While we have been in Arizona for a while now (coming up on 5 months actually). We have not done much exploring. Most of our time so far has been allocated to planning and shopping for the Casita. But this week we had some down time and decided to check out part of the Coronado National Forest and take the Mt. Lemmon Scenic Drive up to the summit of Mt. Lemmon. What an unexpected treat!! A neighbor had told us that it was awesome. They weren't kidding.
We left our 4,000 foot elevation RV Resort and headed up to Mt. Lemmon. As we drove to and through Tucson, we descended to 1900 feet, before climbing up to the top of Mt. Lemmon at 9,159 feet. What a difference that 7,200 feet of elevation makes. On the way we drove through the Sonoran Desert, up through craggy mountain sides and somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation we entered a conifer forest range. Sadly, while the sky was relatively clear, the atmospheric conditions were very hazy, so some of our long distance shots did not turn out as we would have liked. What we did discover however, was that it was MUCH greener in the higher elevations than we would have anticipated and we are now motivated to visit again, during the fall. Above, Bill got a nice shot of a cooperative butterfly, along with a gorgeous house overlooking the valley and Tucson below (below).
The Scenic Byway has numerous places to pull off and take pictures, or just enjoy the area. There are also numerous hiking trails along the way. The longer hiking trails will wait for cooler weather. But we still got in some short hikes and took over 500 photos, culling out 70 for the blog was a tough project in itself.
We had to Google the name of this Vista Point and not just for the pronunciation! Babad Do'ag (bah-bahd doe-awk) translates to "Frog Mountain" in English and is what the Tohono O'odham nation called the area. Additionally, 'Tucson' is also from the Tohono O'odham language and roughly translates to "the foot of the black hill."
There is a fair amount of Wildlife on the mountain. We saw quite an assortment, numerous birds, butterflies, a chipmunk, and Bill "claims" to have seen a black bear near the top of the mountain. However, by the time we got stopped and turned around, it was gone. But, lest any of our dear readers think he saw a tree stump masquerading as a bear, he thought that at first too, but then it moved and started walking away. Have not seen any stumps do that!!
We sometimes wonder where the local wildlife finds water in the desert. We found part of our answer in this canyon. The pools in this area are perpetual, indicating that they have water year round.
Saguaro Cactus do not start growing their "arms" until they are sixty years old. The one below is very definitely a baby. In about 55 years it will start growing arms and will live to 150-200 years old. It will be around long after we are, unless something happens in the canyon.
Intriguing rock formations....
Yep, we drove through this pass to get to our vantage point...
This slice of tree history was on display at the Palisades Visitor Center. It started growing in the early 1700's and was felled by a windstorm in 1952. It tells quite a story of the rainfall, fires, etc., over the course of it's 250 year lifespan.
Tucson is surrounded on the north and east by the Santa Catalina Mountains. Mt. Lemmon is the highest peak in the top center of the diorama below.
The forest on this part of the mountain contains species of Maple, Aspens and Oaks, as well as Ponderosa Pines. We can't wait to go back in the fall to see the colors. We understand that the Maples will have colors from yellow to purple on the trees at the same time.
Talk about a nice change of pace from the desert temps. At the top of Mt. Lemmon, it was 67 degrees F at 12:37 in the afternoon, as evidenced by the photo below from the truck's infotainment system. More on temperature changes to come.
With the cool temperature, hiking around the summit of Mt. Lemmon was enjoyable. Unfortunately, in the not too distant past, there was a forest fire that claimed some of the trees on the south side of the mountain top.
After we left the summit, we stopped for a bit to eat at the Iron Door, a rustic mountain restaurant with an out door patio in Ski Valley. This scene was impressive for a number of reasons. It demonstrates how very green it is at the top of the mountain. The ski resort has a putting green, and oh, yes, there is a ski resort, complete with a chairlift and 21 ski slopes in Southern Arizona. As recently as the first week of June the upper portion of the Scenic Byway was closed due to snow. Who knew????
The University of Arizona has an Observatory at the top of Mt. Lemmon. During 1956 to 1969, fighting the Cold War the Air Force built a radar station that was expanded to an observatory to be able to scan the skies for incoming enemy planes and missiles, or meteors from space. The Mt. Lemmon site was one of about 200 sites along the US coastlines and borders. Three high-powered, long-range radar sets were used at the world's highest continuously operated radar station" from 1956-1969.In addition to the towers, the 20-acre site hosted barracks, a dining hall, a library, hobby shop, small gym, a weight lifting room and a two-lane bowling alley with automatic pin setters, for the troops stationed there. Of the three towers the Army used one for it's own operations, but during the Vietnam War it too was closed due to budget cuts, leaving just a small robotic USAF radio site outside the main gate. Since 1970, and to this date, the Steward Observatory has operated astronomical facilities on Mt. Lemmon and Mt. Bigelow that have participated in the birth of infrared astronomy, the survey of the Moon for Apollo lunar landings and the search for near-Earth asteroids.
The 61-inch telescope, the largest in the Catalina Mountains is operated Steward Observatory and was built in the early 1960s to survey the moon in preparation for the upcoming lunar spacecraft landings. However there are a total of seven telescopes in the observatories operated in jointly by the University of Minnesota and the University of Arizona. The Steward Observatory Field Station operates in the Coronado National Forest under permit from the US Forest Service (USFS). This permit has covered the use of the facility for research purposes and for astronomy camps since the 1970s. It is said that in June, the Milky Way is even visible with one's bare eyes. Unfortunately by June we'll probably already on the road, traveling.
Proof that there really ARE bears on Mt. Lemmon... On our drive back Bill swears he saw a black bear but by the time we stopped and he jumped out of the truck to take his/her picture, it was nowhere to be found.
No, that is not snow in the distance, it is the play of light and shadow from the sun and clouds overhead.
As we drove down the mountain, it decided to rain and the temperature dropped even further, to 61 degrees.
Shots of a view through a rock crevice never get old. At least for some of us!
The waiting "chairs" in the restaurant were from the ski lift. So cute!
Another surprise in SE Arizona. A Ski Club!!
Mary was able to capture two birds circling above a Saguaro lined ridge (below). OK, so they were vultures, but Wildlife photographers have to take what they can get. There was also a hawk, but it was not cooperative, as by the time it got close enough to capture in a photo, it sailed behind the ridge, never to be seen again.
Below, some of the many beautiful wildflowers we saw along the way.
Prickly Pear cactus with ripe fruit.
A butterfly checking out these pretty purple flowers. There were a lot of these beauties....but capturing a photo proved to be a challenge. They are VERY quick!
We were curious to know the story behind the photo. The van was about 200 yards down the mountainside from the road and obviously had been there a while. So Bill took to Google.
Actually it has been there since March 21, 2000. Funny how just about anything can be found on the Internet with a little research. This van, driven by Manuel Montijo (41) crashed through the guard rail at the Seven Cataracts pullout (M9) and plunged rolling down to its present location. The Pima County Sherriff later found a suicide note left by Montijo at his residence. The van has been left in the ravine because it is too dangerous to try to get it out.
Bill and Edith at one of the Vista Points. Yep, Bill has lost weight.. So proud of him.
The restaurant patrons received a 5 star rating from this little guy.
We had this pretty blue jay guy watching over our lunch.....
More rock formations. There were just so many different cliffs and colors that deciding which were the best was difficult. It is a little difficult to see, but if you look carefully at the photo below, there are some narrow light gray strata in this cliff.
So WHAT is on his mind? Is he thinking about our next exploration? Checking out a critter? Trying to determine if we are lost? Anything is possible.
Hmmm, wouldn't it have been interesting to see how the wedge got that vertical position?
And then we were back down the mountain and into the outskirts of Tucson. And the temperature IS.........Yep, for those of you paying attention, there was a 40 degree temperature change from the upper mountain to the valley, a mere 51 minutes later. Love that air conditioning.