Wasson Peak - Winterlude 2021 - CycleBlaze

December 18, 2021

Wasson Peak

We thought we would get an early start on our hike today, until we woke up to find it was only 32 degrees - the coldest morning so far, and the coldest we expect to be seeing for the next two weeks.  It’s supposed to warm up nearly ten degrees by tomorrow.  Cold then, but otherwise ideal for a hike like this, because it’s a perfectly clear day.  

We wait around the apartment until about 10:30 and then drive to the Sweetwater Trailhead, about a 20 minute drive east in the eastern foothills of the Tucson Mountains.  It takes us 40 minutes to get there though because I mapped us to the El Camino del Cerro Trailhead, which I decide must have been a mistake when we pass the turnoff to the Sweetwater Trailhead.  We’re hiking the Sweetwater Trail today, so after mulling this over for a couple of miles I turn around and head back to it.  When we get there though and pull up our hiking route on the Garmins we see that the start is nowhere near here so we drive back to the Camino del Cerro Trailhead after all.

Who knows why the Sweetwater Trailhead is not on the Sweetwater Trail?  In any case, it’s the wrong spot to start  a hike, unless you’re there for running, walking your dog or riding a dirt bike.  El Camino Del Cerro is the one if you want a beautiful, quiet hike in the Tucson Mountains.  Dogs and bikes are prohibited, and the parking lot is nearly empty when we arrive; we’ll only encounter others on the trail perhaps two or three times per hour.  Within about a hundred yards of the parking lot we cross the border and enter Saguaro National Park, and we’re in protected desert wilderness for the rest of the day. 

On the Sweetwater Trail, entering Saguaro National Park. Ahead is Wasson Peak, the highest point in the Tucson Mountains and our destination for today’s hike.
Heart 3 Comment 1
Bill ShaneyfeltSweet AZ winter memories...
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1 month ago

The hike is about as I’d imagined it - brilliant.  It’s a longish (for me, at least) fairly steady climb to the top, rocky and uneven but not a difficult walk.  The pitch is generally gradual until the last mile when it stiffens to about 15%.  Along the way we gradually climb out of a saguaro forest, following the outline of a rocky arroyo.  At 1.6 miles into the trail I look up the slope to the right and am thrilled to see a crested saguaro not more than a hundred yards from the trail.  Rachael has gotten ahead of me here so I phone her with the recommendation that she make an about face and come back down to see for herself.  She’d be mad if we got back and saw the photos if I hadn’t let her know at the time.

 At the top is a stunning lookout, one of the best unobstructed 360 degree vistas we remember experiencing.  Mountain ranges and desert islands in every direction, and a perfect day for viewing them.  We sit on the rocks, break out the turkey sandwiches Rachael packed for us, and enjoy a lengthy chat with a couple from northern Minnesota who have been wintering down here for years and know every peak and range in sight.  

And, it’s about as I expected on the way down also - just as long, but slower and hard on the knees.  There’s nothing too steep or difficult, but it’s definitely a good thing I brought a pole along for the descent.  Because we got a later start to the day we’re late getting off the trail at the end, and it’s getting quite chilly in the shade.  Rachael is getting seriously cold toward as sundown approaches, so I give her the keys to the Raven so she can walk ahead and get inside to warm up.  When I arrive, the first words out of her mouth are ‘Did you see the deer?’.  No, but I’m of course elated for her and proud of her for getting the phone out quickly enough to get a photo. 

We’re both happy to be back in the car again and enjoy the luxury of the heated front seats that start warming up almost as soon as you activate them.  It’s probably our most loved feature of our new car.  Well, that and the added safety that the back up camera, GPS and rapid defrosting provide.  Great car.

Our plan for the evening is to eat leftovers at home - Rachael still has half of her enchilada from El Charro, and I have the half-pizza I doubled back to retrieve last night.  After that we planned to watch the first half of a movie on Netflix, but when the time comes we’re both tired enough that we just watch a Colbert monologue instead and call it a night.  It’s just as well - we’d probably have both been nodding off or out cold by the end.

The hike begins with a gradual climb through a saguaro forest.
Heart 3 Comment 0
There is much more than saguaros growing here. The desert vegetation at the beginning of the hike is incredibly dense and diverse.
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A crested barrel cactus?
Heart 2 Comment 1
Bill Shaneyfelt:-)
Looks about as close to one as I've ever seen.
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1 month ago
Just weird.
Heart 3 Comment 0
As we climb we get steadily broader views back to the Catalina and Rincon Mountains. From this perspective they look like a single range.
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It’s another crested saguaro! We hoped we might find a new one if we hiked a different trail.
Heart 4 Comment 4
Bruce LellmanThat blue is unreal! I love it.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Bruce LellmanI don’t doubt it. It looks like you’re flirting with snow up there.
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1 month ago
marilyn swettAnother crested! Fantastic!
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1 month ago
Such a strange look - like a flattened cauliflower.
Heart 7 Comment 3
Bruce LellmanSo interesting! And beautiful.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Bruce LellmanThey’re really unusual, and uncommon. We’re lucky to have spotted another one, but we’re up to five down here now.
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1 month ago
Modeling her new hiking shorts, which she’s very pleased with.
Heart 2 Comment 1
Steve Miller/GrampiesWithout unnecessary liner to get in the way. That is what underwear are for!
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1 month ago
Higher up, the vegetation starts thinning out. More ocotillo and cholla, less saguaro. Wasson Peak doesn’t look so far off now, but it’s still over a mile away.
Heart 2 Comment 0
Another look back at the Catalinas, with this annoying spike marring our view.
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Some hedgehogs.
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Wasson Peak is the high point in the frame. Our trail follows this narrow canyon up to the top and then bends around and angles up the face of the peak.
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Nearing the summit.
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The Catalina and Rincon Ranges from the summit. Tucson is the broad white smear across the basin.
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Looking south across the Tucson Mountains. In the distance is the Santa Rita Range.
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The small formation at the north end of the Tucson Mountains: on the left is Panther Peak, and on the right is the Sombrero (officially, Safford Peak). This must be the formation you see biking the northwest corner of the loop approaching Marana.
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In the foreground: the surviving half of Twin Peaks. Its unfortunate and once larger sibling has been completely eliminated by 70 years of limestone quarrying. In the distance I think are the Pichaco Mountains.
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Demonstrating the new hiking pole. Well worth the trip to REI.
Heart 4 Comment 2
Jen GrumbySaver of the knees, ¿no?
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyDefinitely. I’m stiff this morning, but nothing hurts.
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1 month ago
Another look south. The notch to the left is Gates Pass.
Heart 2 Comment 0
Thrasher!
Heart 2 Comment 1
Bill ShaneyfeltCurvebills are one species I actually remember from Ornithology in '69.
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1 month ago
Right before the end of the hike, Rachael demonstrates her superpowers again and conjures up a few deer.
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A last look at the Catalina Range. The dark crevasse in the center is Sabrino Canyon.
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Hiking stats today: 9 miles, 1,600’

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