Friday, January 08, 2010

Road trip: sky island

One-half of my splendid gift from the Sson and family: an overnight road trip to Tucson. I hadn't been in that area (except passing through on the train) since I was a little girl, when I rode down on my Uncle Max' Indian motorcycle.

On the spur of a moment, we decided to take a drive to the top of Mt. Lemmon, which looms 7000 ft. over the desert city; no, I had never been to the top, even though the unc worked for the US Forest Service most of his life.

The desert plants grow lush around Tucson: above, young saguaro and prickly pear; below, a teddy bear cholla and mesquite tree.

A saguaro forest covers the lower elevations of the mountain. The cacti are thinner and possibly younger than those around the Phoenix; not as many arms, either.

The roadside cuts display colorful, banded rocks compressed through the eons. Mt. Lemmon is one of the highest peaks in the Santa Catalina range, part of the great Basin and Range geological province that writer John McPhee describes so eloquently. I was first introduced to the sky island mountain ranges during the years when I flew over the Nevada desert ferrying Mom to and from Victoria every summer.

The road climbs through the desert up into a region of hoodoos and tors.

A stop to admire the scenery. Below, two views of Tucson. The Chinese-style perspective is thanks to ever-present smog and dust.

As we climb up the canyons, frost and snow make an appearance on the north sides of the slopes. The stoplight below was necessary because a slide reduced the highway down to one lane.

All this grandeur just for me thanks to the Sson and DIL. Below, the gorgeous teen Gdotter retrieved her camera from me to take her own pictures.

You wouldn't know it to look at it, but the highway was actually quite busy the day we drove it. Among other things, Mexicans who live near the border often drive up to Tucson for a day in the snow because, though they have the mountains, they don't have any highways to the tops! There were bicyclists aplenty, as well as parades of cars caught behind gawking drivers.

This signs points out one of the problems created by a cool or cold play area within an hour's driving distance from a desert. Apparently in some seasons, it's easiest to get to the top via bus.

The bear warning was a new one for me.

And here we are, near the top, at Summerhaven, which was devastated by a forest fire in the summer of 2003; the houses above are all new. No, we didn't continue on to the ski area, as we had to return to Prescott that day.


Cathy said...

Another very interesting post to me - I lived in Tucson for a while as a child, and while the natural history is the same, I don't remember all the congestion. We are planning to go visit Tucson now I am back in AZ, but maybe I won't need to go up that road.

Steve said...

Nice ride. Don't know If I'll ever get out that way. One never knows.

azlaydey said...

Great views of my hometown. The air and scenery was clear as a bell when I was growing up in Tucson. I used to drive my old Studebaker businees coupe up the Mt Lemmon Hwy when it was all dirt and much narrower. Tells my age doesn't it? It looks like the first photo may be on Oracle Rd, am I right?

del said...

Many years ago my family lived on Mt. Lemmon at one of the forest service compounds. There was a tiny one-room schoolhouse in Summerhaven that I attended first and second grades in. I would imagine that it's long gone now, though. The fire and development looks to have pretty much fixed things.

Catalyst said...

I've lived in Arizona for a total of nearly 32 years now and I've never been to the top of Mount Lemmon either. Maybe this summer. If not, thanks for the tour!

Kate said...

Wow! Great photos. What a fun road trip! I had no idea there was skiing this far south... Those hoodoos are kind of spooky. :)

Granny J said...

m'gosh -- it seems like everyone has a Tucson connection!

cathy -- but you should go up that road -- the changes along the way are a terrific lesson.

steve -- indeed, one never knows. But then I never thought I'd get to Bavaria, either.

lady -- I thought you were from Joisey!

del -- what a wonderful couple of years for a young one!

cat-A -- try it; you'll like it.

kate -- actually, I suspect there are ski-able mountains further south in Mexico; whether or not they're developed is another question. Likely not or we'd have heard of them.

quilteddogs said...

When I was in college at the UofA, I remember one of the great things about Tucson was that you could soak up the sun in the a.m. and then drive to Mt. Lemmon for skiing in the afternoon.

Glad to see Summerhaven is making a comeback.

Kathleen said...

Wow - I haven't been to Tucson since *umpty-ump* years ago when I was in college (lol - at ASU) Great photos - I didn't know there was that much up there because friends and I stayed in town. Looks like you had a great time with Sson and DIL =) and Gdotter is lovely!

Granny J said...

qd -- that's one of the things I love about Arizona: saguaros and skis in the same day.

frame -- well, if you came from these parts, a little snow wouldn't have been that exciting...

azlaydey said...

I was born in Brooklyn, Granny J.....
grew up in Tucson........

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