On the Road to Mount Lemmon

Approximately an hour drive from Tucson’s city center, Mount Lemmon is a favorite day trip and camping spot

Climbing more than 6,000 feet, the Sky Island Scenic Byway begins with forests of saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert and ends in a cool, coniferous forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

On the road to Mount leaving Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prepare yourself for breathtaking views and a climate change that would be similar to driving from Southern Arizona to Canada in a mere 27 miles. Each thousand feet up is like driving 600 miles north offering a unique opportunity to experience four seasons in one trip.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Often referred to as Mount Lemmon Highway or General Hitchcock Highway, Sky Island Scenic Byway drive begins at the northeastern edge of Tucson.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the road climbs among the giant saguaro cactus and brittlebush, enjoy hairpin curves as you arrive at the Babad Do’ag Viewpoint which overlooks the desert cacti studded Tucson Valley and the Rincon Mountains. There are interpretive signs at the lookout and if you’re up for a longer hike—try the moderate 5-mile round trip Babad Do’ag Trail. Incredible desert vistas of saguaro, wildflowers, and mountains await.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing up the road, you’ll enter Molino Canyon. The road hugs the canyon’s cliff until the Molino Canyon Overlook. The overlook offers a short hike to a creek and series of waterfalls. Towards the center of the canyon is the Molino Basin, home to a campground and trailheads for a variety of hikes. Hiking here is especially fascinating due to the transition from desert to a forest dominated by cottonwood, oak, sycamore, and willow trees.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each turn of the road reveals a new perspective. Entering Bear Canyon, the forest transforms once again into a lush, cool environment with cypress, juniper, pine, sycamore, and walnut trees. Granite pinnacles soar into the sky, and with rocky outcroppings and stony hoodoos, some of Arizona’s best rock climbing is found here.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next stop, Windy Point offers the most amazing views along the entire scenic drive. Wind-sculpted rock formations, views of the Huachuca, Patagonia, and Santa Rita Mountains, and the Tucson Basin await at 6,400 feet elevation.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geology Point Vista, offers another spectacular viewpoint. Sweeping panoramas and precariously perched rocks create a surreal and photogenic landscape.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, you climb through forests of ponderosa pine, fir, and spruce. Rose Canyon Lake is stocked with trout and surrounded by absolute beauty; this seven-acre lake is a perfect stop for fishing, picnics, and camping in the Rose Canyon Campground.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly afterwards, you arrive at the San Pedro Vista which overlooks the San Pedro River Valley. From this stop, enjoy the 4-mile hike around Green Mountain to the General Hitchcock Campground.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly after the viewpoint is the Palisade Visitor Center. Self-guided displays inform about the Coronado National Forest and it’s a great location to get more information about hikes. Two of the most popular are the Butterfly Trail and Crystal Springs Trail with trailheads one mile from the center. Both trails are long, but you need not do the entire trail to enjoy the shaded, dense forests. Butterfly Trail features such a diverse biology, it has been designated a Research Natural Area. If you are up for a challenge, the medium-to-difficult Crystal Springs Trail will bring you to Mount Lemmon’s summit.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the sky up close at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter. There are daytime and after-dark programs using their 32-inch Schulman Telescope. Reservations are required. The SkyCenter is at an elevation of 9,157 feet.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic drive officially ends in a small town mostly filled with summer chalets, appropriately named Summerhaven. A great retreat for people to escape the summer desert heat.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While here, consider a few short side trips. For spectacular views in every season, Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, the southernmost ski area in the country, can be reached via East Ski Run Road. The ski hill offers an opportunity to ride the ski lift for breathtaking vistas at 9,100 feet. Continue a few miles further and turn onto Summit Road. At the road end is the actual summit of Mount Lemmon, an amazing way to end this scenic drive.

The Forest Service has done a great job with the road and attractions along the route including campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads, pullouts, vista points, and interpretive overlooks.

Worth Pondering…

Stay close to nature, it will never fail you.

—Frank Lloyd Wright

Top 6 Road Trips for Summer Travel

See the best that America has to offer from the open road

The best part of any road trip isn’t the place you’re going to, it’s the journey to get there. The most memorable moments are the quirky pit stops, the roadside dining, and the ever-changing landscapes out the window. So load up the RV and queue up the music (think, On the Road Again and King of the Road) because summer is the season of road trips.

There’s a long distance between point A and point B, but on these road trips there’s plenty to do and see along the way.

Turquoise Trail

Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico State Road 14, better known as the Turquoise Trail, may only be about 50 miles long, but it’s got enough history, art, shops, and sights to make it the perfect day trip. Designated a National Scenic Byway in 2000, the Turquoise Trail is named for the precious stone first mined here centuries ago.

Albuquerque as seen from Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Formally known as New Mexico State Road 14, the Turquoise Trail is the perfect road trip for those who want to immerse themselves in Southwestern culture. Driving south from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, the route follows the trail where the precious turquoise stone was first mined.

Historic Route 66

Historic Route 66 in Western Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although Historic Route 66 is no longer the “Main Street of America,” this long stretch between Chicago and Long Beach, California is still an iconic American road trip.

Historic Route 66 display at the Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This corridor is like a journey through American history, where you can see flickering neon signs, abandoned gas stations, quirky museums, breathtaking natural formations, old-fashioned diners and motels, and some of the nation’s most-famous landmarks. Don’t rush your Route 66 road trip; the journey is the destination here.

Florida’s A1A

Along Florida’s AIA at Daytona Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Running along the eastern coast of Florida, you’ll get plenty of beach views on Florida’s A1A. Travelers taking the A1A can experience sea turtles at Fort Lauderdale’s Sea Turtle Oversight Protection Headquarters, explore fine art at J.M Stringer Gallery of Fine Art in Vero Beach, and spend time in the historic city of St. Augustine.

Along Florida’s A1A on Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The northernmost point of A1A is Amelia Island, which also feels like a living history museum. Especially Fort Clinch State Park, where you can see remains of a pre-Civil War fortress. Visit the small Fernandina Beach and end your trip with a night at Fort Clinch campgrounds.

Portland to Seattle

Off I-5 neat Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two of the Pacific Northwest’s most vibrant cities, Portland and Seattle, have plenty of exciting stops in between. RVers can take various pathways between the two cities. For the most scenic—and slow—route, veer to the coastline and hop the cities there. 

Columbia Riverfront RV Park along the Columbia River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But even the most straight-shot route, up Interstate 5, is full of fun stops. A drive straight through will only take about three hours, but you can drag it out over a few days and see scenic parks and mountains, museums and gardens, islands and lakes.

Highway 191 from Moab to Lake Powell

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s around 186 miles from Moab to Lake Powell—a long highway packed with an endless amount of outdoor adventure and recreation. This road trip gives you access to Arches National Park, the Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks State Park, and Monument Valley.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Valley of the Gods is Utah backcountry at its finest. Those looking for Ancestral Puebloan ruins can search for petroglyphs around Bluff, Utah, and catch a glimpse of the Tsegi villages.

Catalina Highway

Along the Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Climbing to over 9,000 feet with a near 7,000-foot elevation change in a mere 30 miles, the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) is a brilliant ascent with countless curves, numerous vistas, and three major switchbacks. Numerous pullouts and vista points line the route up the mountain. They’re all beautiful and worth a look but there are two in particular you won’t want to miss—Windy Point (Mile 18) and Aspen Vista Point (Mile 27).

A veiwpoint along the Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since there’s only one paved road up this mountain, when you reach the top, you’ll have no choice but to turn around and let gravity assist in your descent.

Worth Pondering…

It’s not just a drive.

It’s an experience.

Best Things to See and Do in Arizona in 2019

For fun and adventure consider this your road map of the best things and see and do in Arizona in 2019

From cactus-studded deserts to snow-covered peaks, from vibrant cities to charming towns, Arizona defies description.

To the unfamiliar, its name invokes visions of cowboys and rattlesnakes, a land not for the faint of heart. The stereotype ignores the lush pine forests that carpet Arizona’s mountains, and the rivers and streams so plentiful that they have nurtured residents from ancient civilizations to today’s suburbanites.

Consider this guide your treasure map of the best things to do and see in Arizona in 2019.

Hop aboard Verde Canyon Railroad

You’re part of history aboard this excursion train on century-old tracks. But it’s the scenery and wildlife that truly capture the imagination.

The train departs from Clarkdale on a 40-mile round trip through a remote wilderness. Loads of ore from Jerome mines were once hauled on this line.

Today visitors enjoy towering canyon walls and the cottonwood-draped Verde River. Stand outside on open-air viewing platforms watching bald and golden eagles circle overhead, and remind yourself you’re still in Arizona.

Browse for treasures at Hubbell Trading Post

Founded in 1876 by John Lorenzo Hubbell, this is the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation. The National Historic Site in Ganado is part museum, part art gallery and still a functioning trading post, virtually unchanged since its early days.

Wooden floors creak at every step. The store is crowded with goods and spicy with old aromas. Adjacent to the shop, a trader sits in the jewelry room, which also contains carvings, paintings, and clay work. In a third room, gorgeous hand-woven rugs are stacked in casual piles.

Details: Near mile marker 446 on State Route 264 in Ganado on the Navajo Reservation.

Look for spring wildflowers

Good years for spring wildflowers are sporadic. Super bloom years are rare indeed. Yet it doesn’t matter. There is no better reminder why we love Arizona than to spend a balmy February or March day in shorts hiking in fields of poppies, brittlebush, lupine, and their showy friends.

While the rest of the country is lashed by blizzards, nor’easters and ice storms, we revel in 70 degrees. Wildflowers are a Technicolor welcome mat the Sonoran Desert extends. It would be downright foolish not to accept the invitation.

Every year is different, of course, but reliable locations include Maricopa County Parks and Picacho Peak and Lost Dutchman state parks.

Walk the streets of Tombstone

Follow in the footsteps of a legendary cast of characters when you mosey down these wooden sidewalks. Horse-drawn stagecoaches still clip-clop along the street, steely-eyed men in black frock coats still march toward a date with destiny and it’s easy to forget what century it is.

At one end of Allen Street you can walk into the O.K. Corral to see the famous gunfight reenacted. At the other end, you can tour the Birdcage Theatre where more bodies fell and ghosts still linger.

In between, impervious to the hail of bullets and river of whiskey that once defined the town the world’s largest rose tree grows. It was planted in 1885 and blooms every spring. There has to be a moral there somewhere.

Climb 7,000 feet in 24 miles

Entering the Santa Catalina Mountains just 25 miles northeast of Tucson, you’ll find yourself accelerating at the foot of Mount Lemmon. Named for botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, you’re going to have a lot more fun than she did in 1881 when she made the first ascent by horse and on foot.

Climbing to over 9,000 feet, with a near 7,000-foot elevation change in a mere 24 miles, the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) is a brilliant ascent with countless curves, numerous vistas, and three major switchbacks. The best news is since there’s only one paved road up this mountain, when you reach the top, you’ll have no choice but to turn around and let gravity assist in your descent.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.