Oracle Ridge and Lemmon Pools

August 15, 2009

So, what do you do for outdoor fun when it's 104 degrees? Normally, we'd be dipping in watery canyons, but since this year's monsoon never really got started, there's no water in the streams.

My friend Jeanne suggested a hike along Oracle Ridge, and a fine suggestion it was. The trail begins at 7880 feet high in the Catalina Mountains, and drops 1000 feet to Dan Saddle. Although the ridge is totally exposed, with temperatures only in the upper 70s it was a welcome relief from Tucson's unrelenting heat.

Another surprise was the wildflowers. The Sonoran Desert is justly famous for its Spring wildflowers, but there's a whole other season of summer wildflowers that are just as spectacular in their own way. A few of the flowers we saw on the Oracle Ridge hike include Indian paintbrush, lupine, parry beardtongue, penstemon, fleabane, asters, sunflowers, pink and purple mallow, and purple and red thistles.

We also saw a bumper crop of tiny baby horny toads, some less than an inch long.

Just above Dan Saddle, a knife's edge of pure white rock as fine as marble, we saw a female broad-tailed hummingbird, who let Dennis approach to within six inches and take photo after photo.

There were plenty of soaring birds along this ridge as well, including turkey vultures of course, but also red-shouldered hawks and maybe a golden eagle.

Oracle Ridge was heavily burned in 2002, but now that the charred trees have become silver sculptures, and the ground is covered with a lush carpet of flowering shrubs, the views are, if anything, even more spectacular than before the fire.

For our second day of hiking with Phoenician friends David and Rogil, we returned to Lemmon Pools in the Wilderness of Rocks area. This trail is shaded by towering, fragrant Ponderosa pines, and despite the dry Summer, we were delighted to find several opportunities for dipping in amber-colored pools beside the trail

So, that's what desert dwellers do for fun when's it's 104 degrees in the shade ...