Posts Tagged ‘Samaniego Ridge Trail’

I’ve put together a look back at the past year of hiking and backpacking. For those who are regular readers, I’ve added quite a few pictures that didn’t make it in to the blog in other posts. You can click on the name of the hike to go to the journal entry about that hike, and all of the pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them. Enjoy!

In January I teamed up with Bill Bens and Mitch Stevens for a hike up Ragged Top in the Silverbell Mountains, northwest of Tucson. It was the first of a series of hikes we did together that required scrambling, something I really hadn’t experienced much before this year. I really took to it, and sought out a number of hikes with a scrambling element for the rest of the year.

Ragged Top

Coming up the South Gully- Photo by Bill Bens

Me and Bill at the summit with Picacho Peak in the background

In February I started the month with another scrambling route up Elephant Head in the Santa Ritas with Bill and Mitch. Another rugged, tough route leading to superlative views.

Elephant Head

Summit Ridge of Elephant Head

Summit ridge of Elephant Head

Summit cairn made of elephants

The day after my 36th birthday, I hiked my first piece of the Grand Enchantment Trail, a 730-mile route that goes from Phoenix to Albuquerque. I also started my Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, where I am a volunteer.

Starting the Grand Enchantment Trail

Antelope Peak

Nighthawk at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson

In March I tackled another piece of the Grand Enchantment Trail in the Superstitions from the Tortilla TH to First Water TH. This was my first time in the western Superstitions, and I loved every rugged, rocky minute of it.

Campsite View on Horse Ridge, looking at a snowy 4 Peaks

Entering La Barge Box

Me and the Weaver's Needle

I attempted to summit Baboquivari again, but was turned away by ice and snow on the first pitch. However, we got to spend the night at the Lion’s Ledge, one of my favorite places I’ve ever slept and any time on Babo is time well spent.

Babo's East Face

Dave takes in the sunrise

Lion's Ledge- we slept right under the cave-like spot with the dark stain running down the face

I also wrote about Arizona’s State Parks that were slated to close due to lack of funding and hiked the Hunter Trail at Picacho Peak State Park and the Flatiron and Peak 5024 at Lost Dutchman State Park. Thankfully, only a couple of the state parks ended up closing and nearby towns helped pick up some of the expenses for the other ones. It was a great spring for wildflowers. I gave several slideshow presentations about my Arizona Trail hike to raise funds for Wildlife Rehab.

Poppies and Lupine at Picacho Peak

Lost Dutchman State Park in bloom- Flatiron in the upper right

Hoodoos on the way to Peak 5024

Looking down on the Flatiron

In April I was fortunate to hike two pieces of the Grand Enchantment Trail in April- the Santa Teresa Wilderness with my friend Judy Eidson, and the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. To give an idea of how remote the Santa Teresas are, when I called the Coronado National Forest to ask a question about the trails, they said, “We have no idea, no one goes out there, let us know what you find when you come back, ok?” I look forward to my return to Holdout Canyon – a spectacular place.

Holdout Canyon, Santa Teresa Wilderness

Winding Mariposa Lily

Taking in the view

Climbing above Preacher Canyon

Pretty waterfall in Cottonwood Canyon

Desert Honeysuckle in bloom, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

Great Blue Heron

Bends in the Stream

In MayI heard that Forest Service crews had been clearing the Sutherland Trail, so I teamed up with Lee Allen, David Rabb, and Tom Kimmel to hike from the top of Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park via this formerly fire-damaged trail. The 6000 ft. of elevation loss was tough on the knees, but the views and the company more than made up for it.

Happy to be on the Sutherland Trail

Sutherland Trail


All spring long, I’d been telling my husband Brian, “Don’t worry, once it heats up in June I’ll be home a lot more often!” But then I bought the one piece of gear that made my summer bearable: my green inflatable innertube, known affectionately as “the floatie”, and the hiking really didn’t slow down at all. The floatie’s maiden voyage was to Hutch’s Pool on a overnight backpacking trip using the Box Camp Trail down to Sabino Canyon.

Coming down the ridge on the Box Camp Tr.

Coral Bean bloom

Happy to have Hutch's Pool all to myself!

I enjoyed the floatie so much, I took it on a trip to Horse Camp Canyon in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness and floated the black pool on a day when I had the only permit for the whole canyon.

Important piece of summer gear in Aravaipa

Made even sweeter by the fact that I had it all to myself!

Also in June, I began harvesting and processing saguaro fruit and making syrup and delicious fruit leather. I really enjoyed it and everyone loved the flavor. Can’t wait to do it on a bigger scale next summer.

Saguaro fruit cut open

In July, a month that I would normally be cowering in my house avoiding the heat, I was able to find lots of ways to keep active this year. I went on short hikes early in the morning or night hikes, and was able to get away to the cooler Sky Islands for a couple of backpacking trips. Early in the month, I went to the Santa Ritas for an overnight at Baldy Saddle and saw one of the best sunsets I’d seen all year.

Baldy Saddle- Yep, I was right- it was an awesome campsite!

Looking north at the Santa Rita Crest- 7:19 pm

My favorite of the evening- 7:34 pm

Mountain Spiny Lizard Fight

Later in the month, I hiked the Grand Enchantment Trail through the tall, cool Pinaleno Mountains (also known as “The Grahams”) with Judy Eidson and Connie Simmons.

Through the waist-high ferns on the Clark Peak Tr.

View from Taylor Pass

Slick Rock, Ash Creek Trail

Sunset on The Pinnacles, Ash Creek Trail

The "spirited cascade"

I squeezed in one last hike in July, a trip to Chiricahua National Monument with my friend Wendy. Fantastic hoodoos and rock formations to tickle the imagination.

Hoodoos come in Large, Small, and Medium size for your viewing enjoyment

Punch and Judy Rock

August was all about the pools: Jammed Log Pool, Romero Pools, Lemmon Pools, Tanque Verde Falls- I hiked in early, got my float on, and was hiking out by 9 or 10 in the morning.

Who says the desert is a dry place? Photo by Bill Bens

Wendy takes a turn on the floatie at Jammed Log Pool

Tanque Verde Falls dwarfs me in my floatie- photo by Wendy Lotze

Lemmon Pools

Fly Agaric Mushrooms- these were over 8 inches across
Campsite view down Lemmon Canyon toward Tucson
Monday Morning Goodness at Romero Pools
Rattlesnake from night hikes in Sabino Canyon

Gila Monster from night hikes in Sabino Canyon

In September the leisurely hikes of summer came to an end, because it was time to start ramping up the difficulty levels to get in shape for the Grand Canyon in October. I hiked a long loop in the Santa Ritas, Pusch Peak, a dayhike to Lemmon Pools and an overnighter in Aravaipa to break in my new hiking shoes on uneven terrain with a full pack.

Lunch at Burnt Saddle- Elephant Head on the ridge in the foreground

So many unusual wildflowers! Crest Trail, Santa Ritas

Tiny Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake on the Foursprings Trail, Santa Ritas

View west from the summit of Pusch Peak

Lounging in Aravaipa Canyon

Rincon Mountains seen from the Lemmon Rock Trail

Shadow of Mount Lemmon on the Galiuro Mountains

And at the end of the month, I snuck in one last hike with the floatie in Sycamore Canyon in the Pajarita Wilderness near the Mexican border with some friends.

Near the slot pool

The Slot Pool- Bill and Ray went up and to the right, Lee and I swam across.

The green floatie- best $2 I've spent all year!

As much as I grumbled about training with a loaded pack on dayhikes, I was thankful for it in October when I spent 11 days in the Grand Canyon backpacking the Royal Arch Loop and at the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association Volunteer Service Project. The Royal Arch Loop was the most difficult trip I’ve done to date.  Remember at the beginning of the year when I said I enjoyed scrambling on hikes? The whole year I’d made myself more and more used to scrambling and traveling on exposed areas, and it all came in handy on the Royal Arch Loop. Aesthetically, my favorite trip of the entire year and I can’t wait to do it again.

Sunrise on Mt. Huethawali from South Bass Trailhead

A Grand Vista

The Royal Arch

The anticipation was way worse than the actual rappel

Elves Chasm

A majestic pose before continuing across the slope

Kent, Ron, and Paul on the saddle leaving Copper Canyon

I hiked out of the Royal Arch Loop and back into the Grand Canyon for six days of work on the Volunteer Service Project. We got a lot of work done at Cottonwood and Bright Angel Campgrounds, and in our free time we hiked up to the North Rim for fall colors, pizza, and beer, as well as up Wall Creek and the Miner’s Route. 11 days and a little over a hundred miles of Grand Canyon goodness.

Hiking up to Cottonwood CG

Yay! We walked up into fall on the North Kaibab Trail!

Wall Creek Waterfall

Cairn where the Old Miner's Route meets the Tonto

After spending the last half of October mourning the fact that I wasn’t in the Grand Canyon anymore, in November I found plenty of places close to home to hold my interest. I took two solo backpacking trips: one to The Spine near the White Canyon Wilderness, and one on the Samaniego Ridge Trail in the Catalinas. I also hiked the little-used Brush Corral Trail in the northeastern part of the Catalinas with some friends.

Traveling atop The Spine from boulder to boulder

5:38 pm- looks like a postcard

Morning view of the White Canyon Wilderness

Samaniego Peak

Hiking up to the Mule Ears

Samaniego- what a wonderful ridge!

Incredible views on the Brush Corral Trail

Brush Corral Trail ridgeline

Between the oaks

In December I made one last trip to the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness (my 4th this year) and enjoyed the fall colors. It is trailbuilding season on the Arizona Trail and I led my first work event up near Oracle on the 9th  in the Black Hills passage. I plan on sneaking in one last trip before the end of the year to my favorite very large hole in the ground before the year’s over.

Fall colors in Aravaipa Canyon

The inagural crew of the Crazies North

Whew! I sure got a lot of adventures in this year! Thanks to one of my favorite websites HikeArizona.com, I was able to keep track of my miles hiked and other stats. This is the first year that I logged all my hikes, and by the end of the year, I will have hiked approximately 750 miles. Lucky me.

I want to thank all of my readers and people who came to my talks who donated to my Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser. Since February, over $700 worth of donations have been given to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson! If you haven’t donated yet but would like to, you can send a check made out to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson to Pima Federal Credit Union  P.O. Box 50267 Tucson, Arizona 85703. Please put Hiking in the memo, so they know where you heard about their facility. Any amount is appreciated! You can also donate via PayPal by clicking the button below. Even if you don’t have a PayPal account, you can donate securely via PayPal with a credit card.

"Elfie" the Elf Owl thanks you for your donations!

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In Northwest Tucson, where I live, the Catalina Mountains look a little differently than when viewed from central Tucson. The most prominent feature from my view is a long ridge sweeping north with several rocky points atop it- Samaniego Ridge. I hike often in the Catalina/Golder Ranch area and the Samaniego Ridge Trail looms tantalizingly above. Unfortunately for the Ridge Trail, it was badly burnt in 2003 and for the most part, the trail was abandoned because of fire damage and nasty, spiky growth that has proliferated since the burn. This spring, I heard of Forest Service crews working up from Charouleau Gap, at the Samaniego Ridge Trail’s northern terminus, but nothing had been done to the upper part.

Samaniego Ridge from the Baby Jesus Ridge Tr.

In June, I was reading one of my favorite blogs by a fellow Arizona Trail/Grand Enchantment Trail enthusiast, The Diary of Scott Morris, and I saw that he and his friend had ridden the Samaniego Ridge Trail in a 12-hour mountain biking epic feat of endurance that left them both exhausted and scratched. Here’s a quote: “A small uphill chute, still clogged with vegetation and steep, seemed our only option. We fought back to the bikes. Louis sat on bushes while I handed him my bike, which he’d move past the bush. I would then hand him his, then pass myself, before we’d move onto the next section. I was happy to not be trying to get through here solo.” This and the pictures convinced me that I should probably hold off on the Samaniego Ridge Trail for the time being. Bummer.

Photo by Scott Morris

But then, this fall, something wonderful happened- some mountain bikers, including Scott and Louis, came together for several trail work events to reclaim the trail from the nasty briars, deadfall, and New Mexico Locust. Some bikepacked in and spent the weekend clearing brush, while others rode out to the work site, spent the day, and rode out the north end. All of these work events culminated with Scott and Chad Brown’s 14-hour, 80 mile Samaniego Epic ride earlier this month where they first rode up Mount Lemmon (mostly on singletrack!), tackled the Samaniego Ridge Trail, then looped back around to their starting point. Speed like that makes my head dizzy, which is one of the reasons I enjoy Scott’s blog so much. He does things that I could never imagine myself doing. For example, in 2005 he raced the Arizona Trail solo in just 7 days, even taking apart his bike and carrying it through the Grand Canyon!

Scott at Phantom Ranch

So, even though I could see from the pictures that the trail was far from pristine, I knew that there had been a fair amount of trailwork and traffic through there. After e-mailing Scott and getting his GPS track and asking him a few questions about the route, I asked Laddie Cox, one of the guys on my Crazies trail crew, for a shuttle up the mountain.

Laddie Cox

Laddie was at my door at 5 am on November 17, and we talked about the Arizona Trail on the way up the mountain. In addition to being on the Crazies trail crew, he is also the leader of the Hit-and-Run crew, which goes into the more remote and damaged parts of the AZT. He finished the Arizona Trail when he was over 70 years old! An incredible guy, I feel lucky to know him. We reached the very chilly top of the mountain at 9100 ft. and I was bundled up and ready to go by 6:45 am.

A chilly early morning start at 9100 ft.

I hiked out on the Mount Lemmon Trail just as the horizon started to glow orange. I took the Meadow Trail at the junction, then connected back with the Mount Lemmon Trail for a short distance before reaching the Sutherland Trail junction. This junction is currently signed as the Arizona Trail, but most hikers use the Wilderness of Rock over to Summerhaven and reconnect with the “official” AZT on Oracle Ridge. This will all be a moot point soon, as the alignment of the Arizona Trail will soon be moved over to the east side of the Catalina Highway, using the Bug Springs and Green Mountain trails to allow the mountain bikers to ride singletrack up the mountain instead of riding the highway.

Wrightson in the distance

Arizona Trail...for now...

I turned onto the Sutherland Trail, another trail recently reclaimed from fire damage that I’d hiked in May, and Samaniego Ridge finally came into view, capped by attractive Samaniego Peak. This part of the Sutherland Trail has expansive views of Cathedral Peak, Pusch Ridge, the Tucson Mountains, Babo and Kitt Peak out to the west, and views as far north as the 4 Peaks (northeast of Phoenix). This part was still in the shade, so I hurried along and got to the Samaniego Ridge Trail at 8:30 am. The sign said 8.4 miles to FR 736, the northern terminus of the trail located on a road so rough that my stock 4wd Jeep would not make it. So from the north end, I had another 7 miles to get out to the area that my husband was going to come pick me up the next day.

Pusch Ridge, Tucson Mtns. Kitt Peak

Cathedral Peak, high point on the Catalina front range

I love the feeling of anticipation that comes with a brand-new stretch of trail I’ve never seen before, especially one that I’ve looked up at so often. I passed the Canada Del Oro Trail junction, another trail that I’ve not done yet. Because I’m the kind of person who never met a list she didn’t like, I am working my way toward hiking all the trails in the Catalina Mountains- so I’ll be back for the CDO trail sometime.

The trail was in much better shape than I’d anticipated. There was broad, pine-needle covered tread with attractive gray boulder piles covered in patches of green lichen- classic Sky Island trail. I was practically skipping along, giddy with excitement. Samaniego Peak came in and out of view among the pine trees and alligator junipers. I could see as I got closer that it looked more like a giant, white boulder pile. I could see where the trees had been cut back and there was flagging  and cairns along the route in addition to “little orange hiker guy” medallions on the trees. Even though I was hiking downhill from the top of the mountain, I knew to expect some undulations as the trail rolled along the ridgeline.

Great views of Pusch Ridge, Tucson Mtns, Babo to the left and Kitt Peak on the far right

It was really impressive all the work that the mountain bikers were able to do, and I thanked them every time I effortlessly glided through a passage that would have been a battle against briars and overgrown trees. The deer seemed to appreciate it too, as there were many heart-shaped footprints on top of the bike tracks. As I progressed along the ridge, closer to Samaniego Peak, I could see out to Oracle Ridge and Dan’s Saddle, and trace the path of the Arizona Trail north. I could also see the Superstitions and Aravaipa, the Santa Teresas, and the Pinalenos along the Grand Enchantment Trail and where the AZT/GET diverge near Antelope Peak- the Arizona Trail continuing south to Mexico, and the Grand Enchantment Trail east to Albuquerque. Good stuff. I could also see Weaver’s Needle in the Superstitions, a peak I have some designs on…

Samaniego Peak

Jaunty little hiker guy

Cut branches- thanks guys!

Walnut Spring to the east of Samaniego Peak was my one water source along the route. I reached it at a little after 11 am after many stops for picture taking and ogling the scenery. I settled in for a break and filled all my water containers from the sweet little flow behind the skanky tank with a log in it. I looked at Samaniego Peak, a giant bouldery brushy looking bushwhack and decided against it. I’ll save it for another time when I can come spend the night at Walnut Spring and try a hiker route that goes down the long ridge coming off Samaniego Peak to the west toward the Baby Jesus Trail. (Scott has also ridden/dragged his bike on this route)

Closeup of Samaniego Peak

Ridge heading west from Samaniego Peak toward the Baby Jesus Trail

Here’s a movie of the view near Walnut Spring:

Reef of Rock, Dan's Saddle, Galiuros, Pinalenos

After a long break at the spring, I continued northward and it was apparent that this part of the trail was a little less worked, but still flagged and easy to follow. Sometimes the “trail” was nothing more than a thin line of briars that had been mashed down by the mountain bikers. I was feeling a touch lonely, so it was nice to see the tracks of the bikes from time to time. Soon I reached what the mountain bikers have been calling the “Corkscrew of Death”. The trail reaches a cliff and the route around it corkscrews straight down the mountain, then regains the ridge via a scramble straight up a steep, sloping slab of rock. I would have hated to try this before the route was cut back, as it was I had to use my finest rompage (less delicately known as Butt-Hiking) techniques to control my slide down the loose soil to the traverse under the cliff. On my way up the slab of rock, I thought for the hundredth time this hike that I was glad I didn’t have to drag a bike up this! On foot it wasn’t nearly as bad.

Thankful for the orange flagging

The Corkscrew of Death- slide steeply down the loose hill

Corkscrew of Death traverse

On top of the slab after hiking up the steep sloping rock

Glad I didn't have to do this: Bicycle Mountaineering- Photo by Scott Morris

The cliff that necessitates the Corkscrew of Death

The view of the east side of the cliff was impressive and I could see back to the top of Mount Lemmon, where I’d started. The trail climbed through boulder fields to the top of Mule Ears for some of the best views of the whole hike.

Looking back at Mount Lemmon

Hiking up to the Mule Ears

Reef of Rock

I was now on the part of the trail that had been worked by the forest service earlier this year and there was more rolling along the ridge before the final drop down to Charouleau Gap. I’d timed my hike to get to the Gap a little before sunset, where I would camp. The descent was steep, but fun and I started to keep my eyes open for camping areas as I approached the Gap, but saw nothing suitable. I  dropped my pack at the Gap and went scouting around. There was nothing but one nasty site with a fire ring and the whole hillside was covered in rocks and grass with horribly annoying seeds and a view of the lights and sprawl of Saddlebrooke.


Charouleau Gap comes into view

Normally, I would have just stayed at the sub-par site and just dealt with it. However, in August, when I was making all sorts of grand plans for the hikes I was going to do in the fall, my husband set a limit of 15 nights of backpacking (I can dayhike all I want) that I could use however I wanted until the end of the year. Though I grumbled a bit when he suggested it, I acquiesced and planned my hikes accordingly. Well, tonight was the last of my nights, and I certainly wasn’t going to spend it at this spot. I watched the sunset from Charouleau Gap, and decided to hike down the forest road for a bit by moonlight and see if I could find something a  little more attractive. FR 736 is frequented by off-road enthusiasts, which has left steep smoothly polished surfaces covered in tiny ball-bearing like gravel. I was getting a little grumpy at this point, but figured that I would find something once the road reached the valley below. I could feel every mile I’d hiked today and just wanted to be home for the night. I finally spotted a small spot with a fire ring by the side of the road at 6:30 pm. Almost 12 hours of hiking, 12.5 miles, albeit at a pretty leisurely pace with lots of stops. I’d dropped 4600 ft. from my start, but in reality quite a bit more when you figure in all the ups and downs throughout the day.

Sunset from Charouleau Gap

Sunset from Charouleau Gap

The next morning I was so pleased to see that the nondescript site that I’d chosen for my camp in the dark was actually much prettier than I had anticipated- under a giant sycamore with golden leaves. I saw my only person of the whole trip, a guy on a dirt bike that went up to the Gap and back. From my campsite, I planned on taking a route the mountain bikers call Cherry Tank to connect up with an area I was more familiar with. I checked my GPS with Scott’s track loaded onto it only to realize that the track had been truncated. Thankfully I had the map of the route and was able to make the connection without incident. There is a dizzying network of trails, cowpaths, old two-tracks and roads that criss-cross this part of the mountain. My route now curved back underneath Samaniego Ridge and I was able to see many of the spots I’d been to yesterday, including the Corkscrew of Death. The trails in this area cater to mountain bikers, which means lots of swoopy ups and downs and the trails are somewhat rutted. But overall, it’s very pretty and an area not often frequented by hikers, though it is quite close to the town of Catalina.

Camp off of Charouleau Gap Road

Fall colors make me happy!

Long shadows on a crappy road

Zoom of the Corkscrew of Death

I connected up with trail I had been on last November through Sutherland Gap and then the trail wove in and out of Sutherland Wash with pockets of fall colors. I called my husband and told him I’d be arriving at our meeting place shortly. It’s always so nice to see Brian when he comes to get me at the end of a trip.

Pockets of fall color

The route follows large slabs of slickrock in places


Sutherland Gap

Coming into The Cottonwoods

What a wonderful ridge!

Here’s a video of the route my hike took:

Hiking an area that I have often looked at is always so invigorating to me- it fleshes out what I see and the landscape never looks the same again. Instead of just a feature of the mountain known as Samaniego Ridge, I now have memories and pictures from many spots along the route that I can think of when I see it driving around town or on other hikes. I can look up at Samaniego Peak and know that despite the fact that it looks like a large white cliff from afar, it is really a mound of giant white boulders. Or know that the path of the trail goes up and over the Mule Ears for incredible views. This is why I want to hike all the trails in the Catalinas, because then I feel like I can begin to know this incredible Sky Island playground. Of course the trails are just the beginning- then there are all the subtle folds, ridges, canyons, and peaks that could keep me busy for a lifetime… Next I will be hiking the Brush Corral Trail, on the remote northeastern part of the range. Oh, and Scott’s ridden/dragged his bike through that one too.

Postscript 11/23- There are several more events planned by the mountain bikers to finish clearing the trail, and the area with the mashed-down briars has been cleared. Last week, during their work event, they brought rope and ziplined their bikes down instead of going on the Corkscrew of Death and rappelled down the cliff!

Bike Zipline- photo by Duncan Caldwell

For the full set of pictures, visit my Picasa account:

Samaniego 11-17-10

I went back to the house, took a nap and that evening, we went to see my favorite bellydance troupe, The Indigo, perform at an intimate venue in Tucson. I have studied dance for most of my life, and bellydance for five years now, taking breaks from time to time. This show was definitely inspiring and renewed my passion for dance. What a wonderful way to end a great couple of days. Here’s a video of a solo from one of my favorite dancers, Rachel Brice:

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, we recently got this young Black-Crowned Night Heron with a hurt foot. We’re feeding him fish and nursing him back to health.

Night Heron

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