Blackett's Ridge Hike, Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

The Best Hikes in Tucson’s Sabino Canyon

There is no better way to connect with the raw beauty of nature than by doing a good hike. I grew up hiking and for the past twenty years I have enjoyed sharing many hikes with my father, my siblings and my own children wherever we can find a good trail especially when we are visiting my parents in Arizona.  Tucson is a hiker lover’s paradise. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, a desert climate and four different mountain ranges surrounding the city, there are endless opportunities to take a beautiful walk or challenging hike in nature. Whether it be to the Santa Catalina Mountains in the north, the Rincon Mountains in the east, the Santa Rita Mountains in the south or the Tucson Mountains in the west, you will find no shortage of trails to explore.

Fortunately for me, my parents have lived in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains for over 25 years and their home is only five minutes away from one of the best places to hike in all of Tucson, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area with tons of hikes through both Sabino and Bear Canyon.  Over the decades Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has become my outdoor playground and I try to hike every day when I’m visiting my parents. It is achingly beautiful and perhaps one of the most stunning places in all of southwestern Arizona.

While there are several hikes and walks to choose from, these are my top four recommendations for the best hikes in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. I have put them in order of difficulty which does not necessarily mean distance. All of the hikes are appropriate for children over ten as long as they have a decent level of fitness however I wouldn’t recommend bringing a child under ten years old on any of these unless you are prepared to take a lot of breaks and be mindful of the dangers that exist. Instead, I would stick with walking on the paved path that runs 3.8 miles (7.6 miles roundtrip) through Sabino Canyon or even wandering around some of the shorter nature paths near the entrance of the recreation center. There used to be a guided tram service that brought tourists to both Sabino and Bear Canyon but unfortunately the service has been shut down while the park service rethinks its environmental impact. This has dramatically impacted available hiking options especially for families with young kids or for those who can’t walk as far.

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is beautiful any time of year.

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Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Hiking Saguaro National Park

“The desert, to those who do listen, is more likely to provoke awe than to invite conquest”. – Joseph Wood Krutch, Author, Naturalist, Conservationist

Desperately seeking a break from a cold, dreary Minnesota winter my kids and I decided to come out to visit my parents in Tucson, Arizona for the long holiday weekend. The first few days have been absolutely spectacular however against the odds the past two days have been rainy and cold. Even stranger is the fact that we are having record warmth back in Minnesota with highs in the low 60s and sunny which is unheard of for February. Nevertheless, I’m one to look on the positive aspects of life. There is nothing we can do about the weather.

Friday was spectacular and we decided to take a three generational hike in a new part of Tucson. I have been visiting Tucson for over 23 years and have done many hikes in this gorgeous mountainous place however I had never been to the Saguaro National Park. I had passed by it several times en route to the famous Desert Museum in the western reaches of Tucson but had never stopped. Little did I know there are actually two parts of the Saguaro National Park: The Tucson Mountain District in the west of Tucson and the Rincon Mountain District in the east. We decided to check out the Saguaro National Park East as my dad had read a recent article about a beautiful hike to a waterfall.

We packed a lunch and headed out to the park a little after eleven. We were shocked to see the parking lot was full as we were really in the middle of nowhere. I am assuming the other hikers had read about the falls too.

There are several hikes inside Saguaro National Park however we chose to follow the Douglas Spring Trailhead to the waterfall, a six-mile hike roundtrip.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

There was a steady wind sweeping over the desert most likely from the oncoming storm that would bring us two days of rain. Other than the wind, it was perfect hiking weather. Not too hot and not too cold.

I had happily convinced my ten-year-old daughter Sophia to join us on the hike. She had already completed two longer hikes in the past, one to the top of Eagle Mountain in northern Minnesota and another to Harney Peak, the highest peak in South Dakota. I knew she could handle a six-mile hike, I just needed to get her confidence up that she could do it. My twelve-year old son Max has already done a ton of hiking in Arizona, and then of course my dad is an avid hiker. My dad and I have hiked all around the world together. It would be the first time that Sophia got to join us so I was pretty thrilled.

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The trail begins very flat until you reach the base of the Rincon Mountains and climb upwards for over an hour. The views throughout the hike are breathtaking and the topography changes quite drastically from rough rocky canyon to desert scrub and grassland. What is the most astounding of all, however, are the multitude of enormous saguaro cactus dotting the landscape, many which are hundreds of years old. Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert and can live upwards of 150-200 years. They are amazing plants.

I found out this fun fact from the Desert Museum:Most of the saguaros roots are only 4-6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep root, or tap root that extends down into the ground more than 2 feet”.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

There were even some desert flowers starting to bloom

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

This guy is amazing. Probably a couple of hundred years old.

The Saguaro National Park was created in 1994 and encompasses two distinct areas – east and west- of over 91,445 acres.  The Eastern district reaches up to 8,000 feet in elevation covering over 128 miles of trails for your pleasure. The hotter, drier Western district is much lower in elevation and the saguaros are much more densely populated across its landscape.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

“The Sonoran Desert’s extreme temperatures, perennial drought, frequent lightning, banshee winds, and voracious predators keep the saguaro forever at the limit of its endurance. Odds against survival rival a lottery: Though the cactus annually produces tens of thousands of pinhead-size seeds—some 40 million over a life that may last two centuries—few ever even sprout. Even fewer seedlings achieve the grandeur of towering 50 feet and weighing up to 16,000 pounds”.National Geographic

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

We followed the trail and continued to the turnoff to Bridal Wreath Falls. We had heard a week ago that the falls were pouring down after the recent snow in the mountains. We were curious to see if it was true.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

I was amazed how much the landscape had changed. Now we were in the high desert grassland. There were barren trees yet still the greenery of the cactus. There were also some pretty desert flowers that I couldn’t resist photographing.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Finally, we reached a split in the trail and headed a short distance to the right where we would reach the falls. It was just a trickle now but still quite spectacular to find an oasis in the desert.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Bridal Wreath Falls

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

We enjoyed our lunch and the trickling falls all to ourselves. No one else was there however we had seen a lot of people hiking on the trail. What amazed me is that the water didn’t pool at the end of the falls. Instead, it ventured into the rocks and sunk somewhere down below. A mystery as to where it ended up.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Heading back down the trail.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

I laughed at the fact that despite the longevity and steepness of the hike, Sophia remained strong and steady at the lead. I beamed with pride thinking that I have a future fellow hiker on my hands. How wonderful is that?

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

It looks like I not only found a hiking mate but a new hike in Tucson. I can hardly wait to do it again on my next visit.

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Sonoran Desert Musuem, Tucson Arizona

The Arizona desert in bloom

Yesterday I took my daughter to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum located in the outskirts of Tucson and I was in awe of the colorful cactus in bloom. It is more verdant than ever in Arizona given the winter’s heavy rainfall and snow in the mountains that has run down the hills into the valley bringing it to life. Spring has come early in the desert and the vibrant, illustrious blooms prove that life in the desert can be anything but dull.

Take a walk with me.

Sonoran Desert Musuem, Tucson Arizona

There is something magical about the mighty saguaros lacing the mountains and landscape of Tucson akin to trees in a forest of Northern Minnesota. These majestic cactus are everywhere and they are amazing. Some live to be in hundreds of years old and it can take up to a hundred years to grow an arm. In the spring time, the saguaros bloom on top with beautiful flowers which are known as the state wildflower of Arizona. In all my years of visiting Arizona, I have never seen a blooming saguaro before.

Sonoran Desert Musuem, Tucson Arizona

There are several kinds of cactus in the desert. The round barrel cactus, the prickly pear cactus, saguaros and the many species of cholla cactus that look like round pieces of sausage and some even jump at you if you get too near.

Bear Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Best Hikes in Tucson: Bear Canyon’s Hike to Seven Falls

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

Nestled within the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Arizona lies Sabino Canyon, one of Tucson’s most popular parks for exploring the spectacular desert landscape and wildlife of Southern Arizona. Ever since my parents moved to Tucson in the mid-90s, it has been like a second home to me and Sabino Canyon has been my playground. Less than a five minute drive from my parents’ home, Sabino Canyon affords an endless supply of hikes and walks within some of Arizona’s finest scenery.

The formation of the Santa Catalina Mountains began over 12 million years ago during a period of massive transition and upheaval. Over time, two magnificent canyons were formed, Sabino and Bear Canyon, that would eventually become the lush, verdant desert oasis we see today.

A massive earthquake in 1887 centered in Northern Mexico caused even more change to the area. Enormous boulders dislodged and crashed down thousands of miles below creating an even more dramatic landscape.  In 1905, the U.S. Forest Service was created and took over the administration of Sabino Canyon. Nothing much happened to the area until the 1930s. The onset of the Great Depression prompted the US Government to put people to work by building infrastructure and one of the places that benefited was Sabino Canyon. The Sabino Dam as well as over nine bridges were built during this time, creating a 4.5 mile paved road up through the canyon.  Plans had been made to continue the road all the way up the canyon to Mount Lemmon but fortunately they ran out of money and the project was dropped.  Had the road been built, the entire beauty of Sabino Canyon would have been destroyed and lost.

Sabino Canyon officially opened as a State Park and recreational area in 1978.  Today, it ranks as one of the top tourist destinations in all of Tucson and is a haven for hikers, walkers, bikers and anyone else who wants to enjoy its raw beauty. Although Sabino Canyon is the largest of the two canyons and offers the most hikes, neighboring Bear Canyon is equally as beautiful and also delights the visitor with spectacular views and hikes.

The most popular hike in Bear Canyon is to Seven Falls. The Hike takes about 3-4 hours depending on pace and number of breaks for photos or lunch. It has been a favorite hike of my family’s for years and I have done it at least a dozen times. When we go, we prefer to leave shortly after ten o’clock so we can arrive at the falls in time for a lovely picnic lunch and also avoid the massive crowds which can become overwhelming during spring break and on weekends.

Bear Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

After leaving the Visitor Center, you can follow the trail to Bear Canyon through the desert. There are lots of birds and all kinds of cacti. If you go in the spring, the cactus are in full bloom which is an additional treat.

To reach the Seven Falls Trailhead, you follow the gravel path or trail towards Bear Canyon which takes about 35-45 minutes. There used to be a tram service however as of June 2018 that service is in transition and not running. Regardless, I personally enjoy the extra time walking on foot, especially when we walk through the desert trail and avoid the paved road.

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flowering trees

Springtime in the Desert

This week’s Photo Challenge is to celebrate Spring in photos. Sadly, here in Minnesota we have had the wettest April in 130 years and our Spring is very far behind. We don’t even have leaves on the trees yet nor do we have our gorgeous spring flowers. Instead of lamenting on how awful the last six months of weather has been here in the nordic Midwest, I thought I’d share some beautiful photos from our Spring break trip in early April to Tucson, Arizona.

Springtime in the desert is one of the most beautiful places to be. If you have never been to the Southwest before in the spring, it may sound ironic that spring inside a desert can be green. Yet Arizona experiences a beautiful, green spring with tons of rebirth, brilliant flowering plants, trees and cactus, and song birds from all over the place heading north for the summer. It is a wonderful time to visit Arizona.

Here are some of the lovely Spring photos I took during our recent visit to Tucson. You will see that it is the perfect time to visit!

Cactus are budding and blooming…

Desert Cactus buds

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Barrio Hollywood

Exploring Tucson’s Barrios: Hollywood

This is the third post in a three-part series on exploring Tucson’s historical barrios. If you would like to read the first post and second, click on the links. 

During my past two visits to Tucson at the end of November and December, I checked out several of downtown Tucson’s historic barrios (neighborhoods). I have been visiting Tucson for over 20 years and it was my first time to venture into Tucson’s historic past. Currently there are 34 National Register Historic Districts in Tucson and 6 more that are pending.  I soon discovered that each barrio was unique and had its own flavor. The architecture also was quite diverse with some homes dating back to the 1860s when Tucson began as the city it is today.

Screen Shot of Downtown Tucson's Barrios from The Downtown Tucson Partnership.

Screen Shot of Downtown Tucson’s Barrios from The Downtown Tucson Partnership.

After checking out El Presidio barrio, the oldest neighborhood in Tucson, we walked southwest to Barrio Hollywood, an equally fascinating place. The barrio was settled around 1920 by mostly Mexican families and today the neighborhood is filled with vibrant, colorful buildings and family-owned restaurants.

Here are some of my favorite homes and buildings I saw. I loved the brightly hued colors of the doors, windows and stucco. It reminded me so much of homes I’d seen while traveling in Guatemala and Honduras. While some were renovated and fully repaired, other homes were in disarray and needed some repair. Again, I enjoyed the crumbling colors of paint on some of the buildings. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine what it looked like when it was built.


El Presidio Tucson

Exploring the Barrios of Tucson: El Presidio

This is the second post in a three-part series on discovering the historic barrio neighborhoods of Tucson, Arizona. To read the previous post, click here

Tucked away discretely behind the tall buildings of Downtown Tucson lies the oldest barrio of all: El Presidio.  This neighborhood is where Tucson all began as a modern-day city. Although Tucson was established thousands of years ago by the Hohokam Indian (c. 700-900 A.D.), in the 1700’s Tucson was taken over by Spanish missionaries and soldiers establishing Tucson as an important Spanish colonial outpost.

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

Entrance to El Presidio Museum and site.

In 1775, Captain Hugo O’Conor who was of Irish descent but working for the Spanish army, selected a piece of land to the east side of the Santa Cruz River to build a presidio, or fortress.  The Presidio San Agustín del Tucson was built over the next eight years with adobe walls which enclosed an area to protect people inside the fort from Apache attacks.  Inside the presidio were homes, barracks and stables as well as a cemetery and several plazas. (Source: City of Tucson historical files).

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

Mural painting of El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio remained intact until 1856 when the Americans entered Tucson and it was no longer needed. Soon after, it was dismounted and the last standing wall was torn down in 1918.  Parts of the original walls of the presidio have been uncovered during various archeological digs and today a small museum remains on the site of the original presidio. ”The Old Pueblo,” as the adobe-walled Tucson Presidio became known, became one of Tucson’s beloved nicknames for the city.

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio. Tucson, ArizonaSurrounding the original grounds of El Presidio lies Tucson’s first barrio (neighborhood) to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. El Presidio is where Tucson began and many of the structures date from the 1860s on after the Presidio was torn down. Homes, shops and stores line El Presidio barrio today and most remain as they were originally built in architectural styles common of that time period ranging from Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American to Eclectic.

Walking down the streets of El Presidio reminded me of being on a street somewhere in Central America. Buildings were colored in bright hues of pinks, reds, greens and creams, and were all in various stages of disrepair which added to the charm and picturesque nature of this part of town.

El Presidio TucsonRestaurants….and art

El Presidio TucsonA must visit in the El Presidio barrio is The Tucson Museum of Art followed by lunch or dinner at the delightful, bohemian Café á la C’Art. Recently named on Food and Wine‘s list of the best museum restaurants in the country, we randomly stumbled upon this gorgeous Southwestern eatery all by chance, and what an amazing treasure of a restaurant it is!

Step inside the restaurant and you are bound to be surprised….

El Presidio Tucson

Yet I enjoyed the beautiful back terrace for enjoying our delicious lunch. El Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonI loved my grilled portabella mushroom sandwich with goat cheese. El Presidio Tucson

Just a few steps behind the restaurant is the entrance to the Tucson Museum of Art. El Presidio TucsonAfter a fulfilling, savory lunch it was time to walk it off and tour El Presidio barrio. Once again, I was thrilled to see so many lovely murals and many noteworthy historical homes and mansions set from another era in time.

El Presidio Tucson

Exploring this historic barrio is fascinating as many of Tucson’s oldest homes dating from 1860 to 1920 remain. The architecture of the homes are exceptionally interesting given they were constructed in the styles prevalent of the times including Sonoran, Transformed Sonoran, Transitional Territorial, Mission Revival and Craftsman Bungalow (Source: The Tucson Historic Neighborhood Guide).   The homes are a sharp contrast from the typical Tucson home made either of stucco or adobe style which makes a visit to El Presidio barrio all the more fun.

El Presidio Tucson

El Presidio Tucson

El Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio Tucson

Are you a history buff and craving more information on El Presidio’s past? If so, I found these sites with really cool historical information that I used to help write the post:

Getting there:

El Presidio Historic District is roughly bounded by W. 6th St., W. Alameda St., N. Stone Ave. and Granada Ave. in downtown Tucson, Arizona. The Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N Main Ave., offers tours of the historic block in the district on which the museum is located. Call 520-624-2333 or visit the museum’s website for further information.

Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701. (520) 624-2333.

Café á la C’Art, 140 N. Main Ave., is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Dinner is served from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

Murals in Downtown Tucson, Arizona

Discovering Historic Downtown Tucson

Note: This is part one of a three part series on Tucson’s barrios. 

I have been visiting Tucson, Arizona for over 20 years and have always adored her gorgeous desert landscape, rugged mountains, and lovely southwestern charm. It is no wonder that Tucson is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts who come to play golf, bike, hike, and explore nature. The sun shines down across the city for over 350 days a year making Tucson a gorgeous place to visit especially in the heart of a Minnesota winter.

For years I’ve been enjoying Tucson’s many hiking trails, restaurants and shopping areas surrounding the luxurious Foothills part of town yet during a recent visit I decided it was time to branch out and explore. A local art store provided my inspiration. There I saw a painting of one of Tucson’s many barrios (neighborhoods) and realized that there was an entire part of Tucson that I had never seen before and it looked fascinating.

On a beautiful Saturday morning instead of putting on my hiking shoes, I grabbed my camera, a map and launched off in pursuit of my curiosity and wanderlust. I headed down the valley to the heart of Tucson’s past, to the old, historic Downtown Tucson and her neighboring barrios (neighborhoods) which in recent years have been undergoing a major regentrification and rebirth of their own right. A few hours exploring and I was convinced that during my next trip to Tucson I’m headed back to the barrios.


Arizona Sky

I found some remaining pictures from my recent visit to the Sonoran desert of Arizona. Every night, the sunsets are magical and unique. It is my most favorite time of day and so insanely peaceful that all my worries seem to fade away with each brilliant ray of light and color splashed across the sky.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science”. – Albert Einstein

Sunset over Sahuaro

“When you focus on the goodness in your lives, you create more of it.” – Oprah Winfrey

Arizona Sky

“Don’t wait for the last judgment – it takes place every day.” – Albert Camus

Arizona SkyAnd finally the last drops of light disappear beyond the horizon…

Arizona Sky

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An afternoon at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The mission of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert.

One of my favorite places to spend an afternoon in Tucson is at the fantastic Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum.   Located in the heart of Saguaro National Park in the outskirts of Tucson, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is part living museum, part botanical gardens and part zoo all combined in one great outdoor venue.

You can spend an entire day at the Desert Museum, however, an afternoon works out just fine as well.   The Desert Museum is a wonderful way to explore and see all of the Sonoran deserts’ diverse flora and fauna.  There are several exhibits featuring Arizona wildlife in its prime, spreading across over 21 acres of beautiful desert and two miles of walking paths.  You can see Javalinas, coatis, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, ocelots, wildcats and brown bears, all native species to the Southwest.

You can also go inside and peek into the dimly lit caverns of the bats, many different species of snakes, scorpions, Gila monsters, tarantulas, black widows and more.  It actually kind of creeps you out a bit to know that all these creatures live in the desert right beside human beings (especially the ones that are poisonous such as the black widows, scorpions and rattlesnakes).  Best be ignored, though, otherwise you’d never leave your house!  (Fact: I have almost stepped on a hairy tarantula the size of a small plate. My parents have to spray their home for scorpions as they both have accidentally stepped on one before which causes your entire leg to go numb).

What amazes me is how the wildlife in Tucson lives right next door to civilization.  There are a series of washes (dry riverbeds) that run throughout Tucson and act as a reservoir to handle the rainfall and snow melt in case of floods or monsoons.  This is also the home of many of the animals mentioned above so it is best to be careful!

The Desert Museum is a lovely place for all ages and kids love it as well.  At the entrance, for one dollar you can buy a Desert Museum Stamping book in which kids can run around the museum collecting different paw prints or “stamps” of the animals and learn some fun facts along the way. It is a great way to keep them engaged in the museum!


Max and Sophia at the entrance of the Desert Museum, sitting on a Javalina, Arizona’s notorious troublemaker.  


As you can see, the Desert Museum is truly in the heart of the desert! 

Getting there is half the fun.  Once you pass through Tucson, you will climb upward towards Gates Pass, a dramatic view of the flat desert landscape below. Some have said that you can actually see the curvature of the earth from the vantage point but honestly it all just looks flat to me.   As you drive up towards the pass, there is a great place to stop and take a short hike up and see for yourself.  I have done this before however since I was with young kids, we decided to “pass on the pass” and get right to the museum.


Max and his cousin Hanna listening to a volunteer docent tell them about snake skeletons and skins.  


Rattlesnake skin.  



Some of the beautiful cacti along the outdoor paths of the museum.  


The museum boasts over 300 different animal species and 1200 kinds of plants on display, all alive in their natural desert setting.  


In back is a mountain lion.  It is very rare to see them (thank God!) however sometimes they do end up in contact with humans which isn’t a good thing as they can be quite dangerous.  


My son Max getting his first stamp in his animal booklet.  


My niece Hanna and nephew Brody watching the prairie dogs in action.


The infamous jumping cactus.  They do jump and they do hurt if you happen to run into one! 






Here is a coati out to play.  


My daughter Sophia found the special viewing window! 



The birds adore hanging out on the Saguaro cactus.  


A saguaro cactus skeleton. 




The cousins having fun and filling up their stamp books.  



A pipe organ cactus…aren’t they cool?

Stay tuned…I’m heading back to more posts on Shanghai.  There are still more to come!  

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Phoneline Trail, Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Discovering the raw beauty of Sabino Canyon

As I always say, there is no better way to experience the raw beauty of nature than to do it by a good hike.  Sabino Canyon is just one of those places. It is achingly beautiful and perhaps one of the most stunning places in all of southwestern Arizona.

Nestled in the southeastern foothills of Tucson, Arizona in the Santa Catalina  mountains, Sabino Canyon is a true gem. The formation of these mountains began over 12 million years ago, long before the first sign of man.  Over time, a significant canyon formed that would eventually turn into a lush, verdant desert oasis deep inside the canyon.

A massive earthquake in 1887 centered in Northern Mexico caused even more change to the canyon.  Massive boulders dislodged and crashed down thousands of miles below creating an even more dramatic landscape.  In 1905, the U.S. Forest Service was created and took over the administration of Sabino Canyon.  Nothing much happened to the area until the 1930s.  The onset of the Great Depression prompted the US Government to put people to work by building infrastructure and one of the places that benefited was Sabino Canyon.  The Sabino Dam as well as over nine bridges were built during this time, creating a 4.5 mile paved road up through the canyon.  Plans had been made to continue the road all the way up the canyon up to Mount Lemmon but fortunately they ran out of money and the project was dropped.  Had the road been built, the entire beauty of Sabino Canyon would have been destroyed and lost.

Sabino Canyon officially opened as a State Park and recreational area in 1978.  Today, it ranks one of the top tourist destinations in all of Tucson and is a haven for hikers, walkers, bikers and anyone else who wants to enjoy its raw beauty.

A tram service runs daily every half an hour up the canyon and back.  For only a few dollars, you can ride along and listen to an informative narration on the history, geology and flora and fauna of Sabino Canyon.   This is a great thing to do as a family and of course we have done it many times.  However, the best thing to do in Sabino Canyon is to get out there and experience it firsthand with a hike.

There are several hikes in Sabino Canyon and over the years I’ve done many of them.  However, my most favorite hike of all is called The Phoneline Trail, which is about an eight mile round trip hike, located about two-thirds of the way up the canyon, giving you a bird’s eye view of this spectacular place.

The start of the trail is flat but not for long. 

 There are many types of cacti found throughout Sabino Canyon.  The Saguaro Cactus is perhaps the most well-known.  It takes on average 65-70 years for this cactus to grow an arm.  They also can live for over 200 years!  What also is amazing about the Saguaro cactus is its root system.  Saguaro’s roots only go down about twenty inches deep, however, the roots spread out as wide as they are high.  Pretty unbelievable!

After a mile or so of flat walking, it is time to climb up!  It is best to be prepared with tons of water, hiking polls, lots of sunscreen and of course extra stamina.  It is not uncommon to see college aged kids running up the trail!  I even saw some people running barefoot.  Crazy given all the rocks and obstacles. 

Soon the hike leads you gradually and then steeply up the side of the canyon walls. 

My favorite barrel cactus which bloosom beautifully in the springtime.

Finally after a couple of hours hiking we are nearing the top of the hike where the Phoneline Trail flattens out and you basicaly walk along the edge of the canyon.

Down below is the paved trail which is another option for seeing the canyon.  But I prefer to view from up top!

At the end of the canyon in back is Mount Lemmon, a beautiful area that hosts many pine trees as well as a ski resort. 

Sabino Canyon is home to a wide variety of wild life including the elusive mountain lion, bobcats, ocelots, skunks, foxes, deer, javalinas, raccoons and coyotes.  They also have lots of different kind of venomous and non-venomous snakes (I’ve seen a rattlesnack but not on the trail) as well as scorpions and tarantulas (yes, unfortunately I’ve seen these two things yet at my parents house!  Not on the trail!).


I only wished this photo could have turned out better but we were hiking right into the sun.  I have never seen the canyon as verdant as this in December.  It was simply spectacular.  Who would have ever imagined a desert could be so green?  It is even better in March and April when the brilliant desert flowers are in bloom and the green is a vibrant lime-color that almost hurts your eyes.

There has been a ton of rainfall and snow in the upper mountains causing the streams to flow with force. 

The Canyon also has an ample and diverse supply of beautiful trees such as the Cottomwood (in this picture, which still has its golden leaves on from the fall), the white-barked sycamore trees, and the dark-wooded mesquite trees.  Another favorite is the Palo Verde tree which means “Green Stick” and has green bark and green leaves. 

The white-barked tree in back is an Arizona Sycamore.  The bark is lovely. 

This is a mesquite tree which proves great firewood as well as a food source for many animals within the canyon.  The tree produces bean pods which are enjoyed by many small canyon critters. 

After an eight mile strenous hike through record-high heat (who would have believed it was December?), I was exhilared and fatigued.  It was a great hike and I can’t wait to do it again!  

Stay tuned…I am headed back to a wintery Minnesota tomorrow.  I’ve heard that we finally have a few inches of snow and am looking forward to it!  I am not looking forward to the cold January weather, though. 

Adventure Travel Arizona TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking United States

A walk in the desert

I love to hike.  For me, hiking combines some of my greatest passions in life:  Being outside and being active.  Tucson is surrounded by mountains and offers ample opportunity to hike until your hearts desire.  There are some peaks such as Mount Wrightson, that reach almost 10,000 feet and there are many national and state parks loaded with trails.  

Every time I come to Tucson, I try to fit in some hikes.  My parents live in the foothills and are close to several of my favorite trails and hiking spots such as the lovely Sabino Canyon (which has countless trails) and Ventana Canyon.   Some of my favorite trails include the hike to Seven Falls which guides you along diverse desert landscape bringing you to a large canyon with seven waterfalls (this hike is exceptionally beautiful in March or April when the water has melted off Mount Lemmon above and creates huge, rushing falls and beautiful, fragrant desert flowers).  I also love to hike the Phoneline trail that wraps around Sabino Canyon affording a spectacular view below.   Finally, the Ventana Trailhead is another great hike which combines some steep, zigzag trails giving you a fabulous workout and a rewarding view at the top of Tucson valley.  All three of these hikes can take anywhere from 3-4 hours depending on how fast you move and how few breaks you take.  It is a perfect way to let off steam, burn some calories and enjoy the stunning fresh air and views of the Arizona desert.

Yesterday we opted to take a new trail and ventured over to Pima Canyon, about ten minutes away from my parents home.  We chose a trail leading up along the Catalina Mountains which was uniquely beautiful and very peaceful.  It was the first time for years that I hiked with my siblings as well as my father, so it was a great time with good company.  

Here are some shots along the way.  

My dad and sister setting off.

Going up…this hike had a lot of climb involved and was rocky so you had to keep your eyes in front of you! I was relieved that my dad went first. I always get paranoid of encountering a rattlesnake. I’ve seen them before in the distance but never (knock on wood) had one jump out in front of me before.

The trail system goes on forever, way up high into the mountains in the background. You can hike for days back in the wilderness as long as you bring a pack. There is also plenty of wildlife such as mountain lions, bighorn sheep, deer, ocelots and wildcats. Sadly a lot of their habitat has disappeared and these animals have come down to the foothills and valley in search of food and water only to be a nuisance to the human population below. I’ve seen an ocelot, javelina pigs, coyote and wildcat outside of my parents home. Not a good thing to see, though.

A skeleton of a saguaro cactus, Tucson’s most dominant variety of cacti.

The trail map…we took the Pontatoc Canyon Trail.

Photos of the many different varieties of cacti.

These are the notorious and deadly jumping cacti.

And the stunning view behind us…

Then we reached the top and took a sibling photo—-our first in years of the three of us.

And fabulous views of Finger Rock and the surrounding Pima Canyon.

Mount Wrightson beckons in the background….one of my most favorite hikes of all! It is a whole day affair that I’ll have to save for another day.

Adventure Travel TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking