Santa Catalina Passage on the Arizona Trail
The rugged pinnacles and majestic ridgelines of the Santa Catalina Mountains dominate Tucson's eastern skyline. The epitome of mountain islands, this 250-million-year-old rock pile rises from a 2,200-foot Lower Sonoran Desert to the lofty, 9,157-foot Mount Lemmon, an ascent of almost 7,000 feet. The Santa Catalina Passage offers a fascinating view of vertical plant and animal communities as the route climbs from sweltering saguaro-dotted bajadas, through oak woodland, then pine forest, on its journey to the Canadian Zone. Roadrunners are a fond and favorite bird sighting in the Santa Catalinas.
The area offers magnificent vistas, campgrounds, Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, and the charming community of Summerhaven. One hundred seventy miles of trail lead to some of the most beautiful and remote country in Arizona. Larger mammals include white tail deer and black bear, and there is a dwindling population of bighorn sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness.
Hohokam sites from 1,200 years ago have been found in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Later, the area was frequented by the Tohono O'odham and Apache. It is believed that the Santa Catalinas were named by Father Kino, who first visited the area in 1692. In the 1870s and 1880s Soldier Camp, located south of Summerhaven, was used by Fort Lowell during campaigns against Apache Indians. Mount Lemmon was named for the wife of botanist John Lemmon after they climbed to its summit in the spring of 1881. In 1920 the dirt road (Old Mount Lemon Road) was built from Oracle to Summerhaven. The Catalina (also called the General Hitchcock Highway and the Mount Lemmon Highway) Highway was completed in 1950.
We've broken this trip into two parts. Part One travels 9.4 miles from Molino Basin, on the Catalina Highway, to Hutch's Pool, a site within the wilderness that is not accessible by vehicle. Part Two links to Part One, traveling 7 miles to a junction with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail, where we exit the Arizona Trail and follow the Wilderness of Rocks Trail another 5.3 miles to Summerhaven. The Santa Catalina Mountains Passage continues another 2.5 miles to a junction with the Mount Lemmon/Oracle Ridge Passage and a utility line road below Mount Lemmon. We also tell how to get to Summerhaven from Molino Basin on bicycle.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication