16 February 2020
Hiking the Painted Hills of Tucson Mountain Park
The Rancho Relaxo is surrounded by numerous hiking areas and the Painted Hills Trails Park is just around the corner from us - 10 miles and about a 20 minute drive.
Trails Parks are a relatively new category of parks in Pima County. Trails Parks are a key step between the parks and pathways that exist in more urban areas and the trail systems in our rural mountain parks, which take more time to access. The Painted Hills Trails Park is a “happy medium” that provides natural-surface trails close to where people live and work.
Painted Hills Trails Park is a 289-acre natural open space park that is located at 3590 W. Anklam Road. The park is situated between Anklam Road and Speedway Boulevard, and access to the park’s main trailhead is located approximately 0.4 miles west of N. Players Club Drive. Painted Hills Trails Park is the northern extent of Tucson Mountain Park.
Unlike Tucson Mountain Park proper, dogs are allowed in Painted Hills Trails Park, provided you keep them on a leash at all times. Make it a practice to always clean up after your dog.
Why "Painted Hills"?
Prominent attorney Robert Daru was a winter visitor whose family made its mark on Tucson.
In 1956, Daru’s daughter Eleanor wed Si Schorr, an attorney, in New York City and the couple soon relocated to the Old Pueblo.
A couple years later, Daru’s sons-in-law Schorr and Fenton developed two subdivisions west of Silverbell Road, having purchased land from him.
Schorr developed the Painted Hills Estates, a couple of miles west of Silverbell Road, bordering West Speedway. He came up with the name Painted Hills while looking around at the nearby Tucson Mountains and the Santa Catalina Mountains and seeing the different colors he perceived in them.
Source: Tucson.com - Click me
2022 marks our 10th year of leading hikes in the Sonoran Desert and the surrounding Sky Islands. Around 350 hikes so far and today would be another one. This would be a "Beginners Only Hike " and participants must meet these requirements:
"If you are new to hiking or new to the Tucson/Sonoran Desert area or have limited ability this is a hike for you."
This is our attempt to get people out on a hike who might not normally do so and also to introduce those new to the area to some of the wonders of the Sonoran Desert.
Our hikes are limited to 12 participants and like many of our hikes this one was full. But the day before the hike folks started to get nervous. One person messaged us with this: "Mike - 80% chance of rain for Weds the 16th- are you going to Re-schedule ? Curious ...
To which I responded: "The hike will go out rain or shine so let's keep our fingers crossed."
At that point people began to drop off the list. Why?!?! What's wrong with a chilly, windy and damp hike?
There was no rain overnight and the radar looked like it was tracking north east. But around 8am the rain it did come. Occasional short down pours, light rain, drizzle, partial clearing and then more of the same. Very typical for a winter rain event here in the Sonoran Desert.
This is what it looked like on the morning of the hike. That is Cat Mountain and behind it is the Starr Valley - our back yard.
When we departed at 9:15 for the trail head it was looking promising but we still had our doubts anyone would show up. Surprise! Four hardy souls showed up ready for the bone chilling damp and wind.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
Betsy points the way.
These trails are wonderful but they have three problems:
* Dog owners
* Dog shit
* Off leash dogs
The Painted Hills Trails Park is one of three Pima county Trails Parks which allow dogs. All three Parks have the same problems.
Our route today. Although it is relatively short and has minimal elevation gain, it is not without its challenges, especially for Beginners. Almost all the trails in the Tucson mountains are rough with both loose and imbedded rocks and the trails we would be hiking today have a number of big step ups and down and over which requires one to pay attention. For us this all means one thing - a sloooooow hike. But that's OK. It often means you get to see more.
The Tucson Mountains are volcanic in origin and there is a bizarre (to me) mix of rock types which can be seen as one hikes the trail and looks across the canyons.
The appearance of these rough rocks is sometimes softened by the growth of mosses and lichens on them. It makes for a nice contrast.
In the distance are the cloud enshrouded Catalina Mountains. We were wondering if it was snowing up there at around 9'000 feet. It was in the mid 40s where we where around 2600' and at 9000' it was certainly below freezing.
That's downtown Tucson in the distance.
A closer look.
The Robust Elderly
We saw lots of Jojoba in bloom. Jojoba are dioecious which means they have the male and female reproductive organs in separate individuals.
Jojoba foliage provides year-round food for many animals, including deer, javelina, bighorn sheep, and livestock. Its nuts are eaten by squirrels, rabbits, other rodents, and larger birds.
Only Bailey's pocket mouse, however, is known to be able to digest the wax found inside the jojoba nut. In large quantities, jojoba seed meal is toxic to many mammals. Later this effect was found to be due to simmondsin, which inhibits hunger. The indigestible wax acts as a laxative in humans.
Jojoba oil is found as an additive in many cosmetic products, especially those marketed as being made from natural ingredients. In particular, such products commonly containing jojoba are lotions and moisturizers, hair shampoos and conditioners. The pure oil itself may also be used on skin, hair, or cuticles.
This time last year (2021) the jojoba were so stressed from one of the hottest, driest summers on record there were no flowers to been seen and some plants were even shedding leaves.
Like people, saguaros come in all shapes and sizes.
Heigh-Ho! Heigh-Ho! It's on a hike we'll go ...
By 11:30 the wind had died down and the blue skies and puffy clouds were making this already gorgeous scenery even more so.
If you keep your eyes moving you will see all manner of interesting saguaros.
Note the drooping arms on the saguaro on the right side of the trail. No one can seem to say with certainly what causes this. In fact there seems to be little about saguaros which can be stated with certainty. That is why some people say: "The saguaro is the most studied plant we know the least about."
The smaller saguaros Betsy is standing next to are probably about 50 years old. The branched one on the left may be as old as 150 years.
Once in a while a saguaro will lose its top and will branch out from the remaining stem section.
Meet the Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)
We are getting close to spring here in the Sonoran Desert and we are starting to see a few flowers here and there.
A closer look at the delicate flowers of the Fairy Duster.
~~~ BONUS Photo ~~~
Betsy and I first visited Painted Hills on February 2nd of 2020. That is when we saw the amazing crested saguaro which was right along the trail.
We did not get back until November of 2021 and all we saw were the remains of the spectacular plant. At some point it fell. Heavy rains and high winds will sometimes topple saguaros especially if they are top heavy like this one was.
See you next time...
Mike and Betsy