About Mt Lemmon
Speechless ~ The Road to the Top!
Everybody seemed to be talking about Mt Lemmon. Even Phillip, who we met at Chiricahua National Monument, on our way here, had given us a heads-up on Mt Lemmon. This mountain located 41.5 miles from our campsite, is very visible from our dinning room window. It is in the Santa Catalina mountain range. Driving to Mt Lemmon involves about 10 miles of city driving. The outskirts of Tucson reveals small foothills with million dollar views! This doesn’t include the multi-million dollar cost of the Casa’s (homes).
The Mountain Road ~ Winding and Switching back and Forth!
The terrain is still covered with sparse brush and varied desert plants. Soon the road climbs a little higher and around the first of many bends the Saguaro Cactus appear! Like a forest of telephone poles, most of them have no arms or limbs. We later learned that it takes 60 plus years for limbs to develop. These Cactus obviously can live to 200 years old. They can also grow to 15 to 20 feet in length. During the “Monson” season (July, Aug and Sep) they can store large quantities of water in their trunks. The trunks are pleated and when water is stored, the trunks can easily expand. They can survive for 2 years without additional water.
Remember, Looking Down Was Just One Switchback Away!
Don’t You Just Love Rock Formations!
The word switchbacks refers to U-turns to gain elevation in a small footprint. Well that is an understatement. The road is adequately wide and well paved. They did a lot of planning on this mountain climb, because several pull off parking places and rest areas dot the road up the mountain. Our first overlook was of Tucson, at a relative low altitude overlook. Not exceptional, but inspiring that more would come as we traveled. We had just, so far traveled a couple of miles of steep grades, another 28 miles of grade would follow. It wasn’t that further up the road that the Saguaro Cactus petered out. More rock outcroppings appeared regularly. We are “Rock Lovers!” My new dash-cam is working great. I am learning how to save the important (to us) 5 minute clips on my laptop. Well at first I was trying to save them to the iCloud, but at 580MB per 5 min clip, wasn’t working at all with the WiFi. I didn’t want to overload my laptop, so the best option for me was to save the important stuff to my portable external hard drive. This is a 1TB drive (WD Elements) I hope to be able to upload some to You Tube and have a link in the blog.
HooDoo Vista Point
The Traffic and the Views!
Surprisingly, a lot of people are on this mountain daily. There are signs that say, “Tire chains required,” at least when snowing. No snow today or even this fall. It was in the low 80’s in Tucson metro area and the forecast for the summit was for 61 degrees. You’ve got to realize that the summit is at 9,145 feet above sea level! Tucson is around 2,388 ft in the valley. It is the best time for a visit to the top, especially for a little hiking.
Most of the traffic was moving slowly and admiring the views. The most popular overlook is called Wind Vista Point! Here we found a good size parking area and a lot of cars and people. It’s one of those places where you can walk out onto the ledges and grab one of those shots that makes the viewer think you’re on the edge. Well that is particularly true, but most times there is no danger! I say that with tongue in cheek! Example: Parents with small kids, around 4 to 5 years old, not controlling their kids, were a concern to me. The father says to his daughter, “if you see a snake let me know”, this is after she’s going down a very steep incline with no adult within reach.
Nearing the Top of Mt Lemmon
The terrain now changing again. From many outcroppings of ledge and rocks to very large pine trees. One would think that we would have been in an Alpine environment at 9,000 plus feet, but we weren’t. Reaching near the summit was a fork in the road, going left, which we took and it brought us to an Alpine style village with cottages dotting the mountain side. The village about a half mile long had restaurants, gift shops and people walking around. I soon realized that this road was coming to a dead-end. I had missed my turn onto Ski Run Rd. The road now narrowed considerably and climbed at a steeper rate. Nearing the forested top, the Iron Door restaurant was on the right overlooking the ski lift across the street. No skiing or snow, but a lot of people enjoying the afternoon sun.
The Private Road!
Two hundred feet beyond the restaurant an open gate with a sign that read, “Not a National Forest maintained road, pass at you own risk.” This is always a people stopper. I had plugged into my GPS “Meadow 5a” trail. It indicated that is was further up the now very narrow road. Always a sign for adventure! Off, I started, up the very winding road, Helen being a little apprehensive. Around the next corner, two bikes coming down the hill at full speed. They were not coasting, but pedaling, I stayed on my side of road, as they flew by. At least, I knew people were ahead, on top of the mountain. Through the tall trees, I spotted an observatory dome. I knew we were close to the summit. two more curves and we reached a locked, closed gate. To my left a parking lot with maybe 20 cars, I turned into the lot, but it was full. I backed out and was able to park next to the locked gate.
The Picnic and the Plan
It was time for a late lunch. At the end of the parking lot was a picnic table. A sign indicating that we were, now again, in a fee area and part of the National Forest. People were coming and going from several directions. The Mt Lemmon trail, the Meadow 5a trail, the observatory and the parking lot. The picnic hit the spot. It was time to take on the Meadow 5a tail!
Meadow 5a Trail
I picked this trail because it was relatively easy. Only 320 feet of elevation from one end to the other. We would hike the meadow and return the same way. We could have looped around and joined the Mt Lemmon trail, but it was a moderate to difficult trail. My thoughts were to take it easy on our first Arizona hike. I was so right! At 9,145 feet the air is thin and I was sucking for wind constantly. Nothing serious, but my 72-1/2 years were telling me that I wasn’t ready for Everest. Helen on the other hand didn’t seem to be bothered.
Meadow 5a Trail on top of Mt Lemmon
The Split with Helen
The trail followed the observatory fence line for a while. The sun shining on us, the temperature, at truck read 63º F and it was about the same on the trail. Soon we were in the tall pines with sun filtering through. It was like the golden hour for photographers. The view here was of the forest, but as we crested the knoll, I could see distant mountain ranges, probably the Rincon Mountains to the Southeast. Just a little further, closer mountains revealed layers of color, dark green closer to us followed by blueish mountains and beyond that Tucson and its fast metropolitan area covered in a light smog. We were told that the smog only happens in the winter months when the temperature inversion kept it trapped by the mountains.
Rincon Mountains ~ Southeast of Tucson
Needless to say, if you own a camera or phone for that matter, there are many opportunities to photograph nature, people and landscapes. I may never print all those photos, but looking at them, on the computer, will bring back wonderful memories!
Trippel Mountain Ranges
That is what we saw and did!