In March 2007, I was looking around on the internet for new hikes, and I came across the tantalizingly named Baby Jesus Ridge Trail in the Catalinas. The trail
description I got was from a mountain biking website, and I did a little scouting via Google Earth. There is a loop that connects the 50-Year Trail with the Baby
Jesus, Sutherland, Link Trail, and back to the 50-Year. I set out to do this loop in 2007 and it was a spectacular failure. I had read that the Baby Jesus Trail would be overgrown, so I didn’t think twice when I began going up the ridge, fighting all sorts of catclaw and mesquite. I will never forget the moment I realized that I was way off track and that my planned loop was never going to happen. Then, as I was backtracking towards my car, it started to rain and the sun set on my little adventure. I ended up having to hike for a couple of hours in the rain and dark, navigating by the GPS that my husband had thankfully gotten for me when I started hiking solo. I was still a novice at working my GPS and it had no base maps on it, otherwise I would have realized a lot earlier that I was not going the way I thought I was. I had cell reception in this area and was able to call my husband and tell him that I was okay, but I was going to be home a lot later than I thought. It all worked out in the end, but not before I was completely freaked out by a glowing pair of eyes that I saw under a tree on my way back to the car.
So, with that backstory, it was with a tiny bit of trepidation that I attempted this same loop this week. Between the first hike and this one, I had found my way
800 miles across Arizona on the sometimes-hard-to-find Arizona Trail. Could the Baby Jesus be that difficult? How would I fare on my return to the Baby Jesus
Loop? Besides, this time I was armed with a GPS and I knew how to use it…
The forecast was for a high of 67- perfect hiking weather under blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds. I started out off of Golder Ranch Road (the same place as my blog entry from 11-24) and hiked the familiar 50-Year Trail to FR 642 to the junction in the circular wash with the cottonwoods. There are several paths in this area and you have to pick the path with a carsonite post that says “restoration area” with a brown metal step-over gate in the fence. This is, I believe where I made my mistake on the previous hike. Because once I passed the fenceline, the Baby Jesus Ridge Trail was in perfect shape. It even looked like someone had pruned it back recently. As I was hiking this clear, easy-to-follow trail, I couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking, “I was never on the Baby Jesus,
that’s why I couldn’t complete the loop!” Wow. That was a humbling moment. The trail follows a lower ridge that is a little bit farther east and behind the main ridge that you can see at the trailhead. I think I went up the larger ridge on my previous visit. After my initial shock wore off, I was able to fully enjoy what the Baby Jesus has to offer. Beautiful views of Samaniego Ridge and Samaniego Peak dusted with snow. There were great piles of bouldery formations, and -surprise- clear trail. There were some foot, horse, and bike prints, and it looks like it gets a decent bit of use. There is a big field of behemoth saguaros that the trail winds through near the beginning.
I could look north and see my route that I took on last week’s backpacking trip through Sutherland Gap and the Biosphere in the distance. My favorite part of
the whole loop was when I got close to Wooden Trough Spring, almost 3 miles into the Baby Jesus Trail. This was all new to me, and I really liked the peaks on
the ridge that forms Cargodera Canyon. Great peaks with sheer cliffsides. I reached the spring, which is right on the trail, and was surprised to find a healthy-looking population of showy orange and black goldfish living in the clear water. One of the orange fishes was as big as my hand! The area near the spring would make a great camp spot, and I filed it away in my “places to come back and spend the night” file. From the spring to the Sutherland junction, the trail was
slightly more overgrown, but mostly at ankle-level.
I reached Flat Rock Meadow, a wash crossing with- you guessed it- flat rocks. I knew that the Sutherland Trail junction couldn’t be far away, so I passed up this
spot and continued on to the next scenic place to stop and eat lunch. The Baby Jesus Ridge Tr. is about 4 miles long, but not marked with any kind of sign at
either end. I reached the Sutherland junction, at a large cairn on a powerline road. Shortly afterward, I found a beautiful spot for lunch on a rock outcrop
overlooking the changing sycamores and cottonwoods in Cargodera Canyon.
I have not hiked the Sutherland Trail at all, and this small peek makes me very interested. The Sutherland Trail can be followed all the way up to the top of
Mount Lemmon. Of course, the way I would hike it is to get dropped off at the top and hike down rather than up the 6000 feet elevation gain.
But for today, I was only following the Sutherland Trail, at this point a rocky road, for one mile before continuing to the Link trail that would take me back to the 50-Year trail. The Link “trail” is actually a very rocky road. I was glad to be going downhill. I think that is the reason that most writeups have this loop going
clockwise. Much better to gain elevation on singletrack and lose it on a rough road. The Link Trail headed into Sutherland Wash and through a gate, well-
signed the whole way. After 2.2 miles, I reached the 50-Year Jct. and turned north, glad to be back on singletrack after the rocky and sandy jeep road.
This part of the 50-Year is not as interesting as the northern part that goes through the boulders, but it got me back to my car in no time flat. From the time Iwas approaching Sutherland Wash, I kept hearing someone firing a gun, over and over and over again. The trail would look like it was going toward the sound,
and then thankfully veer away at the last minute. I saw some cars parked on the jeep road, but never saw the people that were out shooting.
Total time for this 10.5 mile hike was 4.5 hours, 15oo ft. elevation gain. I really enjoyed this loop- the first half is more interesting than the second half, but the whole thing has great views. I will definitely be back to the Baby Jesus to camp out, but I will be waiting until it warms up a little bit. There are petroglyphs in this area, and I will be returning to this area next week to check them out. I will be sure to post pictures!
Click the picture below to see the rest of the pictures from this hike!
|50-Year to Baby Jesus to Sutherland Loop|