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The Mountains - A Place of Refuge

Updated on August 20, 2014

Being among Peace and Beauty

My favorite place is in the mountains, next to being in the desert, that is. So we live in the mountains among desert vegetation. :) When I want to be refreshed, I go higher into the mountains. An alternative would be to visit the ocean, but it's too far away.

My favorite mountains to visit are the Santa Catalina Mountains, with the Santa Rita Mountains running a close second. Both are in southern Arizona. When I can, I also visit the Huachuca Mountains, and some other mountains in the area.

What is it that draws me to the mountains? You are about to find out. Go with me on a journey up into the mountains.

This is the northwest face of the Catalina Mountains, which is, in my opinion, the prettiest side, because it has the most rugged cliffs.

All photos herein are mine.

Mount Lemmon

Let us make our first journey into the Santa Catalinas, called the Catalina Mountains for short. Mount Lemmon is one of the peaks at the top.

Driving through town to get to the mountain road is a real pain, so let's skip past that part.

The mountain road starts by winding around a lot. I like winding mountain roads. I like the feel of driving on the roads, turning, and feeling my body move through the turns. Early in the drive, I pass hillsides with a large number of saguaro cactus, and along the roadside itself, during certain seasons, I can see various kinds of wildflowers. I generally stop many times on the way down to see the flowers up close, and to photograph them. The best seasons for this are spring and Wet Summer. We have five seasons in the desert. They are, autumn (and yes, there are places where you can get the color of autumn leaves, especially in the mountains. This is followed by winter, spring, dry summer, and wet summer. Dry summer is the time I especially like going up into the cool of the mountains.

I fell in love with mountain living when we lived at a mile in altitude among pines. Ever hear the sound of pines in the wind? This is every bit as nice as the sound of surf.

Approaching the Catalina Mountains

This scene was probably taken from the Mount Lemmon Highway. If you look at the peaks on the right, there is a fairly thick one, and just to the left of that is a little peak that looks something like a hand with a finger pointed. It's not real obvious at this size and distance. This little peak is at the top of a canyon known as Finger Rock Canyon. I used to live within walking distance of this canyon.

This is the side of the mountain going up on the first part of the road. Notice the faint green "bristles". Those are Saguaro cacti, and some of them are as tall as 60 feet.

Babad Do'ag Vista

The first stop I might make is Babad Do'ag Vista. It has an excellent view of the city of Tucson, and the other mountain ranges around Tucson. "Babad Do'ag" is the Tohono o'Odham name for this mountain range. It means "frog mountain".

This is my favorite spot for taking lightning pictures in the right season, at night. This photo is an example of what you might see from that point during Wet Summer.

Because this is an especially desirable place to stop at night, I go there on the way down, rather than on the way up.

Going on up the road (or down, as the case may be)...

This is Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa). The flowers open after evening shadows hit the plant, and stay open all night and close in the early morning. The flower only lasts one night. It is pollinated by hummingbird moths.

These plants can be found at a range of altitudes in the mountains.

I took this picture after dark, with flash. It takes awhile for the buds to open.

This is Prairie Clover (Dalea pulchra) with a honeybee.

The flowers are Parry's Penstemon - Penstemon parryi. I found them along the road just a short distance below Molino Canyon Vista.

Molino Canyon Vista

The next stop up the mountain is the Molino Canyon Vista. This is a place where there is a waterfall and a pool of water. It has always been running whenever I have been there. That alone is quite surprising, because the altitude is still quite low there.

This view shows the top of the waterfall. There is another cataract below this pool.

This is Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium amplexicaule. I found some in Gordon Hirabayashi, but I wasn't happy with the photo, and I wanted to visit Molino Canyon Vista on the way down. Thinking I might find some there, or some Monkeyflowers, I found a new trail down to the water's edge.

This is a bellyflower for sure. See my lens on Bellyflowers. I was literally scrunching down to the ground as deep as I could go, to get this photograph. The flowers are tiny, somewhere around 1/4", I think.

Oh, and I found some Monkeyflowers, too.

Molino Basin

The entrance to this area, which is actually a canyon, is close to Molino Canyon Vista. I have been in there one time, and didn't get many pictures, but it is a place I will return. Surprisingly, I found an Oriole there.

This is a White-barred Skipper (Atrytonopsis pittacus) on Bluedicks (Dichelostemma capitatum). Bluedicks is a sort of wild onion, and can be used in a similar fashion in cooking.

When you are in the mountains, don't overlook the beautiful little things you can see.

Gordon Hirabayashi

This canyon with trails is just a short distance further up the road. I was fortunate to go this year at just the right time to catch the Pointleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens) in bloom. Those are Manzanita flowers. They also come in pure white. The bark of this plant is a rich, deep red color.

The area was named after a Japanese American by the name of Gordon Hirabayashi. He was a Quaker pacifist who challenged the right of the government to subject him to internment, during WWII. He lost in the United States Supreme Court, and because they could not transport him to prison, he hitchhiked and turned himself in. The prison, which was subsequently named after him, was located in this canyon. His conviction was subsequently overturned. He earned a PhD in sociology and taught for a number of years. He died in 2012. He was 93.

At first, thinking the prison still existed, I was reluctant to go into this canyon or into the Molino Basin, but the prison, it turns out, had been dismantled years ago.

My hiking friend found this Puffball in the canyon. Yes, there are mushrooms and other kinds of fungus in the forests. It was interesting touching this one. It's very soft, almost like very fine sponge.

Bug Springs

Not very far up the road from Gordon Hirabayashi (practically across the street) is the Bug Springs Trail. It's a nice hike, and I went up far enough to see the wildflowers I wanted to see.

On the way back, I encountered some people who had seen a gopher snake and had a picture of him. I missed the snake. Darn!

This is Shrubby Deervetch, Lotus rigidus. It was one of the flowers I hoped to see. As you can see, I was successful in finding it.

The views up there are also very nice, but I didn't hike far enough to see the truly spectacular ones.

Along the Road

After leaving Bug Springs, the road climbs for a fair distance alongside the mountain. I frequently stop along the way to take pictures of interesting flowers. This butterfly was one of the things I found along this stretch. This is a Bordered Patch, Chlosyne lacinia.

This is a view into the valley from this part of the road.

The grass is sometimes very green. On this occasion, it was dry weather, and the grass was also dry.

Thimble Peak Vista

After driving along in a more or less straight path, you will find that the road will curve significantly to the right. On the left is a lookout, and from here you can see Thimble Peak. That's the tallest peak in this photo. It is at the upper end of Sabino Canyon. Sabino Canyon is a beautiful place, and I will also talk about it soon.

This is a sunset over Thimble Peak. Good sunsets like this can be observed anywhere between this point and Windy Point.

Seven Cataracts

Just a short distance, even for walking, further around the curve, you drive alongside a hill that forms one side of another canyon. This canyon contains what used to be known as Seven Falls, now called Seven Cataracts. A person can hike to this area from Sabino Canyon. But some people have been careless, and a few have actually been killed here, so please hike carefully.

The amount of water in the cataracts varies depending on how much recent rain there has been. On this day, it was after significant rains, so there was plenty of water. Regardless of how much water there is, there always seems to be some in Sabino Canyon.

To get this picture, I used my 650-1300mm lens.

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This is Jimsonweed - Datura meteloides. It blooms at night, and the white color indicates it is pollinated by moths. The conspicuous flowers are gorgeous, but the plant is poisonous.

I found this in the same general area, on another trip.

I sometimes will remind people that there are beautiful things in the world that are nevertheless deadly. This doesn't just apply to beautiful flowers. It also applies to religious beliefs that are false, make people feel good, and prevent them from developing a relationship with the true God.

And Around the Curve...

Sometimes I come across some real surprises, much to my delight. This van was there on that curve all day.


This whole stretch of road goes past a lot of hoodoos. Here is an example of a collection of them, taken on the way down the mountain.

Windy Point Vista

Windy Point Vista is a favorite place for people to stop and look at the scenery. There are restrooms, a very nice parking area, stone walls, and a hoodoo with ropes for people who like to climb. If you walk a trail to a viewpoint a little ways off, it's a great place to view a sunset with all the mountains on the other side, in misty layers. It's just beautiful!

This scene is just around the corner.

This is the climbing rock at Windy Point.

Playing with Light

Sometimes I just like to play, and produce fantasy scenes. This is also taken at a place not too far away. I got these colors at the scene. No photoshopping involved. How I do it is a trade secret. :)

Another Spectacular View

From the same area. Yes, you have to drive up that road to get to this point.

I got this photo on the way down one evening. It was almost dark. The location is just above Windy Point. Notice the hummingbird in the air on the left. The flowers are on an agave stalk. I don't know the species of either the agave or the hummer.

San Pedro Vista Point

There are several lookouts along the road, and this is the last one of this type. To get there, you go past Geology Vista Point, which is easy to find.

At one time, people would feed the squirrels and chipmunks, and there would always be some around. I haven't seen any for several years, and I don't know what happened. You can still find these animals elsewhere, and I will show you one.

Climbing the hill a little ways above the parking area, you can see this view.

Pine Forest

The second half, or so, of the highway, goes through some SERIOUS pine forest. There are other trees as well: Alligator Junipers, Sycamores, Oaks, and so forth.

This scene is along a dirt road that goes up to Incinerator Ridge. It is one of my favorite places to bird.

One time when I was up on Incinerator Ridge, this beetle hopped onto my back. It was unusual that I didn't feel it. Another woman who was standing next to me told me about it, and she graciously gave it to me. I put it on the ground and took its picture.

It's Pleasing Fungus Beetle, Gibbifer californicus. There may also be other names for it. It likes to eat fungus that destroys trees.


Among the trees, when in season, there are many beautiful green ferns. I found these across the street and up the hill a little ways from Palisades Ranger Station. But they are widely scattered in the pine forests.

Before Syncamore Canyon

Earlier this year, I went up the mountain specifically to look for snow scenes. This was the highlight of the day. This jagged rock wall sported the icicles, and because of this, I called the picture "Cliffcicles".

Wild Turkeys

I am driving along the road, and some wild turkeys cross in front of me. So I follow them. They wound up at Loma Linda Vista. Some people were feeding them, so they all came running. There were 13 altogether. That's an unusually large number for Mount Lemmon. (Recently, some wild turkeys that had found their way into Tucson were re-located on Mount Lemmon. They'd be in addition to these.)

When we just eat turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we don't get to know how beautiful they are! Look at how the sun glints off the iridescence in their feathers!

Meleagris gallopavo.

Inspiration Rock

Inspiration Rock is very close to Summerhaven. It's a really good place to bird. I have gotten a number of new life birds there.

This Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) is just a youngster.

Birds aren't the only interesting animals in the area. I saw a red fox once, but unfortunately, it was very brief and he was far away and I didn't get a picture.

And then there are Cliff Chipmunks (Tamias dorsalis). I have seen them on Incinerator Ridge, too.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

Psalm 121:1


From the northern end of the Inspiration Rock picnic area, you can see down into Summerhaven.

Several years ago, there was a devastating fire, called the Aspen Fire. It burned something like 225 homes and other buildings in Summerhaven, and denuded the hillsides (those scars may not go away for a very long time). Insurance paid for the burned homes enabled some people to rebuild, and from the look of things, the amount of money made it possible to build some pretty impressive mansions. Like this one.

I always wondered why people build homes of wood up there. I am even MORE puzzled as to why people RE-built homes of wood after the fire. Must be nice to have such a lovely home, but I would prefer some solid rock walls, which would probably help keep the place warm, too. And as cold as it gets, I would sure want warm.

Ski Valley

Just before you get to Summerhaven, there is a road off to the right that leads to Ski Valley. They have skiing there during good winters (which isn't every winter). There's a ski lift there, and plenty of clear downhill slopes, and a restaurant called the Iron Door that serves wonderful homemade and healthful food. I just wish they served dinner!

This picture was taken when I went up deliberately to find fall colors. And find them I did! These are mostly aspens. People think we don't have fall colors in the desert. Well, this proves them wrong. :)

There is an outdoor area with tables, and you can sit out there and eat. The people keep hummingbird feeders, and Steller's Jays and Yellow-eyed Juncos are common visitors as well. The Juncos are exceptionally tame, and will come right up on the balcony rail, looking for dropped crumbs. They even will hop down to the floor and run around.

This one was sitting on the rail right next to me.

These birds are also common on Incinerator Ridge, and other such places. I have seen at least one nearly every time I have gone there.

Unfortunately, you can't see it in this picture, but the Yellow-eyed Junco has a beautiful rust-colored back.

Junco phaeonotus.

Marshall Gulch

If you drive through Summerhaven and then follow the same road to the end, you are in Marshall Gulch. That's another wonderful birding area, and also has some great flowers. It's the only place I have seen yellow Columbine, for instance.

This is Cow Parsnip, Heracleum maximum. It is truly an amazing plant. The leaves are huge, and they have these flowerheads with what looks like hundreds of tiny white blossoms. These are young leaves. They grow in a single bud that looks like some kind of pod, and then they burst forth. Sometimes there's a flowerhead in there as well.

Here is the flowerhead.

Here is what I went up there to find that day. It's a Red-faced Warbler (Cardellina rubrifrons). Isn't he beautiful!

And with that, I will leave you for now. I'll write about different mountains when I add to this lens.

Please come back!

Read about Mount Lemmon

The Road to Mount Lemmon by Mary Ellen Barnes.

Tells the history of how this area was opened up for people, including how Summerhaven was built. Available at Amazon.

Please let me know you stopped by, and what you think of these photos, and of Mount Lemmon, if you have been there.


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