Part 1 – Mt. Wrightson & Redfield Canyon
-Guest post by Mitch Stevens-
I’m Mitch Stevens, founder and lead guide for Southwest Discoveries, a hiking and adventure company based in Tucson. Born and raised in New York City, I came to discover the great outdoors and fell in love with Arizona’s special places. My favorite hikes in Tucson include the following wondrous adventures, some of the most awesome treks in the southwest.
Hiking in Tucson is arguably some of the best hiking in the world. From lush Sonoran Desert vegetation to picturesque mountain ranges, it’s easy to see what attracts hikers to this corner of the world. As you gaze upon towering saguaros and beautiful sky island mountain ranges in the distance, you will understand why hiking in Tucson should be on every adventurer’s travel bucket list.
1. Mt. Wrightson – Hiking Tucson’s Loftiest Summit
The spirit of the Boy Scouts lives on at Mt. Wrightson. A wooden memorial stands alongside the trail about halfway up to the summit. On November 15, 1958, three boys ages 12 to 16, were caught in a ferocious blizzard and died there. The normally mild weather of southern Arizona was interrupted by an arctic cold front, plunging temperatures below zero. The Boy Scout episode of 1958 caused the largest search and rescue operation in Arizona history, leading to the formation of search and rescue teams in southern Arizona and other locations.
But two summers ago, when I led a group of hikers to the summit, the weather was benign. There was a slight chance of monsoon storms in the afternoon which never materialized. We started our hike on the moderate and well graded Old Baldy Trail, allowing us to achieve the summit in less than four hours. The trail originated at Madera Canyon, a world-renowned birding spot. Hiking in the Santa Ritas enabled us to not only escape the summer heat but to take in exceptional mountain vistas.
Accompanying us was hiker extraordinaire Bill Bens, who had climbed the mountain over 130 times. He has walked these trails during full moon occurrences and after winter storms with the aid of crampons. The photos Bill shot on these excursions were stunning, resembling scenes more reminiscent of the Canadian Rockies than southern Arizona. He is just one of the many who has fallen under the spell of Mt. Wrightson.
About a mile from the top we reached Baldy Saddle, a great place to rest. Among meadows, spruce and ponderosa pine trees, we observed deep canyons, lofty ridges and sloping grasslands. The final ascent was steep and rocky but taking it slow and easy allowed us to reach the mountain’s glorious pinnacle, no worse for the wear.
The views from the peak were outstanding. They extended more than 60 miles into Mexico and encompassed much of southern Arizona. At Wrightson’s distinct rocky peak, elevation 9450, we peered off into the distance at other sky islands such as Baboquivari, Mt. Lemmon, the Rincons and dozens more.
There are two main trails leading to the summit, and they cross each other twice, making a figure 8. On our descent back to the trailhead, we veered off on the longer and equally scenic Super Trail. It was there that we spotted a mother bear and cub bounding off into the woods, a bonus to an already exceptional and wonderful hike.
2. Redfield Canyon – The Place Time Has Forgotten
Imagine a secret place, a narrow red-walled chasm featuring tall cliffs pocked with eroded caves and strewn with boulders. A place where deep within its heart exists a stone cliff house built into a cliff, lying in splendid isolation. Rumor has it that when they excavated it in the 1930’s, a mummified skull of a Native American infant was unearthed. The daughter of the family who lived in the cliff house brought the skull to school for show and tell!
In this spectacular canyon, hidden cascades and deep pools may be discovered in the side canyons while occasionally bighorn sheep and mountain lions are spotted on the canyon walls. Pictographs, petroglyphs, ruins of the ancient ones and pioneer relics are scattered throughout the canyon and the Galiuro Mountains, where Redfield is located. The Galiuros are made up of a network of peaks and canyons and are a great example of the fault-block development of the Basin and Range Province, stretching from southern Arizona to Oregon.
On a fine autumn day, our group drove the rough but picturesque Jackson Cabin Road, eleven miles to the head of Swamp Springs Canyon. We parked our vehicles, unloaded our gear and began our two-day backpack. The trip proved most enjoyable when done as a backpacking trip because of the rugged nature of the terrain. The roundtrip mileage clocked in at approximately fifteen miles.
We scrambled seven miles down Swamp Springs to the confluence of Redfield Canyon. The canyon included beautiful riparian vegetation such as sycamore, cottonwood, walnut and oak trees as well as flowing water. In the distance, saguaros cactus and other Sonoran Desert plants held sway, clinging to steep cliffs flanking the canyon. The contrast between lush woodland, water and stark desert was fascinating.
After camping at the cliff house, the next morning our group climbed a steep route leading out of Redfield Canyon and hiked the Sheep Wash Trail. Riveting views of tree-lined Redfield Canyon from above and far-reaching vistas of the Galiuro Mountains were the highlights. The meandering Sheep Wash Trail eventually rejoined Redfield Canyon after seven miles and a side route guided us to Jackson Cabin. After spending time exploring the cabin and pioneer relics, we followed Jackson Cabin Road three miles back to Swamp Springs Canyon where our adventure began.
Stay tuned until Friday for more amazing Tucson adventures! Visit www.SouthwestDiscoveries.com for more information.
Founder and Lead Guide for Southwest Discoveries