|From near the summit of Mt Lemmon|
"Sky Islands" are perhaps the most fitting term for this highly distinctive environment. The floor of the Sonoran Desert is variable- ranging from 2,000-3,000 ft near Tuscon and between 4,000-5,000ft near Sierra Vista and Douglas. Compare this to the summits of most of the mountain ranges which are 9,000-10,000ft. At the bottom, temperatures routinely sore into the 100's and 110s in the summer while the mountains maintain a pleasant 60-70s. Life adapts appropriately and it creates a Galapagos-like in biodiversity. In this case, its not an ocean that separates the "islands" but rather a hot desert.
|Blooming Saguaro on the highway up Mt Lemmon|
I loved how the stately Saguaros of the desert gave way to lush evergreen forests. Rocky hoodoos also rose at the higher elevations. What was supposed to be a straightforward drive took me at least two and a half hours with my constant stops and side hikes. Even at that pace, I felt rushed!
Here's a map of the approximate route I took-
The trail stays in a protected and shady canyon for the first mile and a quarter. There's a smell of pine trees in the sun that I always associate with tranquility and memories of my first hikes in the Sierra Nevada. That first mile of the hike was powerfully nostalgic. Months of drab midwestern winter blues melted away.
Emerging from the canyon at Marshall Saddle, the views start to open up. Past forest fires have laid some patchs almost completely bare. Unfortunately the forest fires are the product of strict fire management in the past before we realized that low-level forest fires are a natural part of the Arizona environment. Nevertheless, the views really open up in these sections with the entire Tuscon Valley and the Rincon Mountains in plain sight. I kept my camera out constantly for pictures.
You can hike Mt Lemmon in an all day blitz from the valley floor or make it a drive. I suppose this hike is the best of both worlds- I was able to enjoy the scenic byway but also have some wilderness and solitude in my trip to the summit. Any map of Mt Lemmon will show you that this is one of perhaps several dozen ways to get to the summit and I'd like to hike an all day trek next time. But I had more Sky Islands to see and I was off to a great start!