Southern Arizona Trails
When hiking the higher trails in July or August, remember that afternoon thundershowers are an almost daily occurrence. Carry rain gear even if the morning weather is clear, and plan your itinerary so as to avoid exposed peaks and ridges (prime targets for lightning) during the afternoon. You may wish to visit the high country during dry periods in the winter; if you do, be prepared for subfreezing nighttime temperatures and unexpected snowstorms. Trips with very wide elevation ranges have no"ideal" hiking season; you will haveto decide if you wish to be hot down low or cold up high. Temperature extremes can be avoided somewhat by hiking in spring and fall.
Wildlife is still plentiful in these ranges. The huge herds of pronghorn antelope that once roamed the surrounding grasslands may be gone, but the mountains themselves still boast healthy populations of mule deer and Coues white-tailed deer, coatimundis, cougars, and bobcats. A few black bears either inhabit or visit each area, and some 35 or so desert bighorn sheep exceedingly shy creatures cling to existence in a rugged corner of the Santa Catalina Mountains. A variety of colorful, subtropical birds migrate northward each spring from Mexico and Central America to nest in the hardwood-forested canyons of the Chiricahua and Santa Rita ranges. There have even been rumors that jaguars long extinct in the United States occasionally stray into the Chiricahuas from the fastnesses of the Mexican Sierra Madre.
The southeastern ranges have long played an important role in the history of the region. In pre-Columbian times they provided the local Indians with plentiful game, reliable water, and relief from the sweltering heat of lowland summers. Later, following the invasion of the whites, they served as virtually impregnable wartime citadels. In Arizona's first "Indian uprising," a band of Pimas led by Luis Oacpicagua killed several Spanish settlers, then fled to the Santa Catalina Mountains. As a result of this revolt an army was stationed in the area, and a general escalation of hostilities promptly ensued. The Pimas were soon brought under military control, but not before the Apaches had joined the fray, and they were not to be so quickly conquered. For the next 80 years, in one of the longest wars in history, these hardened, highly skilled, and vastly outnumbered guerrilla fighters harassed first the Spaniards, then the Mexicans, and finally the Americans, holding continuous sway over vast tracts of disputed land, until the decimation of their ranks broke their resistance. Perhaps the most feared of the Apache bands were the Chiricahuas, who operated out of the mountains of the same name and, under the leadership of the likes of Cochise, Juh, and Golthlay (Geronimo), were the last to surrender to the whites.
Visit the ranges today and you will find not a trace of these bloody, protracted battles. What you will find is a penetrating sense of stillness and serenity, the excitement of storms, vistas that know no bounds, skies of the deepest blue. And you will come away feeling that these mountains are just as much worth fighting for today as they were during the heyday of the Apache.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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