The Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson, Arizona, have a looming and ominous presence. They are an undeniable landmark to the north of the city– seen for miles in all directions. Their peaceful sentry, however, hides some deep mysteries that continue to lure the risk takers.
The mountain range stretches and shape-shifts across the entire Tucson cityscape. The peak, at Mt. Lemmon, reaches 9,157 feet above sea level. A twenty-plus degree difference in temperature separates Tucson on the desert floor from the village of Summerhaven on top of Mt. Lemmon. Within the Santa Catalina range are several major landmarks: the Cañada del Oro (Canyon of Gold), Ventaña Canyon (The Window), the old Indian ruins, Samaniego Ridge and Oracle Ridge.
The Santa Catalina Mountains earn their name as a “sky island” since they jut out in the middle of the Sonoran desert. Named by Father Kino in 1697, they are now under the protection of the Coronado National Forest, and the Oracle and Catalina State Parks.
Besides its beauty, the Santa Catalina Mountains are also the source of mystique, lost treasure legends and a long documented history of precious metal mining. The history of the mountains is also displayed in Indian carvings found on boulders and the ruins near the canyon.
As prospectors, eager to find its riches staked out claims around the mountain range, they learned about the tales of the Santa Catalinas. When the settlers and prospectors arrived, they heard the tales of gold in the Canada del Oro and the lost Spanish Iron Door Mine. Those stories became part of Arizona’s early history.
Today hikers still find remnants from a long forgotten time– old mining tunnels, abandoned equipment, artifacts, arrastras, and stone ruins. Modern prospectors still hunch over the winding creeks hoping to pan some gold nuggets or even flakes.
The whole Santa Catalina mountain range had been engraved with gold, silver, and copper mostly embedded in quartz veins. A substantial amount of minerals have already been taken from the mountains. Yet, there is still more buried within those rocks.
The daunting mountains may seem quiet now. But there is a lot of forgotten history, as well as many legends, still to uncover.
Read more about the legends the Santa Catalina Mountains and the comprehensive book, “Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains,” by Robert E. Zucker.