Purpose of this Website|
I have always been annoyed by the plethora of websites that feature fancy graphics, but don't provide any hard information. This website is my small attempt to work against this trend, and I hope to one day have useful information about all of the hikes within an hour and a half's drive from Tucson. For now, this website focuses on longer, more difficult dayhikes. In the future I hope to cover the more popular C hikes also.
Please send me your comments and corrections
Please send me your comments, corrections, and suggestions for improvements. If you think the way I present something is confusing, please let me know. If I have messed up a trail description, or omitted an important fact, please let me know. Send comments, etc. to AndyFlach@yahoo.com.
I divide each trail into segments, and most segments are between two trail junctions, though some are between landmarks. In each hike description you will see each trail segment labeled with the name of the trail, and then below, in parentheses, will be the points that the segment connects. For example "Esperero Trail (Ventana Canyon Trail to the Window)" means that the trail segment is on the Esperero Trail, and runs between the trail's junction with the Ventana Canyon Trail and the landmark called the Window.
In my hike descriptions I use my own terms for some things. When I refer to a "park" I usually don't mean a spot "improved" by the government, but instead an attractive open area with widely spaced trees that looks like a nice place to stop and rest. A "saddle" is a u-shaped ridge between two high points which is generally the divide between two drainages. For example, if you hike up to the end of a canyon there will generally be a saddle with another canyon descending from the opposite side of the saddle.
Trail names in this area are kind of slippery. The trail names used by Cowgill and Glendering in the Trail Guide to the Santa Catalina Mountains are often quite different than the names that appear on the signs on the trail. For example, what Cowgill and Glendering call the "Lemmon Park Trail" is what the Forest Service calls the "Meadow Trail." What Cowgill and Glendering call the "East Fork Trail" in Canada del Oro the Forest Service breaks up into two trails, the "Red Ridge Trail" and the "Catalina Camp Trail." To make matters more confusing, the Forest Service has their own "East Fork Trail" down near Sabino Basin, which Cowgill and Glendering consider an extension of the Bear Canyon Trail. One trail in the Rincons is called the "Italian Spring Trail" on the National Park Service signs, but is called the "Italian Ranch Trail" on the Rainbow Expeditions map.
To make life easier on myself I have decided to only use the trail names that the Forest Service uses. This way, the names I use will hopefully be consistent with the signs along the trail. However, the Forest Service is not always consistent. Their web site identifies one trail as the "Lemmon Rock Trail" while their signs on the trail call it "Lemmon Rock L.O. Trail." Small difference, but when people are unsure of their location having slight variations on trail names can deepen their uncertainty.
The Forest Service, particularly the Santa Catalina Ranger District, does a good job of putting up signs at trail junctions. Almost all junctions have signs, and these signs almost always tell you at least the names of all the trails at the junction.
The National Park Service puts signs up at junctions in the Rincons, but they are so useless that I wonder if the person in charge of the program has ever done any hiking. For one thing, the signs almost never tell you the names of all the trails coming into a junction. Often, you will get to a trail junction and learn the name of the trail you were on, but not the name of the other trail! As far as I can tell, their policy is to only give the name of a trail at its beginning and at its end. If there is a junction in the middle of the trail the hiker is on his own to identify the trail. What the signs do give is the distance and direction to other trails and landmarks. This means that the only way to tell where you are is to look at the map and puzzle out which junction on the map would match the distances to landmarks they give on the sign. Another problem is that the sign may not give the name of your destination. Yet another problem is that they are not careful to be consistent about giving directions to important landmarks. For example, one intersection will say "Manning Camp 2 miles" and point down a trail, but when you get to the next junction there will be no indication of which way to go to get to Manning Camp. Be sure to bring a good map when you hike in the Rincons, and check your location on the map at every intersection.
After hiking the Tucson area for a while you start to notice that there are at least three different sign styles. The most modern signs are small brown aluminum rectangles with the letters engraved into the aluminum. These are the most common these days, and they generally only give the trail names. There are also similar looking small brown metal signs with printed lettering, as opposed to engraved lettering. These signs generally give the name of the trail and the distance to various points along the trail. It appears that these are being phased out in favor of the engraved signs that only give the trail name. Both of these types are found in the Catalinas, but not in the Santa Ritas.
The classic old trail signs are the big ones made out of rusty iron plate with the letters cut out with a welding torch. These are still very common in the Santa Ritas, but are disappearing in the Catalinas, though a few can still be found in the more remote areas. I have never seen them in the Rincons. Another old sign style, which as far as I know can only be found in the far north end of the Catalinas, is large wooden planks with neatly engraved letters mounted on posts.
Finally, in the Catalinas someone has been putting up homemade signs made of tin plate with mailbox press-on letters riveted on the plate. These are generally found where the Forest Service doesn't have any signs. I like to think these signs are being put up by some good samaritan who is filling in the gaps left by the Forest Service.
Trail maintenance is kind of spotty throughout the whole area. About 20% of the trail are kept in good to excellent condition, but the remaining 80% vary from average condition to almost impassable. In the Catalinas, some of the more remote trails are very overgrown, and have obviously not been trimmed back in years. Even on frequently travelled trails in the Catalinas and Santa Ritas you will find downed trees across the trail that have obviously been there many months, or years. It puzzles me that the Forest Service apparently has lots of money for parking areas, concrete picnic tables, visitor centers, decorative stone walls, toll booths, and various other "improvements" oriented towards daytrippers in automobiles, but they apparently can't spare two guys with some clippers and a chainsaw to maintain the trails regularly.
Since the Forest Service won't maintain trails with any regularity, I encourage people to bring a pair of pruning shears with them and trim back the vegetation as they hike. If enough people do this the trails in the area will remain passable! I would like to take a chainsaw out there and clear some of the downed trees, but I figure that the Forest Service would get all over me for that.
Generally you will rarely see medium sized or large mammals on these hikes. I usually see one only every fourth or fifth hike, if that frequently. However, at one time or another I have seen coyotes, javalinas, deer, bobcats, and bears while hiking on these trails. I have not yet seen a mountain lion, though they do live in this area. I have also not seen bighorn sheep, and I do not expect to since the last census in the Catalinas didn't find any.
If you see a bear, just stay away from it, and don't feed it. The bears in this area are generally not aggressive unless you provoke them by messing with them or their cubs. However, a bear recently attacked a person sleeping in a tent in the Catalinas during a dry spell when there wasn't much natural forage available. If you go camping, but sure to hang your food up in a tree at night to keep it away from the bears, and don't keep any food in your tent. I have no idea what the right thing to do is if you are attacked by a bear, but I am sure there are plenty of experts out there ready to give you conflicting advice. Before you bring your dog hiking with you, think about the fact that your dog may get in a fight with a bear if you run into one, and that you will probably end up getting hurt if you try to break up the fight.
Until my recent hike up Rincon Peak I had only seen one rattlesnake in my hundreds of miles of hiking around Tucson. On the Rincon Peak hike I saw 3 for some reason. Rattlesnakes are quite numerous but they tend to stay hidden and try not to call attention to themselves. As long as you don't go poking around under thick bushes you should be all right. Since rattlesnake bites are rarely fatal to adults, I don't worry about them. You are much more likely to be injured in a car wreck on the way to the trailhead than you are to be bit by a rattlesnake, so adjust your snake-anxiety level down to the point where it is about one tenth of the anxiety you feel about car accidents. If you do get bit, don't panic. Just go get medical help. A fair percentage of rattlesnake bites are "dry" and no venom is injected, and almost no bites are fatal. Don't try any field remedies you may have heard about like cutting the site of the bite, or cutting off the flow of circulation with a tourniquet. While rattlesnake bites themselves rarely cause permanent damage, you can mess yourself up pretty good trying these field remedies.
Most of the photos in this site were taken using a 35mm SLR camera, and scanned using a HP Scanjet 5p scanner. In mid-August 1997 I recompressed all of the pictures (JPG comression level 40) so that the pages would load faster.
All of the hike pages on this website were output from a Access 2 database application I developed. Using a database allows me to update and reformat the pages easily, and generally makes it easier to keep track of all of the information. Send me an email if you would like a copy of the Access 2 application. Its not real slick, but it gets the job done.