is close to town and so was easy to just head on over to for a quick afternoon hike. I often heard owls here. It is beautiful to see it greening out in the spring and the spring flowers popping up. I usually just took the path along the side of a mountain, back and forth through the washes and desert to the stone house built years ago. Toward the end of my stay though I explored the Resort road trail, which leads to the Marriott Starr Pass resort. You can reach the road there, to the east, walk north past the entrance and catch another trail heading west and then south up and over a mountain, hooking in with the resort loop trail and then coming back on the CDO trail. That is about 3.7 mile trail. This is on the west side of Tucson so you get that wondrous Saguaro forest of the west side.
For the first time I checked out Catalina State State park. There is a fee to enter but worth it. There are camping and RV sites and places for groups to picnic or camp, too. To reach it, you drive north on Oracle Road and you will see the signs. You get a beautiful view of the western and northern sides of the Santa Catalina Mountains. I went on three trails, well, four trails really. I started out on the Canyon Loop trail going counter clockwise (the easier direction), hiking up a short hill and then took a detour to the Montrose Pools. These were sweet pools off the trail leading to Romero Pools. Then I came back on that trail, continued on the Canyon loop trail going counter clockwise, down a long set of steps (hence the benefit in going counter clockwise), through landscape dotted with amazingly old Saguaro cacti with many arms, next to small stream and ending near the parking lot. Then I crossed to the south and took the birding trail through stands of different trees and riparian areas for birding. Then I drove to the trail head for the short trail through the Romero Ruin trail. This trail leads you to the ruins of an old Farm house, and also older Indian ruins. The total for all the hikes was around 5 miles.
Gates Pass is famous as a place to watch sunsets. There are always many people gathered there to watch sunsets, often from other countries. You reach it by driving out Speedway, heading west, and that becomes Gates Pass Road. It is quite a curvy road and often has bicyclists on it so be careful. It is best to get there early to find parking. You then scramble up in any direction and find a place to sit to watch the beauty revealed in another gorgeous desert sunset. My son and I used to come here almost daily when he was young. It was a great ending to our days.
Another new discovery was the Honey Bee Canyon south and north trails. I went out here several times as it was an easy hike. When you combine both hikes it adds up to 4.8 miles. The South hike winds along a trail, through an old dam into the canyon, through a wash, up over a hill and around through a wash and back, passing many old Saguaro Cactus. I found this awesome Saguaro with a large number of arms and another that had all these arms pointed down, like a ballerina’s skirt. The north hike takes you through a wash and you run across some old Anasazi petroglyphs. I often saw bunnies along the trail. There are reports of people seeing cougars.
Another old favorite is Lake Patagonia. When I used to live in Tucson in the mid-late 80’s, I used to go down there alot to hike, canoe, swim and even camped there one night. I challenged myself and swam across the lake and back one time. It is famous for it’s birding and was recently seen in a movie with Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson. One side of the lake is allowed for motored boats and the other non-motors. You drive down like you are going to Nogales, and turn left and follow the signs to Lake Patagonia. A friend went with me in April and we tried out a new hike in the preserve that is north of the lake. At first we lost the trail and ran across a geocache box. That was exciting as I had run into a couple hiking on another hike and they had talked of geocaching. The water was too cold to swim in but my friend and I rented a double kayak and kayaked around the lake. It was very windy, so challenging, but still great to be on the water. The hike was 3 miles long and led us up and down and up and down various hills and past stands of cottonwood trees. The hawks were flying over us.
The Loma Verde Trail is part of an extensive set of trails in Saquaro National Forest east, on the east side of Tucson. I reached it by driving out Speedway until it dead ends. I know I’d hiked out there before but found new trails this time. A friend and I went and hiked for a couple hours just before sunset. The Saguaro cactus aren’t as prolific as on the west side but it is still a very pretty and varied area next to the Rincon mountains.
I never tire of driving to Mt. Lemmon. It takes about an hour to get there and drive to the top but you end up driving through all these different climates. You get there by driving out Tanque Verde Road going east and take the Catalina Hwy left driving up switchbacks to the top. It is so beautiful and different at every turn. There are numerous hikes along the way. I once did a hike starting on the side of the mountain and ending going down the Sabino Canyon 7 Falls trail, an 8 mile trail that my then 4 year old son did with me and two of my friends. I have been on other hikes on the way to Mt. Lemmon but my favorite is the Aspen loop trail. To access it, you drive to the top of the mountain, past the ski resort and town of Sumerhaven until the road dead ends in a parking lot. I took the Marshal Gulch trail going counter clockwise (much easier than going the other direction). The trail gains about 560 in elevation and the loop is 3.9 miles, up along a stream through forests and up a mountain, across and around and then down through an aspen grove. There was a big fire a few years ago so many of the pine trees were burned but there is a sweet crop of newly growing pine and aspen trees.
Pima Canyon is a hike I used to do a lot and I did when I first got back to Tucson in March. It is on the north side of Tuscon up against the south side of the Santa Catalina mountains. The views from it are pretty. It is an uphill hike, reached by driving out 1st. ave north.
Another new hike for me was to go to Saguaro National Park West and combine a few trails. There is a fee to enter this park. i combined the Valley view trail, a gently uphill trail to wonderful views; turning back and following it back to catch the Wild dog trail out and back and then going back to the beginning of the valley view trail to catch the Bajaha wash trail, walking through the wash; then I hiked out to the road and walked back uphill to my car, a 5 mile combo. I got to the park by going out Gates Pass road then following the signs to Saguaro National Park west.
Another new trail in Saquaro National Park East was the Wildhorse trail combined with some other trails to create a loop. It was a challenging hike for me because it was hot and I was tired after 1 mile of going gently uphill and I pushed myself to finish the 5.2 miles of trails up a mountain, around next to a an old dam, down the hill, in and out of various washes, which makes walking a little more challenging. It was quite pretty though, hiking in the foothills of the Rincon mountains.
The Cougar trail was at the edge of the Saguaro National park west, not in the park but next to it. The hike leads you through the foothills of the mountains and to the Desert museum (a wonderful museum). I got started a little late and ran into a wonderful couple on the trail and we ended up chatting for an hour. They told me about geocaching. It was hot and so by the time I got to the end of the trail, I didn’t have the energy to go back the way I had come so chose instead to make my way to the road and walk back that way. It wasn’t the safest way to go as the road is quite windy with very little shoulder, so sometimes I’d have to just step into the desert, off the road when I could hear and see cars coming around the curves towards me, but it was a flatter hiking choice and I made it back to my car safely. I found this great “stegasaurus” looking cactus on my hike and a pretty blooming cactus next to the side of the road.
And lastly, after walking up and down Tucson Blvd. I found the house that my Mom’s father had built for them when she was about 8, around 1928, when Tucson blvd. was the edge of town.
The heat in Tucson gets to be a bit much for me so I haven’t chosen to move back there but it will always hold a place in my heart and a place i will go back to for all it’s beautiful hikes and what an easy town is to get around!