Peaks and pools. Picacho Peak and Catalina State Parks AZ

17 Feb

Whilst we have been enjoying some lovely warm sunshine since we have been back in the US we are mindful that this is still early spring here too. We decided our next move after Lost Dutchman State Park would be south in the hope of keeping the pleasant weather with us. We booked four nights at Picacho Peak State Park then 3 nights at Catalina State park near Tucson.

Picacho Peak had been mentioned to us before by Canadian friend Lawrie who with his friend Dave had climbed the hike to the peak. Looking up the details and chatting with others we recognised it would be quite a challenge to complete the whole trail. This was enough for Robert to want to do it.


The trail was mostly level to begin with, winding through large saguaro cactus and other desert plants, slowly we began to climb and the sandy surface became more rocky.


We were aware that as the trail climbed even higher there would be some really challenging climbs aided by steel ropes. I was not looking forward to these, but as ever, hoped I could overcome my anxiety. Someone was waiting to greet us at the first climb, we were not sure what he was until later when we looked him up discovering he is a Chuckwalla.


We watched each other for several minutes before he disappeared into a hole next to the first support for the climb. I could not put off the inevitable any longer so hauled myself up the rock wishing I was as agile as the chuckwalla!



It looks steep, it was – and scary!

I got about two steps up and thought about stopping, but carried on, however when I got to the top I was sure that was the end of my assent. I was not going to tackle any more of the climbs. I was already worrying about getting down this one.

I found a rock and sat down sending Robert on to finish the rest of the trail or at least as much as he felt comfortable completing.




Once I had recovered a bit I began to look around at the view, it was pretty good. I had a humming bird come to visit the tree I was sitting near, there were flowers to identify, the sun was shining, I was fine. Actually the sun was shining a bit too much so I decided I ought to move a little and find shade if Robert was going to be a while. I climbed a little further up to where the trail we had walked – The Sunset Trail – was joined by the even more challenging, if shorter, Hunter Trail. Perched on the rock there I had plenty of visitors passing and chatting as they walked to the top of the peak. I was happy to stay put thank you!




Robert however was making his way up more rock and over a very interesting  ‘plank with supporting structures’ where the rock face also had a 45 degree angle sideward away from the path. Definitely not for the faint hearted (she was waiting below!)





His view from the top was spectacular – I can tell from his pictures.


About an hour after he had left me Robert arrived back at my resting place. We negotiated our way down the rock wall before we stopped again so that I could get over my ‘nasty bit’. We had our snack and a drink, while I heard all about the trek to the top, the view and the other walkers who included a dog…. he had four legs and I think that is cheating. I am sure there will be more from Robert at the end of the month when he publishes his blog

The pleasant walk through the desert we had enjoyed in the morning was much hotter under  the afternoon sun, we arrived back at haRVey late afternoon tired and weary but despite my stopping part way we were both satisfied with what we had achieved. Robert had climbed to the top (3374 ft) I had gone as far as I could, and, apart from the last bit enjoyed the hike.

Next day we decided on a rest day, we were both a little achy, but by the following morning we were ready to stretch the muscles again. This time we walked towards the entrance to the park and joined the Calloway trail after the park nature trail. This easy climb winds its way up to an overlook northwards across the I10 and the desert. We took our time and enjoyed the wild flowers and rock formations along the way. When we got to the bench at the top we fell into conversation with other hikers there spending half an hour chatting before returning to haRVey – a much easier hike all around!




The mountains which tower over Catalina State Park in the Oro Valley north of Tucson are as impressive as any we have seen so far in Arizona. We arrived mid afternoon and after setting up walked the mile or so back along the park road to the Romero Ruins. This was another site of the ancient Indian communities we have been interested in recently and also the site of a very early Mexican settlers homestead. All are now in ruins only piles of stones to the uneducated eye but sign boards along the trail explain what once was there.



Its hard to believe that for over 800 years the Hohokam people farmed the valley here growing beans and squash, gathering native plants and utilising them for their every day needs. It would seem that they eventually moved on probably when a drought struck the area causing crops to fail and making hunting small animals more difficult.

Robert had again researched some hikes for us, easier than Picacho Peak. The trail which led to the Montrose Pools continued to Romero Pools and a canyon beyond that. We could stop at the first pools or continue to Romero, maybe hike some of the canyon but the hike from the campground to the trailhead added another 2 miles to the whole trip so we thought the Romero Pools would be enough of a distance for us to complete.

Tuesday  morning we awoke to the unusual sight of grey sky, clouds so low they were obscuring the top of the mountains. The forecast said 40% chance of rain and chilly at a P1240773maximum of 57 degrees (We have been enjoying at least 75 degrees) Now, in our book, 40% chance of rain means 60% chance of no rain. We put on fleece and slightly warmer trousers than normal and set out. The trail was sandy flat and a very easy hike, the clouds above us were far more of a threat than the path below our feet.


Just as we got to the pools we felt the first spots of rain. Actually we smelt it before we felt it, that damp sort of smell you get when it rains after a long dry period. We should have headed the warning then and turned around but we were so close to the pools we carried on. Before many minutes the rain turned to very sharp small hail and prickled our faces as we tried to hurry back. At one point I decided sheltering under a Palo Verde tree would be a good idea – its not, they give very little shelter. We walked the couple of miles back in very quick time but not quick enough that we did not get absolutely soaked.

We had not been back in haRVey long before the rain turned to snow, large blobby white flakes, which covered the ground and looked very strange in our desert surroundings.


What a difference a day makes, how many times have I said that? It was cold overnight but next morning the sky was clear blue once more. The Romero Pools were still beckoning. We knew the first part of the hike was easy, from the Montrose pools it was another 2.2miles to the higher pools, a rougher trail but with the sun out again we were happy to be walking.

It seemed it was a day for chatting, we had not gone more than 20 yards when our neighbour stopped us to talk, a little further along we stopped off at the toilet block where we struck up a conversation with a guy (Rob) who turned out to have been born in the next town to us in England! Maybe it was the fact that the sun was shining again but all day everyone we met wanted to stop and chat! The rain and sun had also bought out more of the wild flowers we have been hoping forP1240780



The blue one is a desert hyacinth while the pink one has the lovely name of Fairy Duster.










This part of the trail certainly was more rugged and we picked our way carefully over rocks and boulders climbing from 2600 feet to 3700 feet just before the pools. We had a down hill scramble to get to the water but it was so worth the effort.









Surrounded by white rock the pools reflected the deep blue of the sky, such a change from this time yesterday!

We sat a while and took in this different landscape, ate our snack and rested before the return hike. A total of just over 8 miles it took us 6 hours, mostly because of all the chatting!


We have found it much greener in this area, as well as the wild flowers the trees are breaking leaf and there are many more birds. We bought a humming bird feeder last week and have been putting it out as soon as we arrive at our camp site. We were not sure if in our short stays the humming birds would find us, but they have and so have the Gila Woodpeckers are way too big to hover but use all their skills to fathom a way to jump on the feeder and steal the sweet syrup meant for the hummingbirds!

One Response to “Peaks and pools. Picacho Peak and Catalina State Parks AZ”

  1. Sue February 17, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    isn’t this weather crazy? we were in Sedona and didn’t even get to hike, it was way too cold and windy. Of course the day we left was warm and beautiful! Picacho definately is a challenging trail, I’m glad you got to experience some of it! looking forward to seeing you guys!

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