Tag Archives: backyard explorations

Historic Highways: Old US 99, Weed, CA

I spent an hour or so this afternoon exploring a small section of Edgewood Road going north out of Weed. This used to be US Route 99, before Interstate 5 was built and replaced Highway 99.  I concentrated my efforts on one curved section of the road, examining old wooden guard rails, and looking for “C-blocks”, which are old California Division of Highways survey monuments. I did not find any, but I’ll return and spend a little more time in the brush looking for any that might exist.

The general location of my efforts was 41.43049, -122.39933

1954 USGS 15 minute topographic map showing the US 99 alignment.
2010 USGS 7.5 minute topographic map showing the US 99 alignment next to Interstate 5.
Heading north into the curve. Broken wood guard rail is on the right.

Reflector bracket.

Railroad property line markers delineate the old highway right of way on east side. These should assist in locating any “C-blocks”.
The rail is actually comprised of three pieces of layered lumber.
Bolt head.
Retaining nut.

Guard rail at the north end of the curve (looking south).

Dog Creek Bridge

An accessible, historic, and photogenic bridge worth exploring

Trip dates: November 24 & 25, 2017

The Harlan D Miller Memorial Bridge, known also as the Dog Creek Bridge, is an abandoned concrete arch bridge completed in 1927 as part of US Route 99 just north of Lakehead, Shasta County, California. After Route 99 was replaced by Interstate 5, it carried traffic as part of Interstate 5 until a bridge to the northwest was expanded to accommodate both directions of traffic in 1974. It was abandoned and slated for demolition, until saved due to efforts of concerned citizens, and is now managed by the US Forest Service.

According to Bridgehunter.com,

Harlan D Miller (1880-1926) was the State Bridge Engineer for the California Highway Department from 1923 until his untimely death in 1926. During his short tenure as State Bridge Engineer he made radical changes to the way California designed bridges. These changes included requiring all highway bridges in the state be designed by the state and designing bridges that matched the geometry of the roadway. The latter often complicated design fork but the final result (skewed or curved bridges) justified the efforts in drivability.

Miller’s most visible effect on California bridges was the consideration given to design aesthetics. His designs were recognized in their own periods as possessing beauty and boldness. Many fine details can be seen on Miller designed bridges including rail and end post details, as well as clean lines and details of the superstructure design.

When my family relocated to the Bar Area in 1963, I remember driving across this bridge as we traveled to the Mount Shasta region to visit relatives several times per year. After the bridge was decommissioned, it had always been my desire to explore the now abandoned structure. I finally had a chance to do so this past week.

Looking west at the span. Photo taken from bridge that crosses the Sacramento River. A short railroad bridge is visible to the left which also spans Dog Creek.
Looking south down the bridge deck.
Looking south along the west side of the bridge. Notice the blue tiles in the deck wall pillars.
Curb details.

The view south looking down the Sacramento River.
Looking north up the Sacramento River.

At several places benched areas were provided for travelers to stop, enjoy the views, and rest a bit.

Stone retaining on the northern approach to the span.

Dog Creek.
Looking north. The Interstate 5 span can be seen near the center.
DIRECTIONS & ACCESS

Off Interstate 5, take the Vollmers/Delta exit. Proceed west about a quarter mile and turning left onto Fenders Ferry Road. Drive down along the Dog Creek watershed for about a mile, crossing the creek twice and underneath the I5 span until reaching the historic bridge. Park just before the railroad tracks, and climb up the east side of northern end of the bridge.

According to a couple of other websites, there is supposedly access at the northern end of the bridge from the top, at end of a private road where a Forest Service begins. I checked it out and I’m not comfortable at this time on recommending its use. The adjoining property owners have posted a lot of onerous signage, and have tried to unsuccessfully block the easement. I would be nervous parking my vehicle here. Check this post for updates, as I will attempt to get clarification from the Forest Service regarding use of this easement.

FURTHER READING

redding.com (Redding Searchlight newspaper website) article Travelin’ in Time: Dog Creek Bridge, a work of art, was almost demolished,  posted June 26, 2008

CalTrans Digital Collections, Historic Bridges and Tunnels: Dog Creek

 

Deadfall Lakes, Siskiyou County, CA

A string of lakes located in the Trinity Mountains
Trip date: August 11, 2017
The trailhead is 19 miles west of Weed on Forest Service Road 17/42N17.
One of several meadows that the trail passes through.
The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Deadfall Lakes Trail just east of the lowermost lake.
Lake 7259 (it’s noted elevation on topo maps) is the largest lake of the 5 lakes.
The uppermost of the Deadfalls lake. Mount Eddy is the peak in the background.
Looking north across the uppermost Deadfall Lakes.
Wildflowers were abundant along the trail.

Yellow Butte, Siskiyou County, CA

Looking south to Mount Shasta from the Yellow Butte high point. The middle and south peaks of the ridge line can be seen in the center.
Trip date: May 4, 2017

Yellow Butte is a hill on the north side of US Highway 97 about 12 miles northeast of Weed. Unlike other nearby peaks which are some kind of volcanic feature (dome, cinder cone or shield volcano), Yellow Butte is an uplifted complex of intrusive igneous and metamorphic rocks. This makes for some interesting quartzite outcrops on the top of the hill, and the unexpected diorite pluton along the first third of this route I hiked today.

Yellow Butte is actually more of a ridge, with three distinct peaks, the northernmost being the highest.  The route I’ve seen described elsewhere is a 3 mile round trip starting inside a Forest Service gate alongside Highway 97 that traverses the west side of the hill. Because my available time was short, I chose a shorter route on the east side of the hill on Yellow Butte Road, a narrow, dusty two-track off of 97.  This route proceeds up to saddle area between the middle and north peaks. Truth be told, both routes to the peak are old two tracks themselves – in fact, one could drive to the summit in a 4WD high clearance vehicle. But, as I got near the top, I encountered a guy camping in a beat-up, 30 year old, 2WD, low clearance Chevy van at the top – so don’t I guess I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Summit area of Yellow Butte high point.
Quartzite outcrop atop Yellow Butte.
Looking west at Haystack (left) and cinder cone 3924 (right).
Thistle along the trail.

 

I could not locate a survey triangulation mark indicated on some older topo maps. Neither could I find a summit log, so I left a new one behind.

NOTES:

Trip time is about 25 to 30 minutes each way.

For an excellent discussion of the geology of the lower Shasta Valley, see a masters thesis by Joseph Holliday, “The bedrock geology of the southeastern Shasta Valley, Siskiyou County, California”

 

Haystack

No needles involved, just a great little hike
Trip date: April 21, 2017

Haystack is a volcanic feature rising above US Route 97 11 miles northeast of Weed. The peak offers wonderful views of Mount Shasta to the south,  the Trinity Mountains to the east, and the Mount Shasta Valley to the north. The trail is an overgrown 4WD trail to the top. Good parking is just off the highway inside a Forest Service gate. One walks about .4 mile before reaching the actual trail that starts the climb up the east flank of Haystack. The short climb takes a moderate effort to reach the top. The trail circles the rather flat, open top. Vegetation is typical high desert scrub with the scattered juniper tree. There is a high point marked with a cairn with a survey mark underneath and a summit log. The summit log revealed that Haystack is visited every few days by hikers. The distance from the parking area to the high point is about one mile.

Haystack as seen from US Route 97.
My hiking partner & daughter, Claudia, on the trail as it climbs the east flank of Haystack.
Old growth juniper dots Haystack.
Summit cairn with benchmark and summit log.
Panorama from east to west, with Mount Shasta to the south. The Whaleback is to the left of Mount Shasta, and Mount Eddy is to the right. Click on the photo for a larger view.
Mount Shasta as seen from Haystack.

Spud Rock Spring Via Turkey Creek Trail

A challenging but spectacular scenic hike

Trip dates: November 13-15, 2015

This was my first backpacking trip in over 10 years. I went with my buddy Joe, who’s about the same age as I, and we took the 15 year old son of a friend who couldn’t go due to back problems. Ryan is a good kid, in great shape, and has a great attitude.  And who has a fondness for aluminum foil.

Sign at the primary trailhead at Miller Flat.
Sign at the primary trailhead at Miller Flat.

Our destination was the Spud Rock Spring campsite by way of the Turkey Creek Trail, located in the eastern side of the Rincon Mountains, in the Saguaro Wilderness Area of Saguaro National Park.  From the eastside of Tucson, it’s about a 2 hour drive east towards Benson, getting off Interstate 10 at Mescal. From there, you head north into the Coronado National Forest to the Happy Valley area on Forest Service road 35. If you don’t have a high clearance four wheel drive, you have to park at Miller Flat and walk an extra 1.5 miles or so up FS 4408; otherwise, you can proceed through a gate and park at the end of FS 4408 to start the hike.

A great place to car camp at Miller Flat in Happy Valley.
A great place to car camp at Miller Flat in Happy Valley.
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Heading up Forest Service road 4408 to the secondary trailhead. This road is suitable for high clearance 4WD vehicles only.

We left Tucson at 6:30 on Friday morning and arrived at the trail head in Happy Valley around 8:20 AM. Joe has a Jeep Liberty, so we were able to get the end of Forest Service  road 4408 to start our journey, rather than having to park down the ridge and hike another 1.5 miles in. The weather was great, though still chilly at this time of morning – 36 degrees and clear. We hit the trail at 8:45, quickly shedding a couple of layers as we warmed up from the sun and exertion.

Joe and Ryan amid tall grass on the Turkey Creek Trail about 1.5 miles from the secondary trailhead.
Joe and Ryan amid tall grass on the Turkey Creek Trail about 1.5 miles from the secondary trailhead.

For the first couple of miles, the trail climbs slowly through savanna grasslands and oaks. After that, it was a slog for pretty much the next 3 miles. It was like doing Blackett’s Ridge in Sabino Canyon twice. We stopped frequently to catch our breath, as well as to enjoy the view and take photos. At Mud Hole Spring, we ate lunch and took a half hour nap.

Mud Hole Spring.
Mud Hole Spring.

It was evident that this trail doesn’t get much use. It was overgrown almost all the way up, and in many spots, felled trees crossed our path. Near the end, about 3/8 mile from Spud Rock Spring, we spent about 20 minutes trying to follow the trail, due to overgrowth and debris on the trail. We finally arrived at the campsite at 5 PM. Of the three sites available, we made ours nearest the pit toilet and the bear box, which served double duty as a camp table. There was ample firewood about, but the no water at the spring, just a wet bog, surrounded by a large grove of aspen trees. Even if there had been a flow, the ranger had told Joe it was not good for drinking.

The ranger had also told Joe that we would be by ourselves on Friday night, but that the other two sites would be occupied on Saturday. We thought this odd, given it was November, it was the far side of the Rincons, and the threat of inclement weather loomed.

Ryan contemplate uses for aluminum foil by the camp fire.
Ryan contemplates uses for aluminum foil by the camp fire.

All of us had frozen meat with us (2 steaks and 2 chicken breasts) that had thawed out nicely during the day. We cooked these on small wire we had brought along, and supplemented these with baby carrots, dinner rolls, potatoes, and nuts.  Ryan had not brought any plateware. Rather, he had a roll of aluminum foil. He took a flat piece of rock, and covered it with foil, using this as his plate. After dinner we made hot chocolate while a roaring fire danced before us. Ryan did not have a cup. Using mine as a mold, he fashioned one out of foil. We called it a night around 7:30. The night time temperature was quite pleasant, with almost no wind during the night.

Aspen grove at Spud Rock Spring.
Aspen grove at Spud Rock Spring.

Saturday morning found us getting up around 7 AM. Quickly Ryan made a fire (he being 15, the fire was much larger than it needed to be, but boys will be boys) and we went about making coffee and breakfast. We spent most of the morning sitting around the fire, taking a nap mid morning, before getting our act together and heading over to Devil’s Bathtub to procure water. We missed the trail for the most direct route, taking a route that led us to a farther south meeting with the Heartbreak Ridge Trail, causing us to have to climb back up 500 feet, rather than staying fairly level.

At Devil’s Bathtub, we filled our bottles and bladders, ate lunch, and napped again in the warm rays of the sun on the gently sloping granite at the top of the falls. We didn’t go to the bottom of the falls, as we just didn’t want to do any more climbing than we had. After about an hour and a half, we made our back on the correct route to Spud Rock Spring.

Cool, clear water at Devil's Bathtub.
Cool, clear water at Devil’s Bathtub.

As evening approached, we prepared dinner and built another roaring fire. The temperature dropped, but it was still comfortable. Ryan threatened to make a jacket out of, you guessed it, aluminum foil. Joe and I convinced him that he would be better served by just climbing into his sleeping bag. The skies overhead were clear, with no wind whatsoever. We began to doubt any arrival of rain during the night. Too, no other campers appeared either, though around 8 PM both Joe and myself thought we heard voices in the distance, but we never saw any lights or smelled smoke from other fires. About that time, we called it a night.

The rain came at 1:45 AM on Sunday.

It drizzled most of the night. Joe and I stayed dry, but neither of us noticed that Ryan had not put a rain fly on his tent, so he got a bit wet. By the time we got up at 7, the rain had abated, allowing us to eat some breakfast bars and break camp without too much fuss. We made our way out at 8:25 AM.

To make your way in or out of Spud Rock Spring, you climb a small ridge. As we went over and down that ridge, we came across 5 women in 3 tents in the area of the poor trail marking/overgrowth/felled trees. These were the hikers that held the permits for the other 2 sites, and the ones we had heard the night before. They had fought their way up the Turkey Creek Trail the day before, only to be stymied by the poor trail conditions and impending nightfall. The apparent leader walked over to us, inquiring about our campsite and water, as they had run out and were in the process of collecting what they could off their tent rainflies. Then, as panic set manifest itself in her eyes, she said “Perhaps this wasn’t the best trail or time to bring a couple of newbies on.” I think some friendships were damaged that day.

Looking back up at the Spud Rock Spring area as we made our way down the trail.
Looking back up at the Spud Rock Spring area as we made our way down the trail.

We made our way down through almost constant drizzle in four hours, without slipping and breaking anything. It was actually a pleasant experience. Sunlight shone upon us for the last mile, allowing us to dry somewhat before getting into the Jeep.

Rain drizzles as we descend the trail into the lower foothills of the eastern Rincon Mountains near Miller Flat.
Rain drizzles as we descend the trail into the lower foothills of the eastern Rincon Mountains near Miller Flat.

We enjoyed a late and large lunch at Reb’s Café in Benson before heading back to Tucson.

QUESTION: Why is Spud Rock Spring not even close to to Spud Rock? They are not even on the same ridge.

GEAR NOTES: I had checked out my old Coleman Peak 1 gas stove (dating back to 1982) last May, and it worked fine. When I tested it out before this trip, it was evident that it had developed bad seals, because the flames were burning yellow, and I couldn’t get new parts in time to rebuild it for use on this trip. So I bought an Optimus Crux Lite canister stove and the Optimus Terra Solo Cook Set. A small canister sits inside the cook set, along with the stove, and the cook set comes with a mesh stuff bag that doubles as a scrub cloth. The stove worked perfectly, and the cook set was just right for what I needed (making hot drinks and boiling water for instant oatmeal, a pouch dinner, and clean-up).

My humble $39.99 tent.
My humble $39.99 tent.

I also needed to get some shelter at the last minute. An offer of a borrowed bivy did not come through, and I didn’t want to pack my Mountain Hardware Optic 3.5 up the mountain, so I ended up getting a $39.99 1 person tent at Big Five at 8:55 PM on Thursday night. It worked great. It’s actually pretty well made for the price, with a generously sized mesh side panel to get in and out of, mesh panels on the other sides, a rainfly, and a fitted footprint. It was vented well, and I didn’t get any condensation. Both the tent and rainfly have good zippers, reinforced tie-down points, and the weight is 3 pounds. The factory sealed seams did not leak in the rain. Not a bad deal for back up or light duty bivy. Branded “Golden Bear”, one of the Rec-Out brands (Rugged Exposure, Columbus).

Exploring Scotts Knob

Scotts Knob is little hill (marked elevation of 2915 feet) on the eastern side of Tucson, about 1 mile east of the end of Speedway Boulevard, just north of the Saguaro National Park boundary, apparently on the property of the Tanque Verde Ranch (a local guest ranch). Unlike a couple of other hills in the area, this one is named on topographical maps, with an indicated elevation. (NOTE: On the Forest Service topo map below, “Scots Knob” with one “t” is used, but on all other maps it is spelled with two t’s)

Capture

My buddy Rob and I checked it out this Labor Day morning.  Access is through a gate to the left of the TV Ranch sign; stay on any trail that goes right and hugs the boundary fence of the national park. You will eventually pass through a fence line that goes north/south – you will see the hill on your left. Proceed another 100 yards or so and another trail going north towards Scotts Knob will become apparent. Within a few minutes you will be on top of the summit. From the top you have nice views towards the Santa Catalina Mountains and Agua Caliente Hill to the north, and a great southwest sightline of the northwest face of Tanque Verde Ridge component of the Rincon Mountains.

Below are a few pictures from our exploration of Scotts Knob.

DSCN0251-1 web
Scotts Knob is the small hill in the foreground. Agua Caliente Hill is behind it with it’s summit to the right. In the far distance are the Santa Catalina Mountains. This view is from the Douglas Springs Trail in Saguaro National Park.
DSCN0256-1 web
One of the small washes we crossed on our way to Scotts Knob.
DSCN0257-1 web
My best guess is that this is a male Filigree Skimmer dragonfly.
DSCN0267 web
Benchmark on the summit of Scotts Knob.
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Looking southwest from Scotts Knob. The Rincon Mountains are to the left.

DSCN0263-1 web

Madera Canyon, Arizona

Trip dates: 5/25/15 – 5/26/16

(Click on photos for larger view)

Our first camping trip in over 10 years

Madera Canyon, located in the Coronado National Forest on the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains, is about 46 miles from our house on the eastside of Tucson. The elevation of the canyon floor is at 3,562 feet, with the peaks of Mount Wrightson (9,452 feet) and Mount Hopkins (8,586 feet) looming overhead. The area around the Bog Springs Campground is a mix of grasses, cacti, oaks, mesquite, juniper, and piñon pine. Over 250 species of birds can be found here, making the canyon of the premier birding spots in the world. Eloise and I just visited Madera Canyon for the first time a few weeks ago. Already itching to do some camping, our tour of the Bog Springs Campground sealed the deal and within a few days I announced that we would camp for a night during the Memorial Day weekend.

Preparations
Mount Wrightson looms over Madera Canyon. Photo from day trip earlier in May.
Mount Wrightson looms over Madera Canyon. Photo from day trip earlier in May.

Though we were only camping for one night, much preparation was needed. We hadn’t camped in over 10 years. Our gear was packed away in a number of boxes and crates, spread out between our garage and two storage units. It needed to inspected, tested, and organized. Since we had also started to think about family disaster planning, it only made sense to organize our gear so that most stuff served a dual purpose – recreation and survival. (At some point, I’ll cover some of my planning and organizing in another post.) Over the last couple of weeks, a number of runs were made to likes of Sports Authority, Big 5 Sporting Goods, Ace Hardware, and local favorites Summit Hut and Miller’s Surplus. Yes, gear lust took hold, but I managed to control myself. My OCD tendencies also manifested themselves, as a various number of containers (Plano Sportsman’s Trunks and Plano Field Boxes, and British-made Really Useful Boxes) were procured, filled, labeled, and sometimes stowed in one another. Batteries were marked with the date of purchase. New flashlights, lanterns, and other goodies were compared, bought, and assigned to the appropriate crate, box, bag, or fanny pack.

Gear organized by type & on the shelf ready to go.
Gear organized by type & on the shelf ready to go.

On top of the gear and food preparations, arrangements needed to made for someone to cover the business for the 36 hours or so while we were gone. Even though one day was a holiday, I already had a full day of transportation jobs on the schedule, plus someone had to take whatever calls would come in, schedule them, and if need be, assign drivers to cover them while I was gone. I was determined not to be tied to the phone, and there is almost no cell phone signal in the canyon anyway. Be what may, the guys needed to come through for me, and happily I can say, they did.

The Trip

Since we were going into the canyon at the tail end of the holiday, I figured that most of the weekend campers would be departing the campground around noon or 1, and that if we got to the campground around 3, we would be able to find a spot before and if the facility filled up for the night. I had taken the Expedition into Goodyear for a last minute concern, and had the oil changed while I was there – so we didn’t start loading the truck until about 1:30 pm. Even so, having packed our clothes bags the night before, gathering the food from the fridge at the last minute, and putting the fully organized gear into the Ford, allowed us to hit the road an hour later at 2:30 pm. 46 miles and an hour later, we arrived at the canyon.

DSCN0163_1 webThis was our first time camping here. A few campsites were available. The campground road is a single loop, which climbs as you go to the rear of the loop, and descends as you exit the campground. Campsites are spread out on the inside as well as the outside of the loop. We inspected the open spots, looking for privacy, shade, position of the picnic table and tent pad, and nearby neighbors. The single toilet facility is near the top of the loop. We picked a spot at the at the lower elevation, farthermost away from the bathroom. We had not really considered this until we had made camp and were done with dinner.

What does this all mean? Well, unlike ten years ago, I’m now on blood pressure meds (basically a diuretic), and having to drink massive amounts of water to fight off the formation of kidneys stones (especially after 12 stones in 2013 and the resulting 3 lithotripsies) and avoid dehydration in the desert, so careful consideration needs to given to access to facilities when choosing a campsite first and foremost, rather than realizing at midnight when your bladder is screaming for relief that it is a 1/4 mile walk uphill to el bano. And at 2:30 AM. And at 5 AM. And and …

So we improvised. I’ll leave it at that.

While you were sleeping…
The Dutch John Spring Trail
The Dutch John Spring Trail

Since Eloise sleeps until noon or so, I thought I would get a short hike in after breakfast. In the campground is the trailhead for the “Dutch John Spring Trail.” The little Forest Service pamphlet describes this hike as a “moderately easy” trail. They lied. The trail has an 800 feet elevation gain in a mile, essentially straight up from the get go. This was my first real uphill hike in a couple of months, and I was not prepared for the pain that ensued. Plus, the trail was between 4,000 and 6,000 feet elevation, an altitude that I’m not used to. I’ve got a lot of work to do to get back into shape. Otherwise, it was a pretty hike up through the oaks, and I only came across 5 other hikers in the time I was out. I had to cut the hike short to get back to the camp by the time I had specified on the note I had left for my sleeping wife. I did not want Eloise to awaken and sending out the rangers looking for me because I hadn’t returned on time.

The observation deck at the Santa Rita Lodge. Photo from previous day trip.
The observation deck at the Santa Rita Lodge. Photo from previous day trip.

After she awoke, we ate a midday meal and broke camp. This went pretty quickly. We left the campsite around 2:30, and went over to the Santa Rita Lodge, where they have an observation deck, complete with seating and shade, where one can watch birds come to the feeders set up off the deck. Eloise and I are pretty new to birding, so we couldn’t identify everything, but it was enjoyable to watch the various hummingbirds, sparrows, finches, doves, and wild turkeys flit about. The term “pecking order” takes on a whole new meaning when watching so many species interact in a small space. Off to one side we observed several Acorn woodpeckers tussle over a hole on an electrical pole. Mexican jays and doves did their best to muscle smaller birds off some of the feeders. One species would occupy a feeder for few moments, then leave, to be replaced by a whole new species. After a time, this would be repeated. Fun to watch.

Acorn woodpecker at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders. Photo from previous day trip.
Acorn woodpecker at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders. Photo from previous day trip.

Finally it was time to head home. All in all, a short, but great trip. I was happy with my gear organization, the new Mountain Hardware Optic 3.5 Tent was a joy (see short review below), the weather was great, and I didn’t get Eloise mad at me. The route between our house and the canyon is an easy drive, so I can see us popping down here from time to time for a night or two – if we keep our gear organized, we could go down on pretty short notice.

QUICK GEAR REVIEW

Mountain Hardware Optic 3.5 Backpacking Tent. Described as a 3+ person tent. It was spacious and quite airy, given its four-sided mesh screen construction. There are doors on adjoining sides that roll back to offer huge views and easy access; the rainfly covers these adjoining doors (see photo set) to offer easy access and ventilation. It was easy to put up and take down. The only negative is that the seam on the rainfly tore at the only tie-down point that was not reinforced as well as every other tie-down point on either the rainfly or tent. Odd, to say the least.

NOTES & RESOURCES:

TOTAL TRIP MILEAGE: 102.0 miles.

Wikipedia: Madera Canyon

Friends of Madera Canyon: A non-profit organization dedicated to assisting the U.S. Forest Service in advancing historical, scientific, educational, and interpretive programs in Madera Canyon

HikeArizona.com: Dutch John Spring Trail description

A Drive Around The Rincon Mountains

Trip date: 9/27/14

The dichotomy of urbanization and wide open spaces in Southern Arizona has always fascinated me. Within minutes of the hustle and bustle of Tucson, you can find yourself in wide open desert terrain, with an endless view to the horizon; on top of a mountain wilderness, surrounded by towering conifer forests; or in the middle of rural ranchlands and farms, looking more like California’s Central Valley or a Midwest farming state. No more is this apparent than in a drive around the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson.

Around The Rincons map
Our route around the Rincon Mountains. Click on image to enlarge.

I’ve been in Tucson for 10 years, and have yet to drive from start to finish Redington Road, or circumnavigate either the Catalinas or the Rincons. I had mentioned to my buddy Rob a few weeks ago that I wanted to accomplish these trips, now that I had gotten my Expedition road trip and somewhat off road ready. We decided on this past Saturday to make the trip, with the objective of getting the lay of the land and scouting out stuff for further exploration, as well as taking a few photos along the way. We met at my house on the Eastside and left at 8:20 am. We had a full take of gas, water, ice, donuts, charged batteries for everything, and no deadline to get back. Some clouds floated in the sky ahead, but nothing threatening, so we forged ahead. Since it was a gorgeous morning with relatively low temps, I thought we’d see more people on Redington Road than we did. We ran across a dozen or so souls from a geocaching club who were doing a clean up along the first few miles of the road, a couple of mountain bikers, and a handful of people engaged in target practice. Other than a 4 or five other vehicles, including a Pima County deputy sheriff, we had the entire length of Redington Road to ourselves. The road was in really good shape, save a couple of spots where rain had created small gulleys (maybe 6 inches deep and a foot wide) in the last couple of nights. There were obvious signs that road crews had done some grading and clearing of washes in the last week. The scenery was just stunning. Very green vegetation was abundant, from thick grasses coating the top of the pass to plump saguaro and dark green ocotillo. Wildflowers were everywhere. We made our way along rather slowly, as we stopped along the way to take pictures and check some side roads out. Just below east of Piety Hill we stopped to drink our coffee and devour our donuts. This video is a view to the east with the Galiuro Mountains across the valley

http://youtu.be/oqvQtZobY8A

As we finished the descent into the San Pedro River Valley, we came across a magnificent stand of heritage saguaros that cried out to be photographed. Video:

http://youtu.be/66aUNO9xquc

We wanted to cross the San Pedro at the Redfield Canyon Road.

http://youtu.be/NyO6i6I8L6A

The water was only about 6 inches deep, not swift, and the river bed seemed firm enough, but since we didn’t have a second vehicle to pull us out or any recovery equipment, we crossed further downstream at the bridge. Cascabel Road is in great shape. The valley floor is green and lush. I didn’t expect to see as many residences this far out of Benson as we did. As you would expect, the people we did see reflected the cross section of those you find in rural Arizona – from ranchers to retirees to old hippies to those trying to stay off the grid. Everyone seemed friendly and waved at us, whether from a passing vehicle or from their front gate. Just south of the Spear Ranch I had noted a cemetery on the topo map on the east side of the road. Along this stretch the road was line on both sides by a bosque, which on the east side of the road climbed up a short bluff. I jumped out of the truck and wound my way up the hillside through some brush until I came to a fence about 60 feet off the road. Going through the barbed wire I proceeded another 25 feet until I topped the bluff and wa-lah! there was the graveyard. I had only brought my iPhone up the hill, so I went back to the truck to retrieve my camera and Rob, because he had to see this. As one can see in the photos, besides several modern graves, there are 29 unmarked graves that have to date back to the 1850’s. In a history written by Tess Gamez, of the family that owns the land on which the cemetery sits, it’s not known what year the graveyard was established, or what persons are buried in the 29 unmarked graves.

  • IMG_2281 web IMG_2281 web There was no end to the photographic opportunities, as my buddy Rob will attest to.
  • IMG_2282 web IMG_2282 web Clouds set up some spectacular shots to photograph.
  • IMG_2286 web IMG_2286 web A lone cottonwood guards an old water tank near the top of Reddington Pass.
  • IMG_2293 web IMG_2293 web The top of the pass opens into some large grassland areas.
  • IMG_2298 web IMG_2298 web Mesquite bosques are common throughout Arizona.
  • IMG_2309 web IMG_2309 web We were treated to grand views throughout the trip.
  • IMG_2310 web IMG_2310 web The view as we descended into the San Pedro River Valley.
  • IMG_1845 web IMG_1845 web Looking east towards the Galiuro Mountains.
  • IMG_2314 web IMG_2314 web A magnificient stand of heritage saguaros.
  • IMG_2316 web IMG_2316 web The San Pedro River.
  • IMG_2323 web IMG_2323 web Another bosque.
  • IMG_1846 web IMG_1846 web No trip in Arizona is complete without a snake in the road.
  • IMG_2327 web IMG_2327 web The Gamez family cemetery.
  • IMG_2331 web IMG_2331 web Some of the 29 pioneer graves, occupants unknown.
  • IMG_2339 web IMG_2339 web Railfanning at the Three Bridges area on Marsh Station Road just east of Vail, Arizona.
     

 

We had thought of completing the trip to Benson in about 3 to 4 hours so we could lunch there, but we stopped so often that we found ourselves at the Gamez Cemetery around 1 pm. From there, we left off making any more stops (for the most part), reaching Benson around 3. Rob suggested we eat at the Horseshoe Café. I had never eaten there. Wow, we had quite a meal! While the burgers and sandwiches sounded great, they start serving dinner at 3 on Saturday, so Rob had meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and a salad, while I had liver, bacon, and onions, baked potato, and a salad. The portions were HUGE. Each entrée was only $10. On the way back, we stopped at the Three Bridges area off Marsh Station Road near Vail to photograph a couple of westbound trains we had seen passing through Benson. We finally got back to my house at 5:20 pm, nine hours after we had left.

It was easy to forget within minutes of climbing Reddington Road that a modern city was behind us. Almost immediately we were met with solitude, gorgeous landscapes, and a sense of what Arizona must have looked like when the first European explorers entered the region. For those that live in the region, life is probably pretty much the same as it was 150 years ago – isolated, dependent upon water, neighbors, adaptability, and endurance. Even with Tucson or Benson 40 or 50 miles away, you get a sense that you are a long ways from nowhere.

 

And The Highest Point In Tucson Is…

After years of planning and training, the time had come to tackle one the of peaks on my list – Tucson (City) High Point. After making sure I was provisioned, that my estate was in order, funds in place to cover the cost of a helicopter evac from the summit, and that I had cleared my browser history, I kissed my wife goodbye and set out for the far flung eastern corner of the Tucson corporate limits to make my ascent.

After parking the at the trailhead, the most daunting of obstacles presented itself – barbed wire fencing – damn! I’m in a good pair of jeans. Nonetheless, I was determined to forge ahead. Gently placing a hand upon the top strand, I pushed down and was able to get over without ripping new ventilation into my garments. Ahead I could see the summit. My goal was in sight. Putting one loafer encased foot after another, I deftly made my ascent in almost no time at all – about 1 second. After spending some time on the peak and logging in on the register, I made my way off the mountain to celebrate another peak bagged!

In all seriousness, this high point is listed on peakbagger.com, and is on the list of selected USA Selected City High Points. It is literally at the most far eastern corner of the Tucson corporate boundary. It is also a pimple on the surrounding desert. The high point is located at the northwest corner of the intersection of E Dawn Drive and E Shalom Dr in the Vail area.

The cairn and jar where the summit register is located
Tucson High Point summit register

This trip report was originally published at HikeArizona.com