Posts Tagged ‘Catalina State Park’

It’s the last month before the Bighorn Sheep restrictions go into effect in the Catalinas, so I wanted to do something in the area. From January 1st until April 30th, going more than 400 feet off the trail in the management area is prohibited because of lambing season. I had visited Alamo Canyon three years ago with my friend Bill and really enjoyed it- it was time to return.


Bighorn Sheep Management Area

Alamo-Buster Loop (1)

Catalina State Park Boundary- Buster Mountain to the left, Alamo Canyon to the right

I parked at the Romero Ruins and took the trail for a short distance across the wash and then turned right at a cairn on an unnamed trail with surprisingly good tread. This trail took me to a little waterfall at the state park boundary. It had warmed up enough for me to wet my head in the creek before hiking on.

Waterfall in Alamo Canyon

Waterfall in Alamo Canyon- 2012

A trail continues past the park boundary that stays above the creek on canyon right. I took the trail until a large boulder jam in the creek, where I descended to take a break. There was a huge racket as a pack of javelinas moved to get downstream away from me. The giant striped granite boulders, golden ash trees and running water made for a perfect spot to settle in for a while.

Alamo-Buster Loop (2)

Saguaros and Leviathan and Wilderness Domes

Alamo-Buster Loop (3)

Giant granite boulders in Alamo Canyon

The gnats descended just as I was going to take a nap and I had to get a move on. I wasn’t in the mood to go farther up the creek, but I was intrigued by a cairned path I’d seen in 2012 that seemed to go up toward the Buster Mountain ridgeline. I’d also seen the top of the route on the ridgeline, today was the day to connect the dots.

The steep route out of the creek took me through an expanse of beautiful banded gneiss on the way to the ridge. It was fun following the well-cairned route. Much of it was on gravel, which made me happy to be hiking up rather than down it.

Alamo-Buster Loop (4)

Hiking up the cairned route to Buster Ridgeline

Alamo-Buster Loop (5)


I reached the ridgeline saddle and took another extended break. Some of my water had spilled into my pack so I didn’t hit the peak, instead I spent my time taking pictures and even had a little dance party at the saddle.

Alamo-Buster Loop (6)

The route pops out at the saguaro on the ridgeline

I wanted to time my descent with the sunset and started down the steep route down the ridgeline. Tall grasses made route finding a little challenging, it was much more overgrown than in previous trips because of all the rain we’ve gotten this year. Made it off the ridge in the fading light and was excited to see the sunset paint pink and purple stripes above Pusch Ridge.

Alamo-Buster Loop (8)

Sunset over Pusch Ridge

The sunset was one of those rare ones that changes and develops different characters way after the sun goes down. The entire mountain took on a subtle pink hue and fiery waves of orange, pink and red streaked the sky. It felt like it went on for hours and I kept stopping to take picture after picture. Timed it perfectly to arrive at the parking lot just as the sunset had finally faded. What a great way to end such an enjoyable day on the mountain.

Alamo-Buster Loop (9)

Ever-changing light

Alamo-Buster Loop (10)

And then the sunset got ridiculously good!

Can it be that it’s already almost 2016? I guess it’s time to put together the end of the year recap. I’ve got some exciting news to share as well- Happy Holidays!

Micro Chicken in a festive mood

Micro Chicken in a festive mood

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Buster Mountain summit view toward Mt Lemmon

Buster Mountain summit view toward Mt Lemmon

I had originally planned on hiking Pusch Peak from Pima Canyon until I came across this description http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=17807 on HikeArizona.com the night before. I really enjoyed my hike up Buster last year and wanted to see more of the area. So glad I hiked this one and covered some new ground instead- the trail up to Peak 4223 was delightful with fantastic views!

On the ridgeline looking north

On the ridgeline looking north

I love autumn days when I can start my hike at noon. The weather was wonderful all day, sometimes overcast, sometimes breezy. Found the trail with no issues- it is very well cairned with good tread and hardly any poky things- almost seemed too easy! Interesting views of the Romero Canyon Trail and Samaniego Ridge. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peak 4223 to the left, Buster on the right

Peak 4223 to the left, Buster on the right

Romero Canyon Trail

Romero Canyon Trail

I passed Peak 4223 and made my way across the ridge to the low saddle. I saw a flurry of activity and got really excited for a second- was it one of the newly released bighorns? Sadly, no. Just some deer.

Approaching Peak 4223

Approaching Peak 4223

Atop 4223 looking toward Buster

Atop 4223 looking toward Buster

After looking at dry Buster Spring I contoured around to meet the saddle to the east of Buster. There was no trail, but occasional cairns popped up from time to time. Thankfully the grass seeds weren’t too bad, that can turn a hike into a foot-stabbing nightmare quick. Also, not much shindagger on this route, not like areas in Pima Canyon where you are shindagger-surfing. Speaking of which, I had a great view of Table Mountain’s summit where Wendy and I spent a chilly night last year by the fireplace.

The views into Alamo Canyon are some of my favorite in all the Catalinas, so dramatic with the massive Leviathan and Wilderness Domes. The saddle felt remote, Buster blocked out civilization beyond, the sprawl of Oro Valley pink-tiled roofs.

Great views into Alamo Canyon

Great views into Alamo Canyon

One last short steep bit to the summit and I settled in for a long break. It was windy, but not cold. I loved that there was very little chance that I’d see anyone else today, even though the first parking lot was full.

Leviathan and Wilderness Domes

Leviathan and Wilderness Domes

After an enjoyable time on the summit, reading old logs and listening to music, I started down the east side. The small saddle below the summit really speaks to me and I stopped again. Spent time playing with my camera settings and investigating a cairned route that I think connects up with the trail in Alamo Canyon.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain

Micro Chicken

Micro Chicken is getting close to his second birthday. And yes- I’m wearing sparkly nail polish. Don’t judge.

Who the heck was Buster anyway? Here’s the history from the HikeArizona page:

Though details are slim, the history of this immediate area seems to revolve around the late Buster Bailey. Buster moved here from Texas in 1927. His father built their home somewhere in the area that is now Catalina State Park. Buster’s family soon moved back to Texas, but Buster returned to his one true love, The Catalina Mountains. He worked for area ranchers, he worked for the Zimmerman family, who developed what is now Summer Haven on Mt. Lemmon, but Buster’s real claim to fame was as a bootlegger, operating his still near the waters of the now dry Buster Spring. Remnants of his still are said to be in place, though in disrepair, somewhere near the current spring. This was Buster’s stomping ground, and you just can’t help but feel connected to him while you’re here. It’s said that he packed his product down alternating routes, so not to leave any obvious trails. It would be safe to say that if you’re on any passable route in or around Buster Canyon, Buster, himself had been there.

View north

View north


Sunlit Saguaros


I really needed a day like this- just me and the Catalinas. What a great route, I’ll have to check out the Alamo Canyon variation sometime.

In Wildlife Rehab news, I came across this picture from of a baby ringtail that we raised that was sent to an educational facility. Look at that yawn!! Donations go toward housing and feeding the animals at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson.
Donate Button with Credit Cards

Yawning Baby Ringtail

Yawning Baby Ringtail

Here’s a video:

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I have been on a summer tour of places to take my innertube (aka “the floatie”). I’d heard about Lemmon Pools and decided to put them as the next stop on my “tour”. This was my first time to Lemmon Pools, and it was a perfect time of year to go. There was a small respite from the monsoon last week which made this trip very enjoyable. I drove up to Marshall Gulch and tried to hike away from the yelling crowds gathering at the picnic areas as quickly as possible. The first thing I noticed on the trail was the number and variety of fungi. I’ve never seen so many in this area. As I approached Marshall Saddle, there were two older gentlemen and one of them said, “You look familiar.” I introduced myself. “That’s it- we both read your blog!” they said and introduced themselves as Rob and John. They rattled off a bunch of hikes I’d done recently and said that they enjoyed following along with my latest adventures. How nice to meet some of my readers!

Fly Agaric Mushrooms- these were over 8 inches across

These were six inches wide

Pretty little flowers

Water along the Marshall Gulch Tr.

Perfectly colored to match its surroundings

I continued onto the Wilderness of Rock trail, one of my favorites, although I must say that the eastern part is not nearly as interesting as the western part. It’s still dripping gorgeous, but it lacks the spectacular hoodoos that are west of the Lemmon Rock Tr. It was getting warm out, but I wasn’t too worried about it, criss-crossing the stream made it easy for me to soak a couple of bandannas for my head and neck. After the turnoff for the route to the pools, I was shocked when I found myself in a familiar area. When I hiked through the Wilderness of Rock on my Arizona Trail hike, I had gotten really lost- here’s a quote from my journal from that day (5-12-08):

I got to another stream crossing and promptly lost the trail. There was a couple of cairns, but I kept running into giant boulders with steep drop-offs into the creek or big, deep pools of water. It was so frustrating, I kept backtracking to the cairns and trying to figure out the route, but nothing became apparent. I thought- this is one of the most-traveled parts of the trail so far- how can I not be able to find the way? All the available routes looked too steep or sketchy for my liking. After much deliberation, I settled on an area that looked passable. I took a step onto the slope, and felt myself slip. I had stepped on what I thought was solid ground, but it in fact was only a thin, slippery layer of pine needles over a steep, sloping slab of rock. I grabbed onto the trunk of the pine tree nearby, hugging it for dear life, and my heart sank into my stomach. I regained my footing, sat down and butt-scooted the rest of the way down to the creek.

I now realized that I’d mistakenly turned off onto the route to the pools and that day I must have been really close to Lemmon Pools without even realizing it.

I got to my campsite, set up, and was at the top of the route down to the pools when a couple came hiking up, quite surprised to see anyone else. The route down to the pools is easier than it looks from the top, you can either take the ledges to the left and switchback down, or follow a chute that is to the right straight down to the creekbed. There is a large pool with a smaller, deep pool fed by a waterfall. You can scramble up on either side of the falls to see the upper pools and falls. Just a gorgeous setting for a relaxing afternoon.

Lemmon Pools

Upper Pool

Upper falls-

The couple relaxed at the pools for about an hour and a half, and then I was able to have the pools to myself for the duration of the afternoon for floating, exploring, and relaxing. I was really happy that I backpacked in and didn’t have to hike out after my swim. The campsite above the pools is fantastic, with amazing views out toward Tucson and lots of rocks to scramble on.

Campsite above the pools

Campsite view down Lemmon Canyon toward Tucson

View from the campsite:

There was only a 10% chance of rain for the evening, so I was able to sleep under the stars. I have had to use my tent for the last several trips and I really don’t like the feeling of being in an enclosed space where you can’t see out.

The next morning, I was making breakfast when I saw a bear across Lemmon Canyon! I watched it move among the rocky hoodoos above the canyon, but by the time I got my camera out, it had disappeared into some brush. The past months I have been in some very bear-heavy sky islands and not seen any, so it was so unexpected to see this one in the Catalinas. My hike out was uneventful, I took my time and dipped into several pools on the way to cool off. There were ripe raspberries on the Marshall Gulch Trail, and I was able to end my hike with a tasty snack. It’s always so hard to make myself drive down from the pleasant 75 degree weather on top of the mountain into above 100-degree temps.

Lemmon Pools from above- the bear was on the other side of this canyon

Tiny horned lizard

Wild Geranium

Greenery and Columbines on the Marshall Gulch Tr.

Small cascade in Marshall Gulch

Yum!! Fresh wild raspberries!

After working all weekend, I was ready for another swim, and I realized that I had not hit Romero Pools in Catalina State Park yet.  It was tough getting up at 5 am, but when I checked the previous night’s storm and saw that Cargodera Canyon (the next canyon over) had gotten almost an inch of rain, I knew there would be a great flow at the pools. It turned out to be a perfect morning for a hike- it was overcast and cool on my way up. I was surprised at the number of people on this trail in the middle of the summer. Not as surprised as I was when I saw a man hiking in a saffron full-length monk’s robe.

Movie of the pools (not the guy in the monk’s robe)

Romero Pools

Romero Pools Waterfalls

Monday Morning Goodness

The water was perfect and I got my floatie inflated and relaxed for a couple of hours. The sun didn’t come out until almost ten o’clock, when I was hiking out. There was still a nice breeze, though and I was amazed that I was comfortably hiking at 11 am in the middle of August. There were a lot of college-aged kids hiking into the pools as I was hiking out- looks like my timing was right on today!

View toward Samaniego Ridge

To see the full sets of photos from my hikes, visit my Picasa account at http://picasaweb.google.com/desertsirena

At the beginning of the summer, I vowed to make “embrace the summer” my motto. Just because it is hot in the middle of the day doesn’t mean that I have to sequester myself in my house- it leads to frustration and cabin fever. When I worked as an archaeologist, we worked until 3 in the afternoon all summer and our bodies just adjusted to working in the heat. Staying active has made this summer fly by- it’s hard to believe that it is the middle of August already. What’s more is that I am able to deal with the heat much better this summer because my body has adjusted to it. Another reason I have wanted to stay active this summer is that I have a very tough trip on the Royal Arch Route in the Grand Canyon coming up in October, and it is important for me to be in top shape for this difficult loop. By hiking early, going to higher elevations, and hiking to swimming holes, I have been able to stay active all summer long.

For today’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser picture, here’s a pipistrelle bat:

Pipistrelle Bat

One of the best parts of volunteering at Miller’s Wildlife Rehab is that I get up close and personal with all sorts of animals that would normally be whooshing by in the night, like bats, owls, and nighthawks. I feel so fortunate to be able to help care for these wonderful creatures.

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