Saguaro National Park and Mt. Lemon, Tucson AZ

After leaving the monument we were heading directly east across the desert to the Tucson area. I planned to first go to Saguaro National Park – Tucson Mountain District Unit. There was a level paved walk around their cactus garden so I set out with the dogs. By now it was 12:30 and it was already in the low 90’s. I didn’t have much enthusiasm for it nor did the dogs after about 10 minutes. So we piled back in the car and headed off to do the Scenic Bajda Loop Drive. I kept thinking, through much of the desert, and here in Saguaro, that some jokester had come along and plant massive fields of green prickly fence posts or perhaps telephone poles. They just dotted the land for miles.


But I soon discovered theses “post” have already had a long life. But I soon discovered theses “post” have already had a long life cycle. The Saguaro cactus grow very slowly and though these looked to me like new fields of cacti, most of these 7+ foot of cacti would be about 50 years old. They don’t sprout even their first arms for about 75 years. When I see these saguaros with their arms reaching towards the sky I think of the salutation to the sun routine in yoga. These cacti appear to be reaching to the heavens . So the field of posts took on a whole different meaning, now seeing them as living elders with the wisdom to survive and grow in the harshest of environments. The Bajda loop was be very similar to the washboard dirts roads of the Organ Pipe scenic drives and though quite lovely did not seem nearly as spectacle as the Ajo Drive. So to amuse myself I did have fun making up roles various cactus were fulfilling. There were dancers, huggers, twisters, muscle men, schnoz’s, and it probably does not need saying but a multitude of phalluses.

Since the Ironwood Forest National Monument was only about 15 miles from here I decided to drive over there. There may be no main entrance but Siri took me to the wrong side from what I can gather. No real entrance sign and a terrible road. I pulled over a ways in to get a better look at a magnificent saguaro cactus and along came a truck. The driver was making sure I was okay and then suggested I not go much further as it gets rougher and one needs a higher clearance vehicle. He then told me how to go around so the other side of the monument. At this point I determined this idea was a bust and I best head to my campsite in Rose Canyon up the Catalina Highway on Lemon Mountain. This is a gorgeous drive though it was sad to see the Tuscon valley covered with smaze and thus views so distorted. The drive is referred to as the Sky Island Scenic Byway, referring to the areas in Arizona where pine covered mountains rise above the desert. Suddenly while driving, after about a few miles, I became aware that I had now left the desert suguaro cactus and was back up in conifer territory, with spruce and pine at the highest elevation .

I also kept seeing the temperature dropping for each 1000 feet of altitude we were gaining and within that hour it went from 91 to 59 degrees. I arrived at a lovely wooded campsite at an elevation of about 7500 feet. I welcomed by a jovial host, who even volunteered to charge my computer when I asked if there was anyplace near where I might be able to do that. I purchased some firewood and proceed to set up camp and have dinner. My plan was to have a cozy evening by the fire but after walking the dogs up to the camp hosts site to retrieve the computer all I wanted to do was hunker down in the tent out of the chilly wind…which is exactly what I did.

I was really looking forward to a down day here on Mt. Lemon. So we had a slow ease into the day morning and when well nourished and after having gotten better organized I wanted to visit Rose Canyon Lake. So Kili, Simba and I had a brisk walk – temperature that is – not pace. We went down into the canyon on the forest service road and found this small trout which lake quite charming. There were a fishermen by the shore and Kili was smelling his food – so the man generously gave Kili a big chunk of his beef burrito. I have met so many really nice and friendly people along the way. No big conversation but many pleasant little chats. So we gazed a bit and returned to the campsite.

Todays drive was up to the top of Mount Lemon – a very short 10 miles. I stopped at a couple of vista but there was so muchparticulate matter in the air it was hard to see anything at all very clearly. There was also a lot of scarring on the hillsides from forest fires. A ranger i spoke with said most are from lightning strikes but sometimes there is one from a careless camper. I passed a few cyclists on the way up. Many of the professional triathletes I have read about who train in the Tucson area use the Catalina drive to the top of Mt. Lemon as a training ride. What a long 25 mile uphill grind!!! I finally found a grocery at the Ski Village – well one that actually sold pricey lunch meat and hot dogs along with the usually souvenirs (of course saying Mt. Lemon not Florida or Colorado). So I got my minimal appetite dog some hot dogs. The rest of the was spent at the campsite relaxing, writing, early dinner and the first campfire of the return trip.

Most of the areas I have travel through are in a high danger fire zone so campfires were out of the question. But up here in the conifer forest at about 7800 feet altitude there was minimal danger. Sitting by the campfire brings back so many memories of both spending summers at Mullet Lake in Michigan as a child and also all of my wonderful experiences as a Girl Scout.


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