Mike Breiding's Epic Road Trips: Tucson Winter: 2020 - 2021

Hiking and Biking and More

Quick Takes

Just a few snapshots from each event

Sunday, November the 8th
A Morning Stroll in our "Back Yard"

This morning Betsy and I walked out the door at 9:00 for the start of our hike. After about a half mile walk down Circle Z and up Sarasota we were at the trail head. The weather was perfect this morning - in the 50s with predicted highs in the 60s and sunny skies with a light breeze.

Sarasota trail head and hiking route map - 6.5 miles

Our hike would take us along the south facing flank of Little Cat Mountain, through Starr Pass (aka "The Cat's Crack"), across the Star Valley then along the eastern edge of the valley to a switch backed climb up a ridge where we took a break at the Barney Rubble pic-nic area.
After snacks we hiked back down into the valley, crossed over and then back through the Cat's Crack, along Little Cat, then down to the trail head and back home for a total of 6.5 miles.

As might be expected on a beautiful Sunday morning we shared the trails with a few others. Some hiking and some biking. When passing we always stepped well off the trail if others did not.

Click on the photos below for a larger image.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The hike's beginning.
Here we are on the south flank of Little Cat looking towards Big Cat (aka "Crouching Cat") mountain and The Cat's Crack.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The hike's end.
This is looking west towards Golden Gate Mountain, Gates Pass and Bren Mountian.
Although crispy dry from a summer of endless triple digits and practically no rain the desert has retained its beauty.

◊ A Morning Stroll in our "Back Yard"    ◊ Our Covid Winter    ◊ Santa Rita Mts: Beth Gives us a Workout!    ◊ Tucson Weather - the Dry and the Wet of it    ◊ Hiking in the Golder Ranch    ◊ Triple Header    ◊ Betsy's Avian Adventure


Friday, December the 11th 2020
Our COVID Winter - My How things Have Changed

The December 10th online version of azcentral.com reported Arizona is now No. 1 in the nation for COVID-19 spread. The City of Tucson has implemented what seems to me a pointless and ineffectual curfew to help curtail the spread.
On December the 4th the Pima County Board of Supervisors issued a resolution which

"requires everyone to wear masks or face coverings when in public and cannot easily maintain a continuous distance of at least six feet from others. The Resolution also mandates businesses require customers to wear masks.
Violations of the Resolution are enforced as a civil infraction with a fine. Individual violators face a $50 fine and businesses face a $500 fine and possible loss of permit or license to operate."

Although masking up and distancing would certainly be of help in limiting the spread, the compliance and enforcement of this resolution seems to me to be a cumbersome and time consuming process which again seems mostly pointless and ineffectual.

At the state level Governor Doug Ducey apparently feels nothing needs to be done to slow down the spread of COVID in spite of the fact Arizona is now No. 1 in the nation for COVID-19 spread.
More than one Arizona Mayor has asked Mr Ducey to put in place statewide measures to help curb the spread of COVID, but these pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
It appears that anything which will impede business as usual is a no-no and there has been no state wide mandate for masking and no closures of bars and indoor dining areas and there has been no requirements that visitors to Arizona get tested or quarantine upon arrival to try to prevent further spread of the virus. And so the spread continues.

Locally, here in Tucson Estates there are now both residents and staff who have tested positive and so all indoor facilities are closed and only lap swimming is allowed in the pool. Tennis, golf, etc are still permitted which I think is too risky given the laissez faire attitude of some people.

Hiking? Last year Betsy and I were leading 2 to 3 hikes a week with groups of 12. We had regulars we saw every week but there were always new people coming in and out of the hikes. That is one of the reasons I enjoyed leading hikes - meeting all those new people.

My how things had changed for this COVID winter. We are not attending and not leading group hikes and not participating in any other group activities.
And no line dancing and chorus for Betsy which she really enjoyed and really misses. She has been taking some Zoom line dancing classes but they are a bit cumbersome to participate in. But she still enjoys it.
And of course it goes without saying there has been no indoor restaurant dining for us. So far Betsy and I have dined out just once on the patio at the Cup Cafe and I went there for lunch last week with my cycling buddy Jim. But that's it - only twice. Very different from last year when we went out once a week.
We are still going out for groceries but try to time it when there are the least number of people in the stores.

Back to hiking. We are now hiking with just 8 people each week. The same 8 people. Before this was agreed upon we felt we had all vetted each other as it relates to risky behavior like being a participant in any group activities whether indoors or out. We mask up on the trail and also step off the trail as other hikers approach.
By the time April rolls around we may all be sick and tired of each other!

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Meet John and Janet - 2 of the 8 hikers we are fortunate to be able get out on the trails with. In the background is Panther Peak in the Tucson Mountains.

We first met John and Janet several years ago at a "Meet the Monument" event at nearby Ironwood National Monument.
J&J had noticed our WV licence plate and as they were originally from the Upper Ohio Valley they stopped to introduce themselves and chat a bit. J&J then started signing up for my hikes hosted via MeetUp.
At some point J&J asked me if I had been up to Panther Peak. I said I had not. Would I like to go? U bet! And that was the beginning of several hiking firsts J&J took me on, as well as nearby Safford Peak (aka Sombrero). The others being Elephant Head in the Santa Ritas, and more recently they guided Betsy and I us through the maze of trails in the Sweetwater Preserve and the fabuous Cowboy Slickrock of the Golder Ranch area in the far north reaches of the Catalina Mountains.

Recently we met John and Janet for our hike in the Sweetwater Preserve which is just a short drive from our house. I had been there just once before for a short stroll but had not returned. Why I do not know.

The Sweetwater Preserve is a 880+ acre preserve located in the eastern foothills of the Tucson Mountains of Southern Arizona, west of Tucson. Within approximately one-half mile of the Preserve are Saguaro National Park’s Tucson Mountain District, and a biological research preserve owned by the University of Arizona. Tucson Mountain Park is also located a short distance to the south.

The lands that comprise the Sweetwater Preserve were acquired using monies from the 2004 Open Space Bond measure. The community strongly supported acquisition of this property and worked diligently to realize the establishment of this preserve.

County crews and volunteers have built 15 miles of trails in the preserve, which was ranked #4 in the nation in Singletracks.com, an online mountain bicycling magazine. While the trails are enjoyed by equestrians, hikers, dog walkers and trail runners, it is highly popular with mountain bikers, both local and visitors. Trails are suitable for beginner and intermediate level riders.

Source: Copyright © 2020, Pima County Arizona

15 miles of trails on 880+ acres may sound cramped but the gently rolling terrain keeps most users out of sight of each other.

Our hike with John and Janet was 5.5 miles with about 500 feet of total elevation gain. A gentle stroll more than a hike and very relaxing.

Route map for the Sweetwater Preserve hike with John and Janet

Here is a thumbnail image of the hike route. If you click on the image it will take you to the full sized map I made on Google MyMaps.

Click on the photos below for a larger image.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

800 hundred acres of now protected Sonoran Desert makes for some beautiful scenery. The summit at the center is Wasson Peak which at 4,688' is the highest point in the Tucson Mountain range.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

In spite of one of the hottest, driest summers on record most of the Saguaros we saw were still looking pretty good.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

It is not often we come across a barrel cactus this size but we do see them on occasion.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

I took this photo in October of 2019 at the intersection of the Yetman and Bowen trails. Sadly this barrel cactus is now no more than a fallen giant.

And there you have it - a quick take and few snapshots of our hike at the Sweetwater Preserve in the Tucson Mountains.
Thanks, John and Janet!

◊ A Morning Stroll in our "Back Yard"    ◊ Our Covid Winter    ◊ Santa Rita Mts: Beth Gives us a Workout!    ◊ Tucson Weather - the Dry and the Wet of it    ◊ Hiking in the Golder Ranch    ◊ Triple Header    ◊ Betsy's Avian Adventure


Wednesday, December the 16th
The Santa Rita Mountains:
8 miles and 3000' of pure hikin' pleasure.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Meet Kathy, Liane and Beth
(2 seniors, 1 junior)

I mentioned previously how over the span of 8 years of leading hikes I had met so many fun and interesting people. Many hikers would join in once and never be seen again, some were in and out of hikes and some became "regulars".
Kathy, Liane and Beth were amongst the regulars and I am glad of it. And last winter the 4 of us decided we would meet once a week for hikes which would take us all to places we had not been before. Lots of fun and lots of exercise! Kathy, Liane and Beth are all stronger hikers than I am so it has at times been challenging for me.

Unfortunately this winter Kathy is not with us (boo-hoo...) but I hope that will change when this crazy COVID time gets back to normal.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Speaking of "challenging". Leave it to Beth to suggest this one: 8 miles and 3000' of elevation gain. And if you click on the above image of the route elevation profile you will see most of that elevation gain was in the first 2 miles. What does that mean? Steep, baby - STEEP! And on top of that it was colder than a witch's titty when we started this hike.

This hike started at the head of Madera Canyon at an elevation of 5400' feet. The Madera Canyon is north facing and so gets little sun in the winter. This combined with the elevation makes it considerably cooler than the Tucson basin. Great in the summer. The winter? - not so much.

Route map

Here is a thumb nail view of the hike route. If you want to see the Big Picture you can check out this map I made on MyMaps.
This hike started out on the Old Baldy Trail and then shortly we intersected the Vault Mine Trail which climbs and climbs and climbs... You get the picture.

Beth took the lead on today's hike and set a pace that both Liane and I found quite agreeable.
Oh, did I mention Liane injured her foot hiking just two days prior to this hike? Did that stop her from going? No. And even though it was obvious she was in pain and favoring her left foot the entire hike she complained not once. Me? I wouldn't even have shown up!

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

All the elevation gain provided us with some fine views. Seen here is the mouth of Madera Canyon, the Tucson basin and the Catalina Mountains.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Here are Liane and Beth at the entrance to (Treasure) Vault Mine for which the trail is named. Copper, zinc, silver, lead, and gold were mined here.

Workings include a shaft and 2 tunnels separated by 80 feet vertically. The tunnels are driven eastward in a ridge that separates the head forks of Agua Caliente Canyon. The lower tunnel is 135 feet long, and from it a 30 foot long crosscut has been driven to the south. The shaft is 100 feet deep and is located 100 feet above the upper tunnel, which is 80 feet long and caved.
It was discovered in 1899 and is (was ?) owned by the Santa Rita Mining Co., of Tucson

Source: mindat.org

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Beth snapped this picture of Liane and me.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Our first look at Mt Wrightson, aka Old Baldy, the highest peak in the Santa Rita Mountains at 9456'. The second highest peak in the Santa Rita Mountains is Mt Hopkins at 8,553'.

Wrightson and Hopkins were killed by Apache Indians at the Battle of Fort Buchanan.

The battle began on the morning of February 17 twelve miles away from the fort when two surveyors of the General Land Office and a young Mexican boy were attacked. William Wrightson and Gilbert W. Hopkins were traveling from a ranch in the Santa Ritas towards the fort, presently three miles west of Sonoita.
Suddenly, dozens of Apache warriors opened fire with both rifles and bows. All were mounted and so a chase ensued in the direction of Fort Buchanan. The three had nearly made it there when they were overwhelmed and killed; the United States Army reported that they three did not attempt to defend themselves, no gunshots were heard, and Corporal Buckley later said that he did not know that Wrightson and Hopkins were in the area. Mount Wrightson and Mount Hopkins, the two highest peaks of the Santa Ritas, were later named after the men.

Source: WikiPedia

Word of Wrightson's demise reached his hometown and was reported in the local paper.

The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati, Ohio
26 Apr 1865, Wed Page 2

Death of a Former Cincinnatian.
William Wrightson, formerly of this city, where he was one of the proprietors of the Railroad Record for several years, and recently special agent of the Post-office Department in Arizona, came to his death at the hands of the Apache Indians, at fort Buchanan, on the 17th of last February. He had left Tubac to visit this fort, and other localities, in company with G. W. Hopkins, of New York City. The fort (Buchanan) had, but a few moments before their arrival, been captured by a band of these Indians, of which fact the two visitors were not aware. Near the fort they had to pass through a narrow defile, at which point the ambuscaded Apaches shot them down, killing both, their bodies being afterward found pierced with arrows and lance thrusts.

Mr. Wrightson was born in York, England; came to this country in 1832, and to this city in 1854; and was, for several years, actively engaged with his brother, T Wrightson, in the publication of the Record.

Source: The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Santa Rita mountain with Mt Wrightson on the left and My Hopkins on the right. Source: WikiPedia

The Santa Rita Mountains with Mt Wrightson on the left and Mt Hopkins on the right. Source: WikiPedia

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Shot from the Agua Caliente trail this view shows one of several talus piles we saw, some up close and personal.

An outward sloping and accumulated heap or mass of rock fragments of any size or shape (usually coarse and angular) derived from and lying at the base of a cliff or very steep, rocky slope, and formed chiefly by gravitational falling, rolling, or sliding.

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Beth shot this photo of Liane and me carefully picking our way through one of the talus piles.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Liane was extra careful because of her injured foot.

The air on the these shady slopes, especially around the talus piles, felt like it was pouring out of a deep freeze.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

There are eight species of oaks growing in the Santa Rita Mountains. In the lower reaches of Madera Canyon "evergreen" species such as Emory and Silverleaf oaks are common. Up this high the oaks are deciduous which gave it and even more wintry feel.
This lovely, arched specimen is most likely Gambel oak.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Mt Wrightson, Josephine Peak and Liane.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Up this high the Apache pine is abundant and in places the trail was carpeted with their fragrant needles.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Liane snapped this photo of Beth, Old Baldy and Mt Wrightson. BTW - just a few weeks ago Beth completed her first hike all the way the to summit of Wrightson. Solo.
She was turned back on a previous attempt by frigid temps, howling winds as well as ice and snow.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

I have summited Wrightson 3 times and doubt I will do so again.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Our goal all along was to have lunch and take in the view from Rogers Rock. Thankfully there was a little patch of sun which we all enjoyed.
From here it was down Fern Gully to the Pipeline Trail and then to the Super Trail and back to the trail head.

A wonderful, if strenuous and chilly hike. All three of us enjoyed some new trails today thanks to Beth. I wonder what she will come up with next?

◊ A Morning Stroll in our "Back Yard"    ◊ Our Covid Winter    ◊ Santa Rita Mts: Beth Gives us a Workout!    ◊ Tucson Weather - the Dry and the Wet of it    ◊ Hiking in the Golder Ranch    ◊ Triple Header    ◊ Betsy's Avian Adventure



January 2021 Update
Weather or Not and hiking the Golder Ranch area
in the Catalina Mountains

Here we are and it is already January ?? of 2021. The last time I sent out a hike update was on December 10th - almost a month ago which seems impossible.
Betsy and I have been out hiking 3 times a week, every week. And now the hiking/biking weather is primo with every day in the high 60s or low 70s and always that warming southern Arizona sun. "Today will be a high of 72. (Feels like 82)." This weather is what outdoor people wait for, whether it is hiking or porch sittin' it is perfect.

Let's talk a bit more about the weather here in the Tucson basin in the Sonoran desert. Although the weather is perfect now, this past summer was a different story.
Typically the Tucson area receives about 12-14" of rain annually divided into two rain periods - the summer monsoons which are generated from the Sea of Cortez and then winter storms that bring in precipitation from the Pacific ocean.
These two rainy periods are why the Sonoran is a green desert. It is enough rain to produce dense forests of mesquite and palo verde along with thick expanses of brittle bush, triangle-leaf bursage, jojoba, creosote bush, prickly pear, agave, desert spoon and on and on, to say nothing about the spring explosion of ephemeral wild flowers - if the timing of the rain is right.

Enter the summer of 2020. The summer that is referred to locally as the "nonsoon". Very little rain and the hottest summer on record.

Monsoon rain fall from 2015 through 2020

Source: KGUN-TV © 2021 Scripps Media, Inc

The above graphic tells the tale. If you combine the low rainfall of 2020 with the historical high temperatures the results were: dry, hot, dry, hot and dry, dry, dry! And the low humidity (10-40%) adds to the problem. Water sprayed on concrete dries in a matter of seconds and so the soil dries much faster than in an area with humidity in the 40-80% range.

33 days of low temperatures never falling below 80° which breaks the old record of 18 days in 2016 & 2017
74 days of highs over 100° which ranks 2nd all-time behind the summer of 1994 with 84 days
50 days of highs over 105° which ranks 2nd all-time behind the summer of 1994 with 51 days

Source: KGUN

Tucson temps summer of 2020

If you look at this chart for average temp you can see how much hotter it was in 2020 as opposed to an average summer.

Below is a graphical representation of the data.

Average Temperatures Table for Tucson, Arizona

Source: © climatemps.com

Although all the plants native to the Sonoran are "desert adapted", every plant has its limit of tolerance. And from what I have seen during the last 3 months of hiking some of them may be reaching that limit. I have noticed 3 plant species in particular which appear to be at death's door. Engelmann prickly pear: in many areas the plants have extremely shriveled pads and discoloration I take to be tissue damage. The same is true of two agave I have seen: Banana yucca, and Shindagger agave.
Of course these were isolated populations, not every plant seen looked like it would perish. But to me it is significant as I consider these plants "as tough as nails" and to see them in such condition is rather startling. It will be interesting to see if these plants I took note of survive or not. Hopefully I will have the presence of mind to revisit the site after there has been significant rain fall.

Now on the opposite end of the spectrum from the summer of 2020 was the summer of 2006. I stumbled upon an interesting U.S. Geological Survey publication entitled "Debris Flows and Floods in Southeastern Arizona from Extreme Precipitation in July 2006—Magnitude, Frequency, and Sediment Delivery" By Robert H. Webb, Christopher S. Magirl, Peter G. Griffiths, and Diane E. Boyer which is chock full of charts, graphs and some really interesting photos. Especially the repeat photography. If you are interested in this type of thing you can download the 16meg PDF here.
Here is a little sampler from the report.

From the Introduction:

In the southern Santa Catalina Mountains, the maximum 3-day precipitation measured at a climate station for July 29-31 (2006) was 12.04 in., which has a 1,200-year recurrence interval. Other rainfall totals from late July to August 1 in southeastern Arizona also exceeded 1,000-year recurrence intervals. The storms produced floods of record along six watercourses, and these floods had recurrence intervals of 100-500 years. Repeat photography suggests that the spate of slope failures was historically unprecedented, and geologic mapping and cosmogenic dating of ancient debris-flow deposits indicate that debris flows reaching alluvial fans in the Tucson basin are extremely rare events.

U.S. Geological Survey

Snout of a debris flow that stopped in the channel of Rattlesnake Creek

Figure 19. (September 1, 2006) This photograph shows the snout of a debris flow that stopped in the channel of Rattlesnake Creek during the floods of July 31, 2006. This snout is several miles upstream from the confluence of Rattlesnake and Sabino Creeks, and the large boulders are typical of the largest particles transported during debris flows in the southern Santa Catalina Mountains. Most of these boulders likely were transported from debris-flow initiation zones, although some may have been entrained from the bed of Rattlesnake Creek (C.S. Magirl).

U.S. Geological Survey

We have hiked the lower reaches of Rattlesnake Canyon on numerous occasions. I now have a good reason to explore upstream and see if the debris flow is still as dramatic as shown above.


Seen here is the mouth of Rattlesnake Canyon. This October 2019 photo was taken from the Phoneline trail in Sabino Canyon. Notice how lush the creek bed and hillside look. Sigh...

Another sample photo from "Debris Flows and Floods in Southeastern Arizona from Extreme Precipitation in July 2006—Magnitude, Frequency, and Sediment Delivery" By Robert H. Webb, Christopher S. Magirl, Peter G. Griffiths, and Diane E. Boyer


Figure 5. Slope failures in Bear Canyon, southern Santa Catalina Mountains, that occurred on July 31, 2006. A, August 18, 2006, aerial photograph (R.H. Webb). B, October 2006 satellite imagery (courtesy of Google Earth).

Source: WikiPedia

In the photo above, Thimble Peak is shown to the far left. Slightly to the right is Blacketts Ridge, a very popular hiking destination in Sabino Canyon.


Here is another more recent look at Thimble Peak and Blacketts Ridge which I took on December 21st, 2020.

Not so long ago, in September of 1983, another deluge caused death and destruction in SE Arizona.

The stage for the record flooding was set earlier in 1983. A very wet winter across Arizona was followed by a wet monsoon season. Soils were already saturated by the time Octave arrived. Even modest amounts of rain would have caused problems. What every corner of southeast Arizona received instead was 3 to 8 inches of rain between the afternoon of September 28 and the morning of October 3, 1983, with isolated totals up to a foot (Graphic 1). Tucson International Airport officially received 6.71 inches of rain, however much of the City of Tucson received over 8 inches, Mt. Lemmon picked up 10.45 inches, and Mt. Graham received around 12.00 inches.
Total damage across Arizona reached $500 million in 1983 dollars, which today translates to a little over $1 billion.

Source: National Weather Service


More photos of the 1983 flood are here.

Of course if you think in geologic time I am sure these extreme events could be called anything but rare. But who am I to say?

◊ A Morning Stroll in our "Back Yard"    ◊ Our Covid Winter    ◊ Santa Rita Mts: Beth Gives us a Workout!    ◊ Tucson Weather - the Dry and the Wet of it    ◊ Hiking in the Golder Ranch    ◊ Triple Header    ◊ Betsy's Avian Adventure


Hiking the Golder Ranch area
in the northern Catalina Mounains

Ok, I think that's enough about the weather. What say we do a bit of hiking now?

Leading hikes over the last 7 years really helped me learn a lot about the various trails in the various mountain ranges in the area of the Tucson basin. But, it got to a point where I eventually developed a series of hikes which I would repeat just about every year. It was easier this way but it slowed down my searching for new areas and new hikes to lead.
This year, the COVID year, Betsy and I are not leading hikes. Instead we are hiking with just a few people we trust are "staying safe".
So every week, three times a week, there is always discussion about where to hike next. Since the onus of hike selection is no long exclusively on me, this has meant Betsy and I are getting out on a lot of hikes that are new to us. This has been not only fun but instructional and has taken us to totally new areas in some cases.

One of these areas is the slick rock of Golder Ranch in the Golder Ranch Trail System. These trails are on the western slopes of the Catalina Mountains below Samaniego Ridge. The area is named for Lloyd W. Golder III - a longtime rancher and real estate developer. Golder was born in Chicago on Oct. 24, 1925 and moved with his family to Tucson in the late 1950s. There is more about Golder here. Tucson_area_with_golder-ranch_marked

The Golder Ranch area in the northern Catalina Mountains where we first visited with John and Janet on January the 14th of 2019.

NOTE: For the sake of brevity and because I am getting lazy with the web work, I am going to include just a few sample photos with comments. The bulk of the photos for the hikes have been uploaded to Google Photos and you will be able to view them there.

This far north end of the Catalina Mountains is not one we are used to visiting very often and so we have been on few hikes there.
Last winter John and Janet introduced us the area and WOW! were we amazed. It is totally unlike any area we have hiked in before.

Golder Ranch - First Visit

When I saw all these rounded rocks I wondered what exactly was going on. There was no other place in the Catalina mountains where we had seen this. How did this happen?
It's time for "Ask a Geologist" !

On 4/30/2020 9:55 PM, Thomas Kammer wrote:
Spheroidal weathering is common in a variety of rock types: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spheroidal_weathering.
Yes, it's curious to think that large boulders could form in place like that as rock weathers away to leave a spheroidal core, but it happens at all size scales in rocks.

This is not the first time Tom has come to the rescue with some help sorting out exactly what I was looking at. More on that later...

Digging a little deeper for more information about "spheroidal boulders" (aka "round rocks") I found this interesting publication: "A guide to the geology of Catalina State Park and the western Santa Catalina Mountains" by John A. Birmingham with photos by Larry D. Fellows.

Page 45 of the publication goes into detail about spheroidal boulders.

The rounded or spheroidal boulders (Figure 18.1) perched on the crests of domed inselbergs (exfoliation domes; see Feature 13) in this area are characteristic of many granite landscapes. They are the remnants of curved sheets of granite that once formed the outer layers of the domes. Weathering and erosion reduced the sheets to individual, angular slabs of rock (Figure 18.2) scattered along the sides and tops of the domes.

Source: A guide to the geology of Catalina State Park and the western Santa Catalina Mountains

This nicely done 57 page publication can be viewed here.

Golder Ranch - First Visit

Spheroidal boulders a plenty!

Golder Ranch - First Visit

This is one of those places the phrase "stunning scenery" was made for!

Golder Ranch - First Visit

There are some jumbo and healthy looking Saguaros in the Golder Ranch area.

Golder Ranch - First Visit

What can I say? Fantastic scenery! Wanna see more? Here they are!

One would think that hike in the Golder Ranch area would be hard to top but on December 7th of 2020 John and Janet did so with another trip there and a hike on the Cowboy Slickrock Trail. I had heard about this trail from various people and after our first trip to the Golder area Betsy and I were excited about what else we might see.

Coyboy Slick Rock - our second visit to Golder Ranch

Here is the titular slick rock of Golder Ranch. It reminded me of a hike Betsy and I took on the Sound of Silence Trail in Dinosaur National Monument back in August of 2017. What a fab hike that was!

Coyboy Slick Rock - our second visit to Golder Ranch

Here we are atop our lunch spot with a distant view of the Tucson Mountains. On the far right you can make out Safford (Sombrero) and Panther Peaks.

Coyboy Slick Rock - our second visit to Golder Ranch

There were some interesting and fun sections of the trail which required a bit of care to negotiate.

Coyboy Slick Rock - our second visit to Golder Ranch

Like so many chunks of property our here, the houses are built very close to the property line.
Note the conical shape of the large bolder to the right. I wouldn't mind having that in our yard.

Looking at all those nicely rounded boulders made me think of another hike where the rocks were anything but rounded.


This shot was taken on August 7th of 2017 on on our way up to the summit of Medicine Bow Peak. That was an epic hike for us and we saw many things new to us. But we saw no "spheroidal boulders" I can tell you that! Instead there were various sized angular blocks as far as we could see. It looked both forbidding and beautiful.
One again, I was thinking - what happened here to turn this landscape into such a haphazard and chaotic rock garden? From my trip report for that hike:

My (semi-educated) guess? A cataclysmic explosion which sent millions of cubic yards of rock over who knows how many square miles. For me, this is a bit mind bending to think about and seems fantastical. But how else can it be explained? If my guess is wrong I am sure I will get an email (or two) setting me straight.

Source: EpicRoadTrips.us

And indeed I did get an email.

On 8/17/2017 4:51 AM, Thomas Kammer wrote:
No need to invoke catastrophic processes (catastrophism of 18th century geologists). You are simply seeing the effect of numerous freeze-thaw cycles as the expansion of water to ice in rock fractures cracks the rocks open. Then frost heaving in the soil jumbles the rocks all over the landscape.

According to WikiPedia "Catastrophism is the theory that the Earth has largely been shaped by sudden, short-lived, violent events, possibly worldwide in scope."

Again according to WikiPedia "The peak is part of a proterozoic quartzite ridge that juts above the Snowy Range. It was glaciated until quite recently, and year-round snowfields are still present on its flanks."

So, there you have it - a tale of two rocks. At least as we have perceived them.
Now, let's get back to Golder Ranch.

Coyboy Slick Rock - our second visit to Golder Ranch

Here was a treacherous little piece of trail to get down. It was not just steep but sprinkled with small granite particles which acted like ball bearings.

Coyboy Slick Rock - our second visit to Golder Ranch

If one goes on enough hikes in these here parts, they are bound to come across one of these strange beauties - the Crested Saguaro. And since we all get out a fair bit, sooner or later we spot one on most of our hikes. However this does not mean they are commonly seen. It is estimated only one out of 200 to 250 thousand Saguaros develop crests.
The reason for these crests? Some say disease, others say wacko genetic aberrations, still others postulate they might be caused from lighting strikes. The answer? No one knows for certain. And this is just one of the strange things about Saguaros that has given rise to the statement "The Saguaro is the most studied plant we know the least about." Yes, the Saguaro is a mystery and that is one of the reasons it is so loved and revered.

Coyboy Slick Rock - our second visit to Golder Ranch

YIKES! Another tricky (but fun) spot.

Coyboy Slick Rock - our second visit to Golder Ranch

And here we are, at the Cactus Condo of Golder Ranch. Notice all the cavities. Most of them were probably made by gilded flickers but other birds will use them as well including screech owls, elf owls, and ferruginous pygmy-owls.
In urban areas the European starling competes with native bird species for these nesting cavities.
If you want to read more about this check out "Competition between european starlings and native woodpeckers for nest cavities in saguaros".

Coyboy Slick Rock - our second visit to Golder Ranch

Janet snapped this shot - the last one of the day. Thanks!

The newly weds at Wilkerson Pass Overlook - May 1982

Janet's photo brought this one to mind: the newly weds at Wilkerson Pass Overlook - May 1982. See any similarities between the two?

If you have not yet had enough, the rest of the photos for this hike are here: Golder Ranch in the Catalina Mts: Coyboy Slickrock with John and Janet: 7 December 2020

And last but not least:
This cool hike was 7 miles with 1050 AEG.
The is a MyMap here if you want to check it out.

◊ A Morning Stroll in our "Back Yard"    ◊ Our Covid Winter    ◊ Santa Rita Mts: Beth Gives us a Workout!    ◊ Tucson Weather - the Dry and the Wet of it    ◊ Hiking in the Golder Ranch    ◊ Triple Header    ◊ Betsy's Avian Adventure


Triple Header:
Tucson, Catalina and Rincon Mountain Hikes

As I mentioned at the beginning of this ever longer post, Betsy and I were hiking with just a few folks this winter and not leading hikes with lots of different attendees several times a week. This of course was one of our strategies for trying to limit our exposure to the COVID virus.
You have already met John and Janet, then Beth and Liane and Kathy. Now you will meet the "Friday Group" - Deb, Cindy, Rob and Robert.
BTW - I have given up on any chronological order for these hikes so we will be hopscotching all over the calendar.

One of our favorite places in the Tucson Mountains is the hike to the Bowen house. Now just a stone ruin left by the original homesteaders, it nonetheless has a lot of charm and interest.

The Bowens moved from Tucson to New York City in 1944 where Sherry Bowen worked for the Associated Press. Their homestead became part of Tucson Mountain Park in 1983.

Bowen brought his wife, Ruby, to Tucson from Rockford, Ill., in the late 1920s in hopes that the climate would improve her health. Bowen was a typesetter and later city editor at the Arizona Daily Star. The Bowens homesteaded in the Tucson Mountains and began living in a cabin there in 1931 while Bowen built the house of native stone. They expanded their claim to 2,000 acres.

Source: Copyright © 2021, Pima County Arizona

Today Betsy and I would be hiking with Deb, Cindy, Rob and Robert to the Bowen house and beyond via the Bowen and Yetman trails.

Click on the photos below for a larger image.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The bahadas, arroyos and hillsides which the Bowen and Yetman Trails wind through are well known for their fine Saguaro specimens.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The old house has suffered through both vandalism and fire but it is still solid as a rock.

After a brief stop at the house we continued up the Yetman Trail to an unnamed side trail which would take us to a high point on an unnamed ridge known locally as "Second Ridge" - elevation 3220'.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Quite the view from up on Second Ridge, is it not? That's the Catalina Mountain Range in the background. To the right and in the background are Tumamoc Hill and Signal Peak, aka "A Mountain".
On the far right you can see what looks like a large green flat area. That is a 60 million gallon clearwell reservoir.

The Clearwell Reservoir is the largest and one of the most critical reservoirs in Tucson Water’s delivery system. Located near Starr Pass Resort on the west side of Tucson, it holds a volume of 60 million gallons in two separate cells of 30 million gallons each.

Tucson’s allocation of Colorado River water is delivered to Tucson via the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal. That Colorado River water is allowed to sink into the ground and recharge the aquifer in Avra Valley at CAVSARP and SAVSARP where it is stored for future use. It is then pumped to the surface and held in the Clearwell Reservoir before it is delivered to Tucson Water customers.

Source: Copyright © 2021 City of Tucson

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Another Friday Group hike was a Sabino Canyon meander which wrapped up on the Nature Trail loop so everyone could see this amazing crested Saguaro. This one is a bit unusual in that the crest has reverted to normal growth and is producing arms. We have seen this before but it is not common and only a fraction of the one in 200/250 thousand Saguaros that form a crest.

Cristate or “crested” saguaros form when the cells in the growing stem begin to divide outward, rather than in the circular pattern of a normal cactus. This is an unusual mutation which results in the growth of a large fan-shaped crest at the growing tip of a saguaro’s main stem or arms. The cause for this mutation is unknown; however, there has been some speculation about the presence of a “trigger,” which may initiate the process. One heavily implicated trigger is frost, as crested saguaros tend to be more common in the northernmost parts of their range. Unfortunately there is not enough evidence to confirm this theory.

Cristate saguaros are fairly rare. Scientists once estimated that for every 200,000 normal cacti, there is only one abnormal crest. Originally there were thought to be less than 200 of these abnormalities in existence. Contrary to this theory, more than 2050 have been discovered, and biologists believe that there may be many more. In fact, there are at least 27 documented saguaros on the East side of Saguaro National Park, and 30 on the West.

Source: NPS

Wanna see more?

◊ A Morning Stroll in our "Back Yard"    ◊ Our Covid Winter    ◊ Santa Rita Mts: Beth Gives us a Workout!    ◊ Tucson Weather - the Dry and the Wet of it    ◊ Hiking in the Golder Ranch    ◊ Triple Header    ◊ Betsy's Avian Adventure


Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Welcome to the Rincon Valley.
Through this valley and up into and over the mountains snakes the Arizona State Trail (AZT). Spanning the state of Arizona from Utah to Mexico, this 800 mile trail wanders through many different habits, elevations and, of course geology.

The AZT section which wanders through the Rincon Valley is mostly flat to rolling and wide open Saguaro, mesquite and creosote bush Sonoran desert with some areas getting into Chihuahuan Desert habitat. This makes it a very diverse and interesting area to hike in both from the stand point of natural history and landscape.

I first started hiking in the Rincon Valley several years ago. It took me a while to get out there, but I am glad I did.
When talking about the Rincon Valley area with longtime Tucson resident, hiker and backpacker Allan Swanson, he mentioned there was an unusual Saguaro I might like to see out that way. It was in the upper reaches of the Quilter Trail which is part of the AZT. Allen told me approximately where it was and I decided to see if I could find it.
What I saw blew my mind!!

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

As if crested Saguaros weren't strange enough, along comes the Medusa Saguaro. This is what happens when there is a suppression of apical dominance and dormant buds start busting out all over.
Just how many buds you ask?

Saguaro 'Medusa

I counted 50 "arms" and I could not see them all from just this photo. Considering how top heavy this aberrant growth must make this Saguaro, one has to wonder how much longer it will be standing.

Including the Quilter Trail of the Arizona State Trail Beth, Liane and I have now hiked the AZT from the Medusa Saguaro in the Rincons down to Charolais Rd in Vail. Some of these hikes have been out and back and some have been through hikes using a car drop.
The longest AZT section we have hiked so far has been from the Gabe Zimmerman trailhead to the Pistol Hill trailhead. That section was 11 miles in length. This is my theoretical limit in distance but the elevation changes were minimal and the hiking was mellow and scenic and so the 11 miles went quickly. Too quickly.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

As mentioned previously in the section above about the Tucson weather, we now see one of the results months with no rain and temps in the triple digits for weeks on end can have on cacti. The reddish purplish color displayed by this Staghorn cholla is a response to this. But it can be a response to environmental stress in general such as root damage which can limit water uptake. Regardless, it certainly has a striking effect on the Staghorn cholla. I should mention I have seen no other species of cholla exhibit this response to stress.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

This AZT hike started at Pistol Hill TH with our turnaround and break stop at Hope Camp, a cow camp from the old days of destructive grazing that occurred here for many decades. Notice the vane on the old windmill pump. "Ronstadt Hardware Co - Tucson Arizona". Yep that is the Ronstadt Family of the one and only Linda Ronstadt.

The Two Lindas

Originators unknown

I was always a big fan of Linda but I really did not know that much about her until Betsy and I went to see the documentary "Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice". It was then I realized I had never seen her perform before. What an amazing singer and performer she was.

If you are ready for a break
have a listen to one of Linda's many great songs.

If you want to find out more about the Ronstadts of Tucson here are a couple of articles to check out:
Tucson's Ronstadt Family and The Buildings of F. Ronstadt Company

Photo by Liane - Click for larger image

Liane took this shot of Beth and me. Usually I am the shooter so pics of me are thankfully rare.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

There are not that many Saguaros in the Rincon Valley but there are some really gigantic ones. Why are there just a few giants scattered about and not many others? Saguaro seedlings need the shade of a tree or shrub (nurse trees) to survive and grow when they are young. Cattle look for shade to loaf and trees provide that. So when the cattle would mill around or nap at the base of the shade trees, young Saguaros would be crushed and killed. These are the "lost generations" of Saguaros that are referred to now and again in books and by Saguaro biologists.

Photo by Liane- Click for larger image

Liane took this amazing shot. I wish I had.

Well, that wraps up our triple header hikes.
If you would like to see more photos they are here: Bowen House and 2nd Ridge hike and AZT - Pistol Hill to Hope Camp

Here are a few "extras".

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Betsy and I had a quiet Christmas dinner. Just the two of us so there was plenty of fixins to go around.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Dinner is served!

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

One sunny day (of many) I joined our TE neighbor Bob for a road ride. The scenery was great but I find road riding not too much fun any more.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

More to my liking and certainly Betsy's is riding in a car free environment. The more than 130 paved miles of "The Loop" provide for plenty of that. This photo was taken on W Mission Lane adjacent to The Loop and the Cushing Street Bridge. Mexican free-tail, Lesser long-nosed and other species of bats roost under several bridges around Tucson thus the nice bat painting.

Photo by Beth - Click for larger image

Recently Beth, Liane and I hiked another section of the AZT between the Gabe Zimmerman TH and Charolais Rd.

This requires getting around (or under) a very large obstacle - Interstate 10. Handily there was a culvert already in place when the AZT was being routed and someone had the great idea of decorating it with one of the common denizens of the desert.
Thanks go to Beth for this shot.

Last, but certainly not least...

Photo by Marion - Click for larger image

Our Morgantown neighbor Marion took this lovely photo of "Our cabin in the woods" as Betsy calls it. Nice to see snow in a photo but that is close enough for Betsy and me!

◊ A Morning Stroll in our "Back Yard"    ◊ Our Covid Winter    ◊ Santa Rita Mts: Beth Gives us a Workout!    ◊ Tucson Weather - the Dry and the Wet of it    ◊ Hiking in the Golder Ranch    ◊ Triple Header    ◊ Betsy's Avian Adventure


Betsy's Avian Adventure

My Avian Adventure
By Betsy Breiding

Earlier this spring our friend Deb told us about a great program she attended at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. It was a small group, up close and personal raptor encounter called Avian Adventures. During the one hour program, participants meet and interact with individual birds from the Museum's Raptor Free Flight program.

The whole experience sounded like one I would love, and Mike encouraged me to sign up. I went to the website immediately and was able to get one of the few slots still open for the program.

So on the afternoon of March 16th, along with five other participants, I proceeded to a separate area of the Museum where the program was to take place. To begin with, we learned about the care, handling and training of the museum's raptors. We were introduced to a Great Horned Owl called Snowshoe who was held and shown to us by one of the handlers. (We participants were not able to hold or feed Snowshow due to the Native Species Protection Act.)

We then met the star of the show, Klaus, a Eurasian Eagle Owl. We all donned leather gloves and were taught the correct procedure for "calling" Klaus. What a thrill it was to have the huge bird fly to my glove, turn his head to me and look straight into my eyes. He flew back and forth among us, landing on a glove for a treat, and sometimes grazing our heads with his wings as he flew by. Finally he hopped back into his crate where a reward awaited him - a delectable dead rat perhaps?

We then met and learned about the Harris's Hawks who flew back and forth from their trainers to nearby perches or the ground, sometimes squabbling with each other vociferously. They were quite the characters!

All too soon our encounter with the birds was at an end!

I hope you enjoy these shots and three videos taken during the program. It was indeed an Avian Adventure.

Click here to see more photos and 3 cool videos!

If you have questions or comments
about this Close Encounter you can reach Betsy here.

About the Eurasian eagle-owl

The Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) is a species of eagle-owl that resides in much of Eurasia. It is also called the European eagle-owl and in Europe, it is occasionally abbreviated to just the eagle-owl.
It is one of the largest species of owl, and females can grow to a total length of 75 cm (30 in), with a wingspan of 188 cm (6 ft 2 in), with males being slightly smaller. This bird has distinctive ear tufts, with upper parts that are mottled with darker blackish colouring and tawny. The wings and tail are barred. The underparts are a variably hued buff, streaked with darker colouring. The facial disc is not very visible and the orange eyes are distinctive.

Source: WikiPedia

Until the next time...


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