Sunday, October 29, 2023

Colossal Cave Mountain Park and Saguaro NP East Mica Trail

Coronado de Tucson

October 28, 2023

E Spanish Trail Road to Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Colossal Cave Mountain Park (CCMP) is a beautiful open-space park rich in legends of the Old West.  It was created in 1992 when Pima County purchased the final acres for the park from the Arizona State Land Department.  Today, the park's purpose is to protect this large tract of scenic land (2,578 acres in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains), a cave, beautiful stone work created by the Civilian Conservation Corps and a ranch site from the 1890s.  The park also offers a wide range of benefits to the community such as trails (for hiking, mountain biking and horse back riding), camping and picnicking.

Since we had already done the cave tour which is very interesting and fun and a big draw for the park, we decided to do some exploring on the lesser known areas of CCMP that we haven't seen.  The area we chose is located on the grounds of the La Posta Quemado Ranch built sometime in the 1890s.  The drive thru the park is beautiful in all directions.

Translated, Posta Guemada means "burnt station".  The ranch is so named because a stage coach stop that was located on this site by the Southern Pacific Railroad in the mid 1870s burned...not once, but twice.  

At the picnic area is a bronze statue titled "The Cowboy".  

It stands 6' 8" inches tall (including the base) and depicts a working  cowboy from the period of the American West between the years 1865-1900.  During these years, cowboys played an essential role in the ranching industry by driving cattle across open range.  The inventions of barbed wire fencing, the increased privatization of land and the growth of the railroad brought an end to the cowboys' original way of life.  

The Cowboy
Artist : Buck McCain
"In Tribute To A Special Breed" 
(Dress and gear are authentic reproductions.)

The spacious picnic area is well shaded... 

and a kiosk for the Arizona National Scenic Trail is also in this area.  The Arizona Trail stretches over 800 miles across the entire length of the state from the Mexican border to Utah.  The trail connects deserts, canyons, wilderness, history, communities and people.  A 3 mile section of the Arizona Trail traverses the park to reveal breathtaking views, shadowy canyons and beautiful Sonoran Desert.

We have hiked three sections of the Arizona Trail that are also close to home...Sahaurita Trail, Gabe Zimmerman, and Davidson Canyon (which provides access to the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve)   

A little further down a smooth dirt road we found the stables.  If you feel the urge to "Cowboy Up", leisurely guided trail rides are offered that meander thru the ranch and follow the old National Mail Stagecoach route.    

30 minute trial rides up to 2 hour rides, sunset rides, and lunch rides are offered.

Remnants of days gone by are...

Pacific Railroad Caboose and section of track

We discovered a new to us crested saguaro...

and a couple of trails of interest.  Gale W Bundrick Trail focuses on the archeology and the natural biodiversity of the park including riparian areas, and Hohokam bedrock mortars.  

Also, Path of the Ancestors Trail traverses pristine Sonoran Desert, a riparian and mesquite bosque habitats.    

Both trails are noted birding trails.

On the drive out, we noticed the CCC building (built in the 1930s) on the side of the hill that houses the gift shop, museum, a cafe, a gorgeous patio with the enormous beautiful views and the entrance to Colossal Cave.  It was a fun morning and I love adding new places for hiking and birding...especially close to home.  There is no fee to use the hiking trails.

Of course, on the way home we made a stop at Fito's for yummy tacos.  It's a Vail favorite lunch stop !  It is a drive-thru but they do offer a patio and inside dining as well.

Another morning this week we headed to Saguaro NP East for a hike before stopping by the grocery store.  

Our hike of choice was Mica Trail which connects with Cactus Forest Trail-North for a 2.5 mile loop.  The trailhead and parking for this easy desert hike is at the Mica View picnic area.  Mica View is a nice area to visit even if you aren't planning a hike.  
There is a covered pavilion, tables are nicely spaced for privacy, and restroom facilities are clean.  But the highlight is the view of Mica Mountain...The park's highest point at 8,666' in the Rincon Mountains. 

It is also home to a crested...

The saguaros in this north section of the park are some of the healthiest, tallest and prettiest saguaros we see.  There are many hikes in this area and it doesn't matter which one we choose to enjoy, it is a "WOW" every time.  

There are lots of little things to enjoy when we remember to look down...

And then there is the never gets old !

And another morning, Sally had a vet tech appointment for a yearly vaccine at Animal Care Center in Green Valley.  

And on the way home, we stopped at the doggie park in Green Valley.  It has been a really long time since she has seen's clean, huge and divided with fencing by size of the pups.  

Back at the oasis, I captured a few bird photos.  A first time visitor this week was a Northern Mockingbird.  They don't visit feeders so he didn't stay long.  They prefer insects all summer and mostly fruit in fall and winter.  We have oranges out, but I didn't see him perched there.  They can be found all over the United States and are permanent residents wherever they choose to call home.    

A Northern Mockingbird.  
A Male may learn around 200 different songs throughout his life.

We have seen this juvenile Cooper's hawk several times...

a female Ladder-backed Woodpecker...

and a sweet little House Finch...

We enjoyed a few early morning walks...

another rainy day...

and just being home. 

Sally greets us at the back door...

Until next time...


Saturday, October 21, 2023

Catalina Highway, Sky Island, and a Rainy Day

Corona de Tucson

October 21, 2023

Just look at that beautiful blue sky...

Catalina Highway, also know as the Sky Island Parkway National Scenic Byway and/or the Mt Lemmon Scenic Byway, is the only paved road that climbs Mount Lemmon which is the highest peak (9100+ feet) in the Santa Catalina Mountain Range. It is a gorgeous curvy drive with lots of switchbacks, numerous pull-outs and vistas as far as the eye can see.  The climb begins with giant saguaros, followed by manzanita scrub bush which then gives way to the ponderosa pines at about 7,000 feet elevation gain.  At the end of the drive aspens, maples, oak and Arizona walnut trees are included in the many broadleaf tree species found there. I read the biological diversity on this highway is equivalent to a drive from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles...from desert to a shady conifer forest and everything in between.  

Exposed granite in all directions and Ponderosa Pines along the byway...  

We had a goal of reaching the top so we kept our stops at pull-outs to a bare minimum with only one.  We just had to have an up close and personal visit with the Hoodoos. Hoodoos are abundant around mile marker 15 with a large pull-out parking lot (and restrooms) to better see and enjoy these eye-catching rock columns and interesting formations. 
What we saw when we parked...

A short climb and up close...
There is a small plaque in memory of Frank Harris Hitchcock whose sincere interest and unceasing efforts made this highway possible.  

While we were stopped here, I took this photo of Mt Lemmon Marigolds and Lodgepine needles and a cone.  This might be a good time to mention that Mt Lemmon is named for botanist Sara Plummer Lemmon who trekked to the top of the mountain with her husband and a local rancher by horse and foot in 1881.  She was the first woman who dared to climb the mountain.  She was taken aback by the beauty of the mountain's plant life and kept a journal with drawings and descriptions of the plants, trees, and wildlife she encountered along her journey.      

Mt Lemmon Marigolds just pop up all along the rock and tree debris. 

Our second stop of the day was Ski Valley.

The first ski lift installed at Ski Valley was in 1955.  The top elevation of Ski Valley is 9,157 feet above sea level and has 200 skiable acres with 21 runs.  Today, it is the southernmost ski destination in the continental United States.    

We don't ski, but there are several other notable "claim to fame" reasons to visit Ski Valley...fudge, cookies, chili and cornbread with honey, pie and fall colors come to mind.  We successfully indulged in all of those notables except the cookies and thats only because the cookie store was closed.  

The Iron Door, charming and quaint, has an awesome patio perfect for this time of year.  What a treat it was to sit among special guests...they were all giggles and whispers conjuring up things only they know about.  

But we did hear mention of cauldrons with fur of bats and eyes of newts.  

For us it was a simple decision...

with pie to carry home.

The pies are little whole pies.  
We chose Mt. Berry and Peach with crumbles.  

The lift is across the street with shops for fudge and cookies.  We also came home with chocolate fudge after several samples which included s'mores fudge and German chocolate fudge.  We didn't ride the lift, but decided next time, we would bring a picnic, ride the lift and have lunch at the top.  

Even though I read we were maybe a week early for fall color, we did see some beautiful trees.

The loop ride to the SkyCenter (Stewart's Observatory public astronomy outreach program) was the end of the climb.

Back at the oasis, we had a wonderful and much welcomed rainy day. 

The flowers were happy...

Joe and I were happy...

This little ladder-back woodpecker was happy... 

She had the yard and feeders to herself...

And we enjoyed a pretty sunset at the end of the day. 

 We logged in a few miles...

Sally looks forward to outside and morning sunshine.

The regular visitors stay busy...

And for a couple of weeks now we have had real snowbirds.  The White-crowned Sparrows have arrived. 

They fit right in with the House Sparrows.

 Sally had a much needed cut, bath, and nails trimmed.  

And just like that, another week is in the memory bank.  Until next time,