Wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park

Every year, we like to go look for wildflowers in the desert. When we lived in San Diego, we would drive almost two hours to Borrego Springs to find wildflowers (even when it was not a super bloom year), but this year, we only had to drive 30 minutes to Picacho Peak State Park. We also plan on driving up to Mount Lemmon in the next few weeks but we aren’t sure if there will be many wildflowers at that time.

It was our first time to Picacho Peak State Park as a family. I got a little bit of sticker shock when we paid our entrance fee. $19 for the 8 of us! I realized later that maybe we should not have been charged that much since half of our family is under the age of 14. I emailed the State Park website about it just to find out for next time. I have a feeling though that children do count as adults. I will update this post once I find out for sure. Though I guess $19 is a small price to pay for a few hours of hiking in a beautiful place. We are considering investing in two annual Arizona State Park passes if both will cover our family of 8 to enter a State Park in one vehicle.

Josh has been to Picacho Peak before and actually hiked Hunter Trail to the peak. Since that would have been too strenuous a hike for us (with a toddler and two under the age of 10), we opted to walk over to the Children’s Cave Trail to see what that was like. It was the perfect length: less than a half mile round trip with an excellent place for kids to play at the end. Our kids had a great time “rock climbing.”

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Hiking Tucson: Picacho Peak

Picacho Peak State Park is located in Arizona about 40 miles from downtown Tucson.  It is right off the I-10, so it is easily accessible.  It is $7 per vehicle to enter the park.  The park opens at 5am and closes at 10pm, though the hiking trails are open from sunrise to sunset.

I have been to Tucson a number of times over the last few years, whether for vacation or job interviews.  Picacho Peak is a landmark that shows the trip is almost over.  It is very recognizable, and juts out very high over the desert.  There is something in me that wants to stand on peaks when I see them.  I am not any kind of intrepid mountain climber, but I want to see the world from up there.

A couple of weeks ago, I moved to Tucson to start work.  I had the opportunity to go hiking yesterday, and chose Picacho Peak.  There are many other places I want to hike here too, but why not start with the place I have been looking at for a few years.

Safety First

attentionhikers

This trail is rated difficult and it is actually difficult.  I have been on trails that said difficult, but really was just a steep elevation gain.  This one has steep elevation gains, rocky trails, loose rocks, and more.  This is only for people who have some experience hiking and who are in at least decent physical condition.

This sign says to bring 2-3 liters of water. Depending on the time of year, I would say that is a minimum.  Even on a cool day, this is Arizona and it is dry and sunny.  About a month ago a group of Boy Scouts were hiking this trail and one of them died after they ran out of water.  Personally, I bring enough for myself plus enough to share with someone who might have ran out.

The park website recommends bringing gloves.  I tossed a pair of leather work gloves in my bag just in case, and I am glad I did.  There are places on this trail where you will be pulling yourself up the trail using steel cables.  Then on the way down you will need to use the cables to keep yourself from going too fast.  The gloves are useful to keep your hands from getting friction burns.

There are currently bees on the trail due to the blooming Palo Verde trees.  I heard many more than I saw. I only had one disturb me, and it just wanted to check out my backpack when I set it down. However, if you are allergic to bees you might want to take precautions.

The Trail

The trail is about 2 miles long.  It starts out at a fairly steep climb.  It goes from about 1500 feet at the desert floor to 2900 feet at the “Saddle” which is about the halfway point.  Then it drops down again from the Saddle at least halfway to the desert floor before climbing to 3374 feet at the Peak.  There is this lovely but rather faded sign at the Saddle that gives that info, plus some history on the trail.  In short, the sign says that Picacho Peak has been a landmark for centuries.  It helped early explorers, and had a light beacon put on it in 1932 for aviation navigation.  The trail was created to help service that beacon before it was removed.

Did you know

There are plenty of “steps” put into the trail.  They are somewhat helpful, but are rather irregular.

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The Picacho Peak trail itself isn’t always easy to see. In fact, I ended up taking a few accidental trips off the trail because I followed a rock slide or something that looked more trail-like than the trail.  Some kind person has put arrows and other helpful markers at most of the difficult to see sections though.

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You can also tell that parts of the trail were made by blasting rock that was in the way.  It was never smoothed out by the builders.  It is rough and can be slippery on the downhill parts.  At a few points I had to use my hands to help me up the trail.  A few people I observed had difficulties on these sections. I would recommend decent hiking shoes and not running shoes on this trail for the grip.

Rocky Path
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Rocky Path

Remember how I mentioned gloves?  There are helpful steel cables on the trail for the really bald rocks and the really steep areas.  Without them the trail wouldn’t work.

There are a couple of particularly fun sections.  This first one doesn’t really show well in pictures.  You have to pull yourself up using the cables.  There are not many great places to put your feet, but it can be done if you take your time.  I thought it was a lot of fun, but I am also taller than average.  Some of the shorter people I watched had a bit of difficulty.

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Then there is a section where you are walking along the edge of a drop off.  It isn’t a particularly tall drop off, but the steel cable comes in handy.  Also someone put a handy little bridge to make it easier to walk.

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There is certainly plenty to see on the trail.  The plants are particularly beautiful right now.  The Palo Verde trees are blooming, as are some of the Saguaro cactus. There are also many overlook points where you can see for miles.  Many people do not like the desert, but there is a rugged beauty to it that I love.

Of course the point to this trail is to get to the top of Picacho Peak.  It does not disappoint and thoroughly makes up for all the work to get there.  There is a 360 degree view of the surrounding desert, with views for miles and miles in all directions.  I am still new to the area, so I wasn’t really sure all that I was looking at.  It is still impressive nonetheless.  I don’t think I got images that do justice to what I was seeing.  The IPhone has a good camera, but I don’t know that it does well in this type of distance situation.

The Negative

This is a great trail in all ways.  However, its close proximity to the Interstate and railroad tracks makes it a noisy trail sometimes.  It isn’t overwhelmingly loud, but it is definitely noticeable especially when trains pass by.  This picture shows the Interstate and just past it is the train going by.

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Conclusion

I will definitely hike this trail again.  I need to get in better shape for the second time because my legs are telling me how much they hate me today.  I am thinking I may try to take my oldest son with me in the fall so he can learn how to hike a trail like this.  It may have been a lot of work, but the beauty made it all worth it.

-Joshua

Johnny Sack Cabin

One of the places we found on our Idaho solar eclipse vacation was the cabin built by Johnny Sack located at Big Springs.  The cabin was located only a few miles from the house we were staying at in Island Park, ID.  There is parking for the cabin at the Big Springs campground off of Highway 20.  There are signs that will get you to the campground.  There is an easy path to walk from the parking lot to the cabin.

Johnny Sack was an immigrant from Germany in the late 1800s.  He and his brother ended up in Idaho because they wanted to work with cattle.  Sack had been a cabinet maker and worked for Studebaker making wagons.  The skills learned in those occupations would help him build his cabin.

In 1929, Sack leased land from the Forest Service for $4.15 a year.  Three years later he would build start to build his cabin on this land.  It took him about 3 years to build the cabin, because he built it entirely by hand.  He even built the furniture that is in the cabin.

After his death in 1957, the cabin passed to his sisters. In 1963, his sisters sold the cabin to the Kipp family who used it as a summer home for some years.  There were originally other cabins located near by that people used for summer homes, though Johnny lived in his cabin year round.  The forest service decided they had made a mistake in allowing those cabins to be built since the ground underneath is volcanic.  Apparently, there is no way to create proper drainage in this area.  Thankfully, the Kipp family was able to get the cabin turned into an historical site.  This is truly a beautiful building and it would be a shame if it had been torn down.

Johnny in particular did beautiful work using the bark of the trees as decoration.  In the pictures below, you will be able to see how that bark is used.

The cabin is located next to Big Springs.  Johnny built a water mill at the spring that he used for electrical power.

The spring is constantly streaming water, in fact, it pumps out 120 million gallons of water a day.  What a perfect place to put a water mill.

The spring itself is also incredibly beautiful.  There are many animals that make it their home.  We saw trout, muskrat, and ducks on our trip.

This is a great location to spend a few hours if you are in the area.  We went here in the morning, and then drove up Sawtell Peak later in the day, so it is possible to do this will visiting other locations in the area.  I would highly recommend checking this spot out if you are in the area.

-Joshua