Agua Caliente Hill

by Dave Baker Friday, February 13th 2009

Arizona peak baggers can be forgiven if they sometimes overlook Agua Caliente Hill. Bagging a “hill” doesn’t sound quite right, and Agua Caliente does look a little insignificant when viewed from many places in the Tucson valley. Located on the far east side of the Tucson valley, Agua Caliente Hill is the high point sandwiched between the much higher Santa Catalina and Rincon Mountains.

Agua Caliente Hill: Catalinas are left, Rincons to the right

Hill or peak? Agua Caliente Hill, east of Tucson

Forest Service Trail #46 provides a convenient and scenic route to the top of Agua Caliente Hill, though after reaching the summit, I guarantee you will question the use of the term “hill” in Agua Caliente’s name.

This is a good hike. It starts on the desert floor and ends on a summit covered with grasses and dotted with oak and juniper trees. The trail tends to favor ridge lines as it climbs towards the peak, treating walkers to pleasant and always changing vistas.

Sonoran landscapes down low

Once on top, there is a lot to stare at, including unusual views of the Rincon and Catalina Mountains, as well as a look east across the San Pedro Valley to the Galiuro Mountains and distant Mount Graham. However, many hikers will choose to forego the climb to the summit, and instead enjoy a shorter outing on the very scenic lower stretches of the trail.

Grasses, oak and juniper up high

To reach the trailhead, follow Tanque Verde Road to the Tucson valley’s far east side and turn left (north) onto Soldier Trail, and then about a mile later turn right (east) onto Fort Lowell Road. When Fort Lowell crosses Wentworth road, its name changes to Camino Ancho. Continue on Camino Ancho, and turn left on Camino Remuda, following it for about 0.3 mi before turning left (north) again. Watch for the Forest Service parking lot on the right (east) side of the road about 0.2 mile later. The trail leaves the north end of the parking lot and is marked with a sign: “AGUA CALIENTE HILL TR. #46”.

After about 2.6 miles, the trail reaches a high saddle, and a trail junction with Forest Road #4445 which drops north into Agua Caliente Canyon. At the junction take the east fork and continue the climb towards the Agua Caliente summit, some 1.8 miles away.

Season: Fall, winter and spring. This hike can be hot, especially in the summer.

Water: None; bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Somewhat strenuous. The trail is about 4.5 miles one way. It climbs from around 2,970 feet at the trailhead to 5,369 feet at the summit, for a 2,400 foot total elevation gain.

Maps: USGS Agua Caliente Hill AZ, or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.



Click Map for larger image

Trails | Trails

Chlorine Dioxide

by Dave Baker Tuesday, February 10th 2009

Water purification in the backcountry is a vexing problem without a completely satisfactory solution as far as I am concerned. Over the coming months I’ll be discussing several water purification products on this blog.

For the past few years I have been relying almost exclusively upon Katadyn Micropur MP1 purification tablets, which is a chlorine dioxide system.

Micropur MP1

Hundreds of municipalities around the world use chlorine dioxide technology to disinfect public water supplies. It can be effective against bacteria, virus, and protozoa including Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

I like using Micropur tablets because they are very lightweight and easy to use. Excuse the whining, but I have become annoyed with the weight of pump filters and the effort required to pump water.

Each Micropur tablet treats a liter of water, so getting the dose right is quick and easy. The tablets are individually packaged and sealed, and Katadyn claims a 5 year shelf life from time of manufacturing; an expiration date is stamped along the edge of the packaging strip. Unlike tablets packaged together in pill bottles, you don’t have to worry about the unused tablets losing their effectiveness because of exposure to air. Thus the individually packaged Micropur tablets are suitable for use in seldom used emergency kits or as a light and compact backup for pump filters and other mechanical purification devices.

Tablets are individually sealed

Scissors or a knife are needed to remove each tablet from its sealed pouch

The instructions on Micropur packaging states that once placed into contaminated water, tablets must “react for 4 hours” before the water is suitable for drinking. Four hours is a long time!

In a separately published information brochure, Katadyn addresses this issue. The EPA demands that the product packaging show only the wait time for cold and dirty water (“EPA Water #2"), very challenging water to treat. In such challenging conditions, Katadyn claims Micropur kills bacteria and virus in 15 minutes, but kills Giardia and Cryptosporidium in 4 hours.

However, in clear, warmer water (“EPA Water #1”), Katadyn claims Micropur kills bacteria and virus in 15 minutes; and kills Giardia and Cryptosporidium in 30 minutes. Take time to read the brochure for all the important details on this topic.

So, one downside of using Micropur tablets is the need for thinking ahead about your water needs. I take full advantage of night camps whenever possible to treat contaminated water for 8 or more hours for use the following day; and while hiking, attempt to have enough treated water on hand when I reach a contaminated water source I intend to take water from, in order to comfortably allow for an appropriate wait time.

Chlorine dioxide does impart a taste to the water, especially if the water is consumed immediately after the treatment time has expired, though the taste will diminish with more time. I do not find the taste particularly objectionable. For me it is far more pleasant than iodine treated water, and doesn’t taste much different than some municipal water I have run across.


Elephant Head Pilgrimage

by Dave Baker Friday, January 30th 2009

Cruising along I-19 from Tucson towards Nogales, I often risk becoming distracted and taking my attention off the important task of driving safely along the interstate. The problem is not a preoccupation with the car stereo, jabbering away on a cell phone or texting messages.

Nope, the issue along this stretch of highway is Elephant Head, a massive granite peak that sweeps majestically skyward at the western end of the Santa Rita Mountains. Elephant Head is hard not to look at! And, the climb to its summit makes for a classic southern Arizona outing.

Elephant Head

Elephant Head from the mouth of Chino Canyon

Two routes are described here to Elephant Head; one from the mouth of Chino Canyon and a shorter route starting in Agua Caliente Canyon. The trailheads for both of these hikes are on dirt roads.

The drive to the Chino Canyon trailhead requires a high clearance vehicle; though with four wheel drive, one might be able to drive further than this description suggests, depending upon current conditions of the rough road snaking up Chino Canyon. On my last trip there, we took a look at the first four wheel drive obstacle and decided to park and walk the full distance.

Reaching the Agua Caliente trailhead is easier; medium clearance vehicles should not have problems.

2nd class scrambling

Elephant Head summit ridge

The two hiking routes join at the head of Chino Basin, and then follow a decaying road bed that once served the abandoned Quantrell Mine, high up in Chino Canyon. Roughly a mile short of the mine, an unmaintained hiker’s route to Elephant Head leaves the road and plunges steeply into upper Chino Canyon and then climbs to the broad saddle east of the peak. From the saddle, it is a short walk to the beginning of the rocky summit ridge with its 2nd and sometimes 3rd class terrain. The summit ridge drops dramatically away on both sides, but one can usually avoid undue exposure during the scramble to the summit. Once on top, Elephant Head rewards hikers with its famed “Elephant Shrine”, and sweeping views across southern Arizona.

The "Elephant Shrine"

The “Elephant Shrine”; with Baboquivari Peak in the distance.

From Chino Canyon: The Chino Canyon hike is about 5.8 miles one way with a 2,200 foot elevation gain to reach the summit, and a 400 foot gain on the return hike for a total 2,600 foot climb. To reach the trailhead (31.74189 N, 110.95335 W, WGS84), leave I-19 at Exit 56, Canoa Road, and turn south on the frontage road on the east side of the interstate. After 3 miles, turn left (east) on Elephant Head Road and drive for 1.6 miles turning left (north) onto Canoa Drive. Drive 2.1 miles, then turn right (east) on Hawk Drive and follow this road till it ends near a sign that says “Elephant Bike Trail 4”. Behind this sign, follow a dirt road for 0.8 miles where you bear right; 0.8 miles later bear left through a gate. About 0.4 miles later watch for a Carsonite post marked “4073” where you turn right. A short distance later the dirt road crosses Madera Canyon wash; we parked short of the wash and began our walk, continuing along the dirt road into Chino Canyon. Following the jeep road up Chino Canyon, walk high up into Chino Basin where the road finally swings north, traversing a steep mountainside. Look for a rock cairn (31.71369 N, 110.93517 W, WGS84) on the side of the road, which marks the beginning of the hiker’s route taking off downhill towards Elephant Head.

From Agua Caliente Canyon: This hike is about 3 miles one way, with a 1,600 foot elevation gain to reach the peak, and the same 400 foot gain on the return walk for a total 2,000 foot climb. Drive I-19, exiting at Canoa Road (Exit 56), then turn south on the frontage road on the east side of the interstate. After 3 miles, turn left (east) on Elephant Head Road and drive for about 1.5 miles before turning right onto Mount Hopkins Road. 5.5 miles later watch for a dirt road (Forest Service Road 183) which turns left into Agua Caliente Canyon. About 2.5 miles up FS 183, watch for a Carsonite sign on the left side of the road, “TRAIL 930”, marking the trailhead (31.69549 N, 110.929 W, WGS84). After walking Trail 930 for about a mile you will run into the Chino Canyon road described above. Turn right (north) on the old mining road and walk to the rock cairn (31.71369 N, 110.93517 W, WGS84), marking the start of the hiker’s route to Elephant Head.

Walking the hiker's route

On the hiker’s route

Season: Fall, winter and spring. This hike can be hot, especially in the summer.

Water: Seasonal water in upper Chino Canyon; bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Advanced. Moderately strenuous. The hiker’s route described here is not a constructed trail, but it is pretty well beat in. One does need to be somewhat attentive and watch for numerous rock cairns marking the way. The summit ridge involves non-technical 2nd class and occasionally 3rd class rock scrambling. Exposure can generally be avoided on the summit ridge; if you find yourself making an exposed move, you are probably off route. But do take care, there is potential for long, dangerous falls on this route.

Maps: USGS Mt Hopkins AZ, Green Trails Santa Rita Mountains, or National Geographic Arizona digital map software. (The Green Trails map shows the hiker’s route.)


Click Map for larger image


SPOT Revisited

by Dave Baker Monday, January 26th 2009

Last month I reviewed the SPOT Satellite Messenger in a blog entry titled “See SPOT”. In the review I reported that while using SPOT on the Arizona Trail, I experienced an 80% transmission success rate, speculating that the failed transmissions were due to hillsides or foliage blocking SPOT’s view of the sky.

Last week I attended the major trade show of the outdoor industry, the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, in Salt Lake City. I stopped by the SPOT booth and talked to Donnie Hatch of Spot, Inc. about the transmission success rate I had experienced using SPOT.

Donnie was instantly interested, and asked “How did you orient your SPOT during transmissions?” I told him that I typically propped my SPOT up in an upright position, assuming that the antenna was located at the top of the device.

Donnie then told me that SPOT’s antenna was located under the face of the device, below the SPOT logo. He went on to say that for best transmission results it is very important to set SPOT on its back, with the face of SPOT oriented skywards. Though this information is not currently available in the materials that are packaged with SPOT, a tech article about this topic is available online here.


Right (above);   wrong (below)



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!