Mount Lemmon is the pinnacle of the drive up the mountain. Even after the vast destruction by the 2003 Aspen Fire, the mountain is coming back to life. As you drive the newly rebuilt Mt. Lemmon highway, the damage done by the suspected careless cigarette is apparent. Yet, new plants and leaves still manage to sprout.
The Catalina Mountains are making an amazing comeback as new grasses, trees and shrubs start to sprout. A strong winter storm season helps to ensure a lot of spring growth and flowers.
Road projects are finished. If the weather looks like rain in Tucson, or snow on the mountain, be sure to call ahead to make sure the road is open- there is only one road up the mountain.
Photo: (top) Large saguaro cactus at the base of the Catalina Mountains near the entrance to the Coronado State Park.
(photo above) Looking towards the city of Tucson near the base of the Catalina Mountains. Photo by Yuki Saruwatari.
Driving Up Mt. Lemmon
By Peter Hunter
The drive up is quite a treat. Leaving the desert floor elevation of roughly 2,000 feet, one climbs almost 8,000 feet to the ski area where one may bask in the shadow of firs and pines common to the Arctic Circle. From there, depending upon the season, take an access road (on the north side of the ski area parking lot) up to Steward Observatory at the mountain's peak.
If you drive up to the observatory parking is available along the road. After leaving the car you can hike into the Coronado National Forest from any number of directions. For those who only want to camp, sites can be found anywhere within a 10-20 minute hike from the observatory. 1 have discovered quite a few isolated sites in this area that offer spectacular views.
For the money, the proximity and variety of campsites available at all altitudes make Mount Lemmon the best overnight camping prospect for Tucsonans.
For those who want to get on the mountain's trails there are a variety of options: the Mt. Lemmon and Wilderness of Rocks trails both run south-west from the peak. The former intersects with the Cathedral Rock Trail (running south), the Canada del Oro and Samaniego Ridge trails (running north) and the Sutherland Trail (running west), to name a few.
For more complete information regarding the trails and campsites on the mountain, as wen as the park's rules, stop at the National Park Service's Palisades Ranger Station when driving up the highway.
Reprinted from Entertainment Magazine 1993
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