Palisade Trailhead to the Sabino Canyon Tram

by Charles Tuesday, November 15th 2011

There are quite a few reasons to like the Palisade Trail - easy access to a great section of Pine Canyon, great views of an outstanding Santa Catalina waterfall, great views of Thimble peak and Tucson... But the best thing about the Palisade Trail is that you can use it to take a journey from the pines to the cactus!

8:20 AM - Sabino Canyon parking lot - this is where we will end our hike so we leave one car here and take another car up the Catalina Highway. We head about 19 miles up the highway and make a left turn onto Organization Ridge Road – the turn is just after a set of restrooms (on the right) and before the Palisade ranger station (on the left). The Palisade trailhead is less than a half mile down Organization Ridge Road on the west side - just after the turn off for Shower's Point Campground. A dirt parking area and trail sign mark the start of the trail.

Palisade 1 

9:24 AM - After getting our gear together we head down the trail! The trail starts at about 7800 feet - we enjoy the cool air, tall pines and sounds of a small trickle of water in Palisade Canyon.

Palisade 2 

9:33 AM - After hiking for a few minutes there is a trail that comes in from the east - clearly signed 'no public access' – and a trail to the west. The trail to the west takes you to the bottom of Palisade Canyon (where there is usually some water to make this a nice diversion). Look west for good views of the Druid - a popular Tucson climbing area.

Palisade 3 

9:45 AM – The wilderness boundary sign - this marks the start of the descent into Pine canyon as trail moves to the east side of Organization Ridge. As you head down to Pine Canyon you start to move thru areas impacted by fire - dead tree trunks mix with new green growth.

10:15 AM - The trail levels out and passes within yards of Pine Canyon - a few different social trails will take you into a beautiful rocky area. A small set of falls is just a few minutes down canyon. This is a fantastic spot to spend a few minutes - or a few hours (or days!) - or use this as a turnaround point if you want a shorter hike.

Palisade 4 

10:35 AM - Mud Springs! The tank for Mud Springs is just off the trail to the west and there is an explosion of green as you approach. Watch your step - there is sometimes a slippery section of muddy trail (a rare treat in Tucson!) created by run off from the spring. A few minutes down trail you will cross a drainage that can be used as a rugged off-trail route down into Pine Canyon (it will arrive in Pine Canyon a few minutes below the falls marked on the USGS topo).

Palisade 5

10:55 AM - The trail has been of the west slope of Pine Canyon for the past 40 minutes - very spectacular - and now it moves back to the other side of the ridge. For the first time in about an hour we can see Palisade Canyon, now much deeper and more rugged than the simple stream near the beginning of the trail. As you move across the ridge the trail become harder to follow - but if you are attentive there are more than enough cairns to keep you on the trail.

Palisade 6

11:14 AM - Break time! We find a fantastic overlook and take a break. From here the trail takes a long and winding path down into Sabino Canyon.

Palisade 7

12:38 PM - Just a moment after crossing Sabino Canyon we come to the signed junction with the East Fork Trail. Take a left here and you will head up switchbacks, eventually arriving at another trail junction - at this junction you can head down the Bear Canyon Trail or take the trail past Sycamore Reservoir to the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area (both interesting alternatives to ending in Sabino Canyon). Take a right and you will be heading west towards the Sabino Canyon Trail and Tram stop #9!

1:06 PM - Just after the junction with the Box Camp Trail duck under a tree and you will be at the junction of the West Fork, East Fork and Sabino Canyon Trails! This is a great spot to take a break and catch your breath before heading uphill on the Sabino Canyon Trail. If you have time and are comfortable rock hopping off trail you might head down canyon - in less than 20 minutes you should find some great areas to get in the water and cool down!

Palisade 8

1:48 PM - Finally the junction with the Phoneline Trail - I am tired and it seems like forever to get to this junction! For a longer hike you could continue south on the Phoneline Trail - but we are (very!) tired and (very!) happy to head down to Tram Stop #9.

1:59 PM - Tram Stop #9 and the end of our hike!!!! There is almost no shade at the Tram stop but it doesn’t matter - we all sprawl out and wait for the tram. The current fee to take the tram down is $8 - you can walk the road, but at this point I was happy to hand over the $8... If you plan on taking the tram be sure to check the last time it will pick up at stop #9 and double check that it is currently running to stop #9.

My GPS reports that this hike is 10.88 miles - starting at 7,800 feet - in the Pines - and ending at just under 3,400 feet - with the cactus!

Trails

First Snow of the Season

by Tyler Clark Friday, November 11th 2011

Snow days are few and far between in Southern Arizona—and when they do come, you usually need to drive up a mountain to enjoy them.

Mt. Lemmon is the highest mountain in the Santa Catalina range just north of Tucson and resides at a modest 9,157 feet. While it isn’t the tallest point in Southern Arizona, it still offers wonderful views and occasional snowfall. It is usually in late December or early January that Mt. Lemmon receives a dusting of snow, causing throngs of excited Tucsonans to flock to the mountain to get a taste of winter. This year, however, it received some early season snow. Seizing the opportunity to go hike and play in a rare winter wonderland, my girlfriend and I headed up the mountain a few days after the first snow of the season.

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The drive up Mt. Lemmon is incredibly scenic and well worth the 25 miles and roughly 5,500 feet of elevation gain. Cacti and shrubs gave way to pines and shaded canyons before we spotted snow at about 7,000 feet. Wanting to find as much snow as possible, we drove all the way to Summerhaven at the very top of the mountain. From there, we continued to follow Catalina Highway until it dead-ended at the Marshall Gulch trailhead parking lot. When we climbed into the car down in Tucson, the car’s thermometer read 67 degrees; as we climbed out of the car to begin our hike, the thermometer revealed that it was a brisk 43 degrees.

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Undaunted, we set off across the icy parking lot and headed up Mt. Lemmon Trail #3 leading up to Marshall Saddle. Due to the sheltered conditions in the gulch, the trail was still covered in a few inches of snow and our Lowa Renegades crunched nosily as we progressed. The trail followed the partially frozen stream and crisscrossed it several times as we slowly climbed higher. The beauty of a landscape covered in snow is mesmerizing, especially to a native Tucsonan who typically only sees snow on the cover of mountaineering books or in the latest Alpinist magazine.

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By the time we reached the saddle, however, we were in the direct sunlight and the snow around us had vanished. Heating up from the uphill climb and the sun, I shed my Outdoor Research Albi Jacket, stowed it in my Deuter Speedlite 30, and continued on. Looking further down an adjacent trail into the Wilderness of Rocks, we were disappointed to see that much of that trail’s snow had already melted; we were hoping to find its strangely-shaped and precariously placed boulders covered in snow.

This caused us to change our hiking plans. Instead of going into the Wilderness, we headed south from the saddle along Aspen trail on a loop that would bring us back to our car. The trail traversed the south side of the mountain for a ways before heading north and back into the shade where the magical powdery white substance reappeared. The autumn leaves covering the snowy trail made for uniquely beautiful scenery.

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Unfortunately, many downed trees from the snow storm had fallen across the trail and made progress slow. Upon returning to the car, we found we were the last people left in the parking lot. This was not surprising, considering the handful of people we had run into on the trail.

Hungry and cooling down, we hurried over to a picnic table, donned warm clothing, and cooked up a surprisingly tasty dehydrated meal. After chowing down, we enjoyed some toasty hot chocolate before packing up and hurrying back down the mountain to reality and responsibilities. While we may have been a few days late to enjoy a fresh powder day and a snowy Wilderness of Rocks, the first snow of the season was still beautiful and fills my head with hopes of more snowfall (and a snow shoe trip later this season)!

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Trips

National Geographic BioBlitz – Saguaro National Park

by frank Thursday, October 27th 2011

On October 21st, Saguaro National Park hosted visitors, scientists, researchers, volunteers and students from across the country in an effort to inventory as many species as possible inside the park. I was able to participate in the event as a “Photo Ambassador” – which was fancy BioBlitz-speak for “guy with a camera”. As I made my way to BioBlitz on Friday morning, I was incredibly excited and inspired by the number of children participating in the event. There was bus-load after bus-load of kids enjoying displays of gila monsters, bugs and other desert creatures!

Basecamp, which is known as the Saguaro National Park Visitor Center the other 51-weeks of the year, was an amazing arena of science, discovery, festivities and camaraderie. At 11:30am they had an opening ceremony featuring Billy B – the “Natural Science Song and Dance Man” – singing and dancing with the kids. The ceremony also had speeches from the director of Saguaro National Park, a VP from National Geographic, and other dignitaries.

After the ceremony I made my way to the Science Tent to check in with the photo team. I skimmed the schedule for the next inventory and saw an insect team was heading out at 12:30pm. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I was not all that excited about going on a quest for tiny insects – it wasn’t as glamorous-sounding as tracking large mammals. However, I ended up having an amazing time – thanks, almost entirely, to the scientists on our team. Our crew consisted of 13 people. Four children, three volunteer adults, a writer from National Parks Magazine, two professional photographers, myself and two scientists from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago – Doug Taron and Celeste Troon.

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As we set out through a wash behind Basecamp, Doug and Celeste’s passion was quite apparent – as was the exuberance of the children! The kids had a great time running up and down the wash pointing out every little creature they could find. We came across some spiders, grasshoppers, ants, butterflies and more – all of which Doug was spouting off fancy-sounding names for as Celeste jotted them down on the list.

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Throughout the day the scientists used several techniques to identify each specimen. Some were kept in jars for further research, some were photographed, and some were sufficiently identified in the field. When they were placed into containers, they were passed around the group so everyone could get a better look. Doug and Celeste were incredibly patient with those of us who know nothing about bugs and were more than happy to answer questions about everything from bugs to what they do in their jobs back in Chicago.

After about 3 hours of wandering the desert in search of bugs, we made our way back to Basecamp. There, we indulged in an incredibly tasty Prickly Pear Eegee (for those of you not from Tucson, it’s a delicious frozen fruit drink that doesn’t usually come in Prickly Pear flavor). I checked back in at the Photo Ambassadors table and uploaded my photos and made my way back to town.

The results of the inventory are still being finalized but at this point there were over 800 species inventoried, over 400 of which were new to the Saguaro National Park species list, and a few of those were potentially never-before documented. It was incredibly special to be a part of this great event. It was put on by an exceptionally passionate and dedicated team of hundreds from National Geographic, the National Parks Service, Friends of Saguaro National Park, and other supporters. Then there was the huge number of scientists and an impressive number of volunteers. Thanks to everyone who was part of this effort and I hope those of you that participated had as great of an experience as I did!

Events

Tilley Hats

by Jonathan Thursday, October 27th 2011

In the great Southwest, sunshine is one of our greatest natural resources. Here, hats are not an accessory, they are a necessity.

Over the years, I've collected a couple of dozen hats, but when I go afield or a float these days, I always grab a Tilley.

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Backpacking in southern Arizona

My general purpose “go to” hat is the venerable LTM3. It's a lightweight nylon fabric hat with a medium brim and the ventilated crown. The brim also snaps up “Aussie-style”. This hat works anywhere, and for just about any occasion. The width of the brim is a good balance between sun protection and wind resistance. It is so light, I often forget that I am wearing it.

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Climbing Weaver’s Needle in the Superstition Mountains

For those summer days when the cicadas are singing, and you can't see the horizon for the heat aberration, I pull out the trustee T2. This wide-brimmed hat is made from a breathable cotton duck. The “natural” color is actually an off white that does a good job of reflecting much of the sun's energy. Wearing this hat is like wearing a beach umbrella.

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A hot day on the A.B. Young trail north of Sedona

Both of these hats, have a dark olive underbrim (to minimize reflected light), and they are washable. In fact, you can machine wash them on the gentle cycle. Tilley recommends washing them often, because it does prolong the life of the products, and in my opinion, makes them much more pleasant to wear. Sometimes, even the nylon fabric LTM three will shrink some; however, by hooking the hat on your knee, you can tug it back to a perfect fit.

Once I was sailing near the mouth of San Diego Bay. A wind gust came around point Loma, separated me from my LTM3, and overboard went the hat. This was a case of operator error, as the hat had retention cords both for the chin and the back of the head which I failed to employ. We gave up the search after about half an hour and turned back toward the bay. A few minutes later, we spotted it dead ahead, waterlogged but still afloat. It was still floating thanks to the layer of closed cell foam in the top of the crown–a feature immune to operator error.

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Sailing out of San Diego Bay. Point Loma in the background

The features, the quality materials and manufacturing, make Tilley a superb line of products. As if that were not enough, the warrantee includes normal wear and tear. If your hat wears out, send it to the Tilley folks and they will replace it free of charge. Dude, that's awesome!

Try a Tilley hat. You will love it, and it may be the last hat you ever buy.

Gear

The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!

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