Summit Alpine Peak in Idaho's gorgeous Sawtooth Wilderness for a stunning view of dozens of Sawtooth peaks, Mount Regan's steep north face, and beautiful Sawtooth Lake at your feet.
Alpine Peak (right - elevation 9,861') rises 2,000 feet above Alpine Lake
Val taking a break at Sawtooth Lake - looking across to Mount Regan's north face
"You Should Never Stop Climbing Mountains", Andy Rooney proclaimed in one of his commentaries from the television show 60 minutes. Many years ago, my sister sent me a written copy of this excerpt along with photos of my hiking adventures neatly arranged in two connected frames. I still have it displayed along with other old hiking photos. In this segment, Rooney describes how he climbed Pilot Knob Mountain behind his cottage on Lake George in New York 4 or 5 times each summer during his childhood, and later climbed it with his kids. One day, he came across old photos of he and his kids on top of Pilot Knob, and it occurred to him that he had stopped climbing mountains, just like he had stopped doing "...a half a dozen things." He tells a few stories of some of his memories on this mountain and then sums up his commentary with "I may never climb Pilot Knob again. I never should have stopped."
A few weeks ago, Val, Fred, John and I took Rooney's advice to climb another mountain together: Alpine Peak summit in the gorgeous Sawtooth Wilderness in the heart of Idaho. We four had done a phenomenal hike to Goat Mountain in Idaho's Pioneer Mountains last autumn. Fred and I had summited Alpine Peak 6 years ago, so we knew where to get off the trail that treks along Sawtooth Lake's east side for the 1,400-foot climb to the summit. We have been hiking this trail over the past 19 years. It's so beautiful that many others have discovered it and for a weekday it was busier than ever. However, not many ventured past Sawtooth Lake, and no one else climbed Alpine Peak that day.
My sister gave me this written copy of Andy Rooney's excerpt from 60 Minutes years ago.
The first part of the trail is a pleasant and easy climb along Iron Creek with its gentle melodic waterfalls through pines, firs and green understory. The tread is soft and dusty and the forest fragrant. Near the intersection with the trail to Alpine Lake, Alpine Peak rises 2,000 feet over the lake's cirque to the south. As the trail switch-backs out of the forest, views open, becoming more stunning with each step. To the northeast, a perfectly U-shaped thickly forested valley carved by glaciers from the Little Ice Age extends below. After reaching Sawtooth Lake, the real feel for this terrain and its breathtaking views become apparent with the steep and rocky Class 2-3 climb to the summit.
Mile 0 to Mile 3.5 at intersection of trail to Alpine Lake
8:15 a.m: We obtained our Sawtooth Wilderness permit at the trailhead kiosk. It was a bit early for John, but Val, Fred and I were excited about the hike and ready to go. This section gains 1,200 feet, crossing over Iron Creek as it approaches Alpine Lake, a perfect mirror of the clouds above. On the way to Alpine Lake turnoff, pass two trail intersections. An old, classic wooden trail sign, splitting through the middle, indicates the way to Stanley Lake. An intersection before that indicates Trail #528 to Marshall Lakes (this trail goes to Goat Lake, an excellent hike). Crossing over the creek before the switchbacks up to Alpine Lake must be interesting in the late spring with the increased run-off of that cold, crystal clear water.
Iron Creek Trailhead
Fred and Val at intersection of Trail #640 to Sawtooth Lake and Trail #528 to Stanley Lake
Mile 3.5 to Mile 4.5 at Sawtooth Lake's outlet (northeast side)
Although the trail signs indicate Sawtooth Lake is over 5 miles from Iron Creek Trailhead, my GPS read 4.5 miles. The trail gains 530 feet in about one mile between the intersection of Alpine Lake's spur trail and the first view of scenic Sawtooth Lake. The views of Alpine Peak improve until you work your way around the ridge that contains it, and then it becomes hidden while standing at Sawtooth Lake. Passing the lake's outlet log jam, the trail traverses through huge white granite boulders. This is a wonderful place to eat lunch - on an elevated bank looking across the bright blue water to Mount Regan with its formidable north-facing vertical wall. Though all around there is a riot of bright colors: red, purple, yellow wildflowers, fresh granite edges, and sparkling water, everything in is harmony, and it has a calming effect. John hides a water bottle among boulders; Fred bets he won't find it again. John is fully awake now and impatient to end our break and get back on the trail.
First view of Sawtooth Lake ~ 4.5 miles from trailhead
Starting out on 0.9-mile trek along Sawtooth Lake's east side to its end - August 2019
Compare the snow level on Mt. Regan with identical photo below taken in 2013.
Sawtooth Lake and Mt. Regan July 2013 - less snow this year!
Near beginning of 1,400-foot ascent to Alpine Peak
Walk to the end of Sawtooth Lake (above) and head straight up.
Mile 4.5 (Sawtooth Lake's outlet) to Alpine Peak Summit
The easy part is over and we focus on the tough part of the day - getting to the summit. Best to have a topo map to find the easiest way up, although Alpine Peak is one of the least technically challenging Sawtooth summits. From Sawtooth Lake, walk the trail along the east side of the lake, initially making a few switchbacks to rise above the lake. Walk 0.9 miles to the lake's end, then start climbing off-trail for 0.75 miles to Alpine Peak (see our GPS tracks below), up any one of the gullies to ridge. After reaching ridge, hike along it north to summit. On our way up, we left the trail a bit too early, which made the climb steeper, but also more interesting. Gaining 1,400 feet in 0.8 miles means heart-pounding steep, and grasping for tree branches was necessary at times. John went up a rocky gulley directly under the peak. Fred, Val and I slowly picked our way to the saddle just west of the summit then stepped through a stable boulder/talus field, grasping onto rock outcrops and angling toward the summit. Underneath me I could see Val and the lake grow smaller as I climbed. We could see the summit high above us and all the broken rock we had to navigate before getting there. We met victoriously with John, already at the top. From the summit, the view of the Sawtooth Mountain Range's many sharp-toothed peaks, a close-up of Mount Regan and the town of Stanley with specks for buildings is tremendous. Sawtooth Lake is a sapphire oval far below us. We hunted for it, but could not find the peak register.
Alpine Peak's summit register in 2013; we didn't find it in 2019
The summit becomes visible half-way up the climb from Sawtooth Lake
The upper track is our ascent, the lower track our descent
Ascending Alpine Peak from Sawtooth Lake - 1,400' gain in 0.75-0.8 miles
Fred on the way up Alpine Peak
On the ascent from Sawtooth Lake - Mt. Regan
Val making her way up Alpine Peak's northwest ridge
Val reaching summit!
Fred, John, Val at Alpine Peak Summit - 1,400 feet above Sawtooth Lake
View southeast toward Williams, Merritt and Thompson Peaks
Western moss heather
Cassiope mertensiana subsp. gracilis
Matrix-supported conglomerate seen on the ascent
View to the southeast
Heading down toward Sawtooth Lake
Dark purple clouds with rain sheets underneath had gathered during our summit celebration. When we heard distant thunder, we decided to get down. Although lightening was just over the ridge, we were spared the storm. We hiked south along the ridge for a short distance and then aimed for the south end of Sawtooth Lake. This way treks over alternating tree islands and boulder/talus fields, and it's fun to "skate" down through the scree. Again, John descended by his own route, through more rock, it seemed. We found him at the bottom on the trail, a bit scraped up and bleeding from a fall. But John is tough with a lot of experience with falling (he and Val are skydivers), so we resumed our hike along Sawtooth Lake, chattering happily, now that we achieved our goal. Before heading away from Sawtooth Lake, we cooled our feet in splashing crystal clear outlet creek. Walking down the trail with the wide valley spread at our feet, we passed uphill hikers, on their way to that extraordinary lake. But what we four had just seen, hiking above and beyond, few people get to witness. "What should our next summit be?" I asked. Maybe in the future the mountains I climb will have less rise and distance and the summit easier to obtain. As long as I am able, I will never stop climbing mountains. I bet we four will continue to climb them as long as we can.
By the way, we eventually found John's water bottle.
"Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing it."
- Andy Rooney
Great way to head up to the summit - from end of lake, head up to saddle on the horizon, then hang a left (north) on the ridge to summit.
Sawtooth Lake's outlet creek
U-shaped valley cut by Pleistocene glacier
Hike from Iron Creek trailhead to Alpine Peak
click on above map for larger view
Special thanks to Cecilia Lynn Kinter, PhD, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Boise, Idaho for identifying Cassiope mertensiana.
Share the summit of Scotchman Peak with mountain goats and possibly a "Friend of Scotchman Peak Wilderness."
Oreamnos americanus near Scotchman Peak, Cabinet Mountains
Rock near summit is siltite (altered siltstone or mudstone) and argyllite (lithified muds) - sedimentary in origin
Each summer reminds me that Idaho is an extraordinary place with so much beauty to witness, so many peaks to hike, so many clear streams to walk in. And wildlife; on Scotchman Peak in North Idaho's Kaniksu National Forest. we saw a family of mountain goats including two kids in their rugged and steep habitat. This steep hike ascending about 1,000 feet every mile begins in tall pines with an understory filled with lilies and bear grass, has beautiful views of Lake Pend Oreille, the largest Idaho lake and fifth deepest in the nation, and ends in the scattered shale and rugged views of the Cabinet Mountains and remote Yaak country in northwestern Montana.
After hiking a little over a mile through towering trees, views open to look upon expansive Lake Pend Oreille as the trail passes through a huge meadow gaining the ridge. Just when you thought you saw the best view of the lake, another turn of the switchback offers a better one.
As expected, because of the concern and history of human and mountain goat encounters, a large yellow sign at the entrance to the open talus slopes indicates you are entering mountain goat habitat, with a rock-strewn false summit in view. As if to welcome, two goats skirted us on our entry into the open slopes. Once over the false summit, Scotchman Peak comes into view as rugged canyons drop below, at the end of the steep and layered rock ridge. More goats appeared, but kept their distance.
A volunteer "greeter" from Friends of Scotchman Peak Wilderness, an organization with the goal of saving this wilderness for future generations, greeted us as we ascended the easily accessible peak. This organization has been working on getting this area designated as wilderness; voters from Bonner County in which this area resides voted against such a designation. Although the volunteer was pleasant, her "educating" us on consideration of the mountain goats was unnecessary: the signs at trailhead and mid-mountain are adequate. We go to summits to be awed, to revel in the peace and beauty that not many get to see, not to have someone tell us how to behave on a mountain top. Trust the summit seeker, they will learn from the signs and behave accordingly.
Mountain goats are in the family Bovidae, which also includes antelope and cattle. Across the summit, on a tall precipice were a nanny and her two kids. She quickly gathered them and moved on as we approached the summit. The view is memorable, with the huge, deep blue Lake Pend Oreille in its Missoula Flood-scoured valley to the west, and to glacial-cut and jagged peaks to the north. The combination of the lake, goats and rows of mountain ranges make this an extraordinary hike.
We continued on the ridge past Scotchman, but hiking became precarious as the ridge narrowed and drop-offs became intimidating. On our return to the trailhead, we saw a fair number of people coming up clearly working hard on the steep ascent, and clearly happy to be in that special place. One more Idaho summit climbed and the feeling that we are some of the luckiest people on this Earth to be able to explore this beautiful state.
Lake Pend Oreille - west of Scotchman Peak
Sandpoint on north shore, Clark Fork on east shore.
Largest Idaho lake and fifth deepest in the nation.
First mile of trail to Scotchman Peak through dry forest gains ridge for ever-increasing views of Lake Pend Oreille
Sego Lilly - Calochortus nuttallii
The bulbous roots were ground by Native Americans into a starchy meal.
Mormon pioneers also used this plant as a source of food.
The hike is steep in parts!
Upon entering the talus slopes of mountain goat habitat - we were greeted shortly after this sign by two goats
Heading toward false summit - Scotchman Peak and incredible 360-degree view seen at the top of this
Scotchman Peak summit - 7,009 feet
Looking southwest toward the Coeure D' Alene Forest
Billy watching over his two kids and waiting for them to catch up
May be Rocky Ledge Penstemon - Penstemon ellipticus
Near the summit of Scotchman Peak - Lake Pend Oreille to the west
Sue and Fred - another great adventure for the books - Life is Good!
Montana Cabinet Mountains on horizon
On the way down: parting shot of this beautiful forest
Elevation profile: Almost a 4,000-foot gain including recovering from lost elevation on the way up, over 3.7 miles
Trail climbs to ridge and stays on it to the summit.
Geologic Map of the Scotchman Peak Quadrangle, Bonner County, Idaho
USDA - Idaho Panhandle National Forests - Sego Lily. https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/ipnf/learning/?cid=fsm9_019206
On this exceptional 18-mile round-trip hike, experience remarkable biological diversity beginning in the saguaros and desert scrub, ending in the evergreen oaks and alligator juniper of the pine-oak woodlands. The reward is an immense view of mountain ranges in southern Arizona.
Tanque Verde Peak - Saguaro National Park East - Rincon Mountain District
Biome - "A large community of plants and animals that occupies a distinct region. A complex biotic community characterized by distinctive plant and animal species and maintained under the climatic conditions of the region."
Tanque Verde Ridge in background
If I had to pick only one word that best describes the essence of the hike to Tanque Verde Peak in the Saguaro Wilderness, I would choose "diversity". This nine-mile portion of the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail that begins at the Javelina trailhead in Saguaro National Park east of Tucson and ends 4,000 feet higher at Tanque Verde's summit treks through four biotic communities, each containing its characteristic plant and animal species. These "life zones" -Sonoran desertscrub, semi-desert grassland, Madrean evergreen woodland, and temperate forest overlap, so that prickly pear cactus grows alongside bunch grasses in transition zones.
An evening of April thunderstorms and light rain the previous night had created a chill and freshness to the morning air. Fred and I had hiked this trail 6.9 miles to Juniper Basin the year before. This year, we were determined to hike the full nine miles to the peak.
The trail, initially hard and rocky, winds through stately saguaros, barrel cactus and prickly pear cacti filled to the brim with new flower buds (in April), straightens and gains elevation through tall bunchgrasses, bear grass, and finally oak trees. Leaving the desert scrub behind, the trail rises and falls through an ever-increasing amount of oaks. It goes through lovely Juniper Flat, through the cool shade of Ponderosa and Pinyon pines along with Alligator juniper toward the summit of Tanque Verde Peak where the tread is soft with accumulated pine needles. Grasping the rough and weathered granite on the last few feet of the summit block, you hoist yourself up a huge boulder to see the dark, immense summit of Rincon Mountain on the south ridge and the breathtaking view of southern Arizona's mountain ranges.
The only bad part is the sore feet after this 18-mile hike; however, a small price to pay for this unique experience.
Tanque Verde, or "green tank" refers to the green algae present in a large tank of water used for stock in the 1800's. It is now the name given to the valley east of Tucson that is bordered by the Santa Catalina Mountains to the north and the Rincon Mountains to the east. The Pima Indians lived there in the 1600's, and Tanque Verde Ranch was established in the 1800's.
Biomes of Sonoran Desert Network Parks
Symbols courtesy of the Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (ian.umces.edu/symbols/).
-Taken from Sonoran Desert Inventory and Monitoring Network - National Park Service
Sonoran Desertscrub (a.k.a. Thornscrub)
This hike begins at the Javelina picnic area in East Saguaro National Park - elevation 3,100 feet, in the creosote-scented Sonoran desertscrub biome. A great biome because plants are tough yet beautiful at the same time. Tough because plants have devised strategies to help them survive, such as thorns as a physical defense against predators, and hair on leaves to shield the relentless sun. Thorns and bristles act to shade and insulate certain crucial parts of cacti. Thorny saguaros dominate this community, along with cacti of various forms, such as the flower bud-studded prickly pear. Bright colors of wildflowers in spring line the path: coral/red claret cup flowers of the hedgehog cactus, yellow prickly pear flowers, pink fairyduster, bright orange ocotillo, and peach-colored globemallow flowers. Mesquite and Palo Verde trees are present in the Sonoran desertscrub biome which is intermediate between the desert and tropical forest biomes. The cheerful yellow flowers of Encelia farinosa, or brittlebush add bursts of color among the red-brown rocks and green cacti.
After the trail register, the trail begins to climb, with sweeping views of Tucson basin. Before emerging out of the desertscrub biome into grassland, at about two miles, the trail provides unobstructed views of the mountain ranges west and south of Tucson. From here, the trail stays on the wide ridge, rounding hills at some intervals, or heading straight up and then down, causing mild losses in elevation. It gains 700 feet in the 1.4 miles after the trail register. Just after 4,000 feet elevation, saguaros become more scarce, and grass more prominent, as it transitions into semi-desert grassland ecosystem.
Trail head sign at Javalina Picnic area - Saguaro National Park East
9 miles and 4 biomes ahead of us!
Ocotillo and prickly pear in Sonoran desertsrub biome
Brittlebush - Encelia farinosa
Scolopendra heros - giant desert centipede (we saw one of these on our way back)
- taken from Wikipedia
Near Javelina picnic area - Saguaro National Park East
Desertscrub (recently named Thornscrub) biome in Sonoran desert about 3,000 - 4,000 feet elevation
Green lynx spider on prickly pear blossom
Prickly Pear Cactus with buds on leaves in April
Saguaro near Bridal Wreath Falls with holes probably made from nesting cactus wrens, Arizona's state bird
On trail system north of Tanque Verde Ridge in Saguaro NP
As the trail climbs just past 4,000 feet, a noticeable change in vegetation occurs: saguaros become scarce as the ridge is dominated by ever-increasing fields of bunchgrasses, oak and juniper. Calming, muted and soft neutral grey/greens replace bright primary colors of the lively, unrestrained desertscrub. Sotol, creosote and agave mix with a diverse array of grasses. As the trail gradually climbs, junipers become more prevalent. Tanque Verde Peak is still six miles away and not visible. The manzanita and oak species are prevalent in the oak savannah community as the trail ascends, transitioning into pine/oak woodland.
Transition between Sonoran desertscrub and semi-desert grasslands
Oaks begin to appear in semi-desert grassland biome
Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson on horizon
Madrean Evergreen/Pine/Oak Woodland
At about four miles, at mid-elevation that is between the desertscrub and the temperate forest biomes, the trail ascends and descends through ever-increasing oaks. At 5.9 miles, the trail drops to make its long entrance into Juniper Basin Campground, crossing beautiful Box Canyon with rock cairns to guide you through stretches of rock floors. At 5,940 feet elevation, Juniper Basin Campground is an airy and spacious place with towering Pinyon pines and oaks and my favorite - the alligator juniper with its scaly square-patterned bark. There's an outhouse and food box for overnight campers.
Evergreen oaks such as Emory oak and Arizona white oak along with Mexican pinyon pine dominate this biome, named after its origin in the Sierra Madre mountain range that runs through Mexico and along the Gulf of California. Understory perennial grasses rustle, adding to the peace of this place.
The elevation gain to Juniper Basin Campground is 2,840 feet in 6.9 miles. Tanque Verde Peak is another 2.1 miles and 1,100 feet in gain. Such a long, arduous adventure; it's tempting to turn back and call it good, but the additional effort to get to the summit is worth it. We summon our motivation and resume our quest not knowing at this time how we would quickly forget our tired legs once on Tanque Verde summit, and how the forest and view would exceed our expectations.
Signs indicate the trail continues northeastward from Juniper Basin. Finally, Tanque Verde Peak comes into view, but seems far away. Orange blazes on trees occasionally mark the trail, easy to follow.
Oak in Madrean Evergreen Woodland biome - near Juniper Basin Campground - 6,000 feet
"Madrean" is the word taken from the Sierra Madre Mountain range in Mexico
Huge alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana) along trail between Juniper Basin and Tanque Verde Peak.
The checkerboard-patterned bark is distinctive in this large evergreen which is used for fenceposts.
Yucca on the left and alligator juniper share space in the Madrean Evergreen Woodland biome
A unique characteristic of the Sonoran temperate forest biome, officially beginning at around 6,000 feet elevation, is the cohabitation of lower-elevation desert plants, such as the yucca with spruces, pines, firs and maples. Species diversity reigns, although seemingly not to the degree of the desertscrub biome. Temperate forests are very cold-hardy and confined to cooler sites above the Madrean evergreen woodland.
We catch glimpses of Tanque Verde Peak as we climb on a well-traveled path through the shade, scent and rough texture of this forest. Emerging out of the dense forest into an open wide ridge, Tanque Verde's many columnar rocks and crevices comes into sharp view at about 6,500 feet. The trail weaves around large boulders and manzanita: the metal summit sign is seen to the east at about 8.7 miles. Reach an old signed intersection that points the way to Cow Head Saddle which is another 2.5 miles on the ridge; continue straight ahead to Tanque Verde. Somehow I forget my tired legs when we reach the summit, where the spectacular scene doesn't reveal itself until you scale a looming boulder that stands in your way, a short climb that feels like the final test for this summit conquer.
Forest opens near summit of Tanque Verde in temperate forest biome
Old sign near trail intersection with hike to Cow Head Saddle continuing on Tanque Verde Ridge.
100 yards from the summit!
The view is spectacular. It takes a few seconds to fully comprehend how high this peak rises above the surrounding desert floor and the layers of mountain ranges visible. Mexico is to the south, the Santa Rita and Galiuro Mountain ranges to the southeast. The Santa Catalina Mountains thrust up rocky prominences to the northwest. Rincon Peak is just across the valley to the east, its massive hulk in the shadow of clouds.
We relish the view and accomplishment and the wonder and beauty that the Sonoran desert brings. The wind is brisk and cool, but by the time we get down to the desertscrub and walk through the saguaro stands, seven miles away, it will be warmer, even with the sun setting. There are about four or five hills to climb on the long walk out, scaled with a bit more determination than on the way in. Glad we are getting back at sunset, for above the golden Tanque Verde Ridge slowly becoming covered by shadows, a nearly full moon is rising.
Tucson Basin to the southwest from summit of Tanque Verde Peak - 7,047 feet
Rincon Peak southeast of Tanque Verde Peak in eastern Rincon Mountains - also a great hike!
Fred and Sue - 7,047 feet - if you've got the endurance (and plenty of water), we recommend this hike!
Nine miles done and nine more to go!
Close to Javelina trailhead, Saguaro National Park East
Getting back to trailhead at moonrise - ocotillos in foreground
Always a Frost gelato after a Tucson hike
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (in red) from trailhead at Javelina picnic area in Saguaro NP East to Tanque Verde Peak
click on map for larger image
Buckley, Steve, ed. 2011. Common Plants of Saguaro National Park
Levengood, Betty. Tucson Hiking Guide. 2012. West Wind Press, Portland, Oregon.
Natural Resources Monitoring at Saguaro National Park. https://www.nps.gov/im/sodn/sagu.htm
Sonoran Desert Network Ecosystems. https://www.nps.gov/im/sodn/ecosystems.htm#CP_JUMP_5423053
USGS - Southwest Biological Science Center. 2006. Vascular Plant and Vertebrate Inventory of Saguaro National Park, Rincon Mountain District rincon_vegetation.pdf.
Tanque Verde Ranch website, https://www.tanqueverderanch.com/
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Saguaro. Geology of the Rincon Mountains. https://www.nps.gov/sagu/planyourvisit/upload/Geology%20of%20the%20Rincon%20Mountains.pdf.
Hike through beautiful Upper Sonoran chaparral ecosystem to a distinguished Tucson landmark with steep rock chutes in the Santa Catalina Mountains.
Thimble Peak with penstemon and native thistle
Pusch Ridge Wilderness - Santa Catalina Mountains - Tucson
Thimble Peak (second peak from the right), a prominent landmark seen from Sabino Canyon Trail (far left) and Phoneline Trail (faint, winding trail on slope under ridge). We hiked to Thimble Peak from the opposite direction and approached it from "behind".
Final approach to Thimble Peak on the section that turns off of Bear Canyon Trail
Elevation profile from 0.4 miles from trail head to peak.
Bear Canyon to the left (southeast), Sabino Canyon to the right (northwest), Blacketts Ridge upper right.
Full GPS tracks map below
On a warm and lush April day in Tucson, Scott, Fred and I hit the trail to Thimble Peak with two main goals: summit the peak via a climbing class 4 vertical crack, and leave upon it a rock that we had found on Pinto Mountain's summit in Joshua Tree four months earlier. The rock, painted with a cartoon image of a cat, belongs to the Jamestown Kind Rocks Project, whose goal is to "promote random acts of kindness to unsuspecting people by painting and dropping inspirational rocks or some other cool way to bring kindness." Scott had found it in Pinto's summit register box and kept it. Now it was time to pass on the kindness.
"Lush" and Tucson don't normally go together in the same sentence, but as I stood at four different high-points overlooking the Tucson basin a few weeks ago, a carpet of forest green spread below. Tucson received above average rainfall this past winter and spring, and now the wildflowers were robust and plentiful, bursting with buds and flowers. All of the space atop each prickly pear cactus leaf pad was filled to maximum capacity with new flower buds. This ramble through juniper and oak was colored with the purples, pinks, reds, and oranges of penstemon, globe mallow, thistle, and pink fairy duster.
Signs at Gordon Hirabayashi trailhead. This hike initially follows the Molino Basin Trail #11 to the Sycamore Trail #39 which is part of the Arizona Trail.
From the Gordon Hirabayashi Trailhead we hiked west and quickly came to our first intersection with Soldier Canyon Trail #53 and the remains of the Tucson Federal Prison Camp that housed Japanese Americans during WWII that built the Catalina Highway (Sky Island Scenic Byway). In the next few miles, we saw the remains of structures: foundations and rock towers in Sycamore Canyon that may have been used to hoist pipes for the water supply to the camp from Sycamore Reservoir below.
From the intersection, the sandy and wide trail to Shreve Saddle is pleasant with a subtle beauty, with just the right mix of bunch grasses, oaks, yucca, manzanita and juniper - the Upper Sonoran Life Zone that includes oak woodland and chaparral.
The top of Shreve Saddle seems to hang on the horizon; as the trail reaches it, an expansive view westward of beautiful Sycamore Canyon and ridges and peaks of the Sabino Canyon area opens up. A sign for Sycamore Reservoir Trail #39 indicates the trail descends Sycamore Canyon on the left (south) side. At this point the trail enters the Pusch Ridge Wilderness; it feels like wilderness except for a few prisoner-constructed cemented rock towers. Further down the trail, a bedrock grinding mortar sits on a high, smooth boulder next to the trail, evidence of ancient peoples' production of mesquite and palo verde seed pods and other plants. These represent an important food resource for prehistoric people, and also sites for social interaction.
The descent from Shreve Saddle to Sycamore Reservoir is one mile through a perfect balance of views, beautiful chaparral vegetation, and occasional sparks of color from wildflowers as it gently lulls you to Sycamore Creek. It's great to descend, but the knowledge that you will have to make up for this pleasure on the way back– in this case, a 600- foot climb out of the canyon after a summit hike is an added challenge. Luckily, we had drifting clouds that created an ever-changing landscape of shadows and light on the mountains ahead.
A large rock cairn sits near the sign at the bottom of Sycamore Canyon. For a short side trip, turn left and check out the remains of Sycamore Reservoir and the impressive rock dam wall. To continue onto the trail to Thimble, turn right (northwest) at the sign and rock cairn (as you face the reservoir) and walk through the shade of towering trees and along the banks of the creek toward the northwest. The trail is marked by rock cairns. From this intersection, it’s a 0.6-mile walk along the north side of Sycamore Creek to a large rock cairn marking the “v” intersection where a well-marked trail that goes to the left short-cuts onto Bear Canyon Trail. Take the left. Our boots didn’t get wet as we crossed low-water Sycamore Creek at this intersection. The creek bottom is boulder-strewn, broad and dry.
This was a great place for lunch, so the three of us sat in the shade of an oak and took a break. Great time to compare what snacks we brought - Scott usually has the more interesting ones, like salmon jerky or a Trader Joe's salad.
From here, the trail climbs steadily, another 0.6 miles to meet up with the popular Bear Canyon Tail through pretty country of oak and Manzanita and tall stands of fuschia and purple penstemon (in April). A huge green racer skimmed across the trail in front of me and slithered its way up a tree. From the flanks of a an eroded hill, Fred pointed across the arroyo to a huge stand of purple penstemon, looking more like a shrub than a perennial forb. At the "t" intersection, turn left (south) onto Bear Canyon Trail.
Once on Bear Canyon Trail, climb up along a gentle grade 0.2 miles to Thimble Saddle at 4,800 feet, turn a corner and finally, the unmistakable shape of Thimble Peak comes into view, 3.7 miles from the trailhead. It looks like, well, a thimble on a long rocky ridge thrust up between two deep canyons. Thimble Flat and the grassy and rocky ascent to the base of its summit can be seen from Bear Canyon Trail. A pile of branches in April 2019 marked the junction of the spur trail to Thimble Peak and Bear Canyon Trail, its purpose to steer Bear Canyon hikers away from the Thimble Peak trail. From the saddle, descend to Thimble Flat and turn right onto the Thimble spur trail right before the Bear Canyon Trail descends steeply into the canyon.
Delights abound on this 1.2-mile trail to the base of Thimble. Sharp and toothy yucca leaves contrast with soft, billowy bunch grasses. The light, chunky spires of Thimble Peak seem small compared to the immense dark walls of Bear Canyon and the towering Gibbon Mountain to the east. The trail has just the right steepness as it passes through grass and boulders, and is thin but easy to follow with cairns to mark the way. Reach the base of Thimble at ~ 5.2 miles. Another 110 vertical feet to climb to top of Thimble.
Last approach to the base through grassland, yucca and Arizona Oak
Did we make it to the top?
Once at the base, walk 70 or so feet to the right (west) to the easily-recognizable cleft with a large boulder imbedded close to the bottom on the north side of Thimble. This is the route to the highest point that includes a Class 4 pitch, according to sources I read. Scott climbed the lower spires of Thimble, its cleft route to the left (east) of the main Thimble approach. He looked across to the highest point and saw the chain ladder that was placed there recently. I found the main rock chute too intimidating from the start; was able to start climbing the second chute, but I didn’t top out. What I would have seen had I made it to the top is, "the full-circle, ridgetop view from Thimble is spectacular...Pusch Ridge, the Santa Catalina Mountains, Tucson, endless sky islands. They are all about. It is heart-rattling to look west, right down the remarkable (and ultra familiar) ridgeline over which Thimble Peak presides: Saddleback, Blacketts, the desert floor,“ according to the blog post from Earthline: The American West. Still, this hike was worth seeing the dramatic perspective of canyons and peaks and the Tucson basin even if I didn't get to the very top. Impressive Rattlesnake Peak which lies to the west is another goal that will have to wait until our next Tucson visit. So, no one in our party made it to the highest part of the summit - but that's o.k.
Final Class 4 climb to the western-most and highest summit of Thimble at 5,323 feet. As of April 2019, there is a chain ladder placed at the top where there is a sheer 10-foot wall that otherwise requires a rope.
Jamestown Kind Rock we found on Pinto Mountain and now placed on Thimble Peak
We hadn't forgotten about the Jamestown Kind Rock painted with a white cat wearing a pink bow. Scott placed it carefully on a rock shelf under a protective overhang, tilting it up so the next Thimble climber would see it. Not only is it a gesture to remind us how important "kindness" is, it also represents the enduring friendship that we three hikers - Scott, Fred and I have. We had found it together four months earlier on Pinto Mountain in Joshua Tree, now together we were placing it on another mountain in hopes that the next discoverer(s) would do the same. I wonder where it is now!
We retraced our steps back as the sky was darkening, climbing out of Sycamore Canyon bottom 600 feet up to Shreve Saddle. I tried to find the grinding mortar again, but didn’t. We returned to the Hirabayashi trailhead as rain drops pelted. That night we celebrated with a delicious home-made chicken curry and spring roll dinner with friends as some initial lightning and then a steady rain descended upon Tucson for most of the night. The next morning, clouds hung midway up the Rincon Mountain range as we looked at our goal for that day arising above the clouds – Tanque Verde Peak. Stay tuned for the blog post about the trip to that fabulous summit. We made it to the top of that one!
Foliated gneiss - Rocks are beautiful!!
Opuntia - Prickly Pear Cactus
This one was huge!
Google Earth image of trail from Gordon Hirayabashi trailhead to Thimble Peak, due west via Sycamore Canyon. Tucson basin upper left in image.
Geology and History
Bezy, John. 2004. A Guide to the Geology of Sabino Canyon and the Catalina Highway. Arizona Geological Survey. http://repository.azgs.az.gov/sites/default/files/dlio/files/nid1526/dte-17_sabino_canyon-red.pdf
Dickinson, William R. 1992. Geologic Map of Catalina Core Complex and San Pedro Trough. Arizona Geological Survey, Contributed Map CM-92-C.
Kreutz, Doug. 2011. Ancient Grinding Holes Offer Hard Clues to Past. Arizona Daily Star. https://tucson.com/news/local/ancient-grinding-holes-offer-hard-clues-to-past/article_14cbc931-f23c-5aba-9101-779322043849.html
LocalWiki: Tucson. Catalina Federal Honor Camp. Taken from internet 5/9/19.
Richard, S.M., Reynolds, S.J., Spencer, J.E., and Pearthree, P.A. Geologic Map of Arizona. 2000. Arizona Geologic Survey, Map 35.
Sabino Canyon: Our Desert Oasis - Through Our Parents Eyes. Taken from the internet 5/2019.
Takami, David. 2/17/99. HistoryLink.org Essay 2070 - Hirabayashi, Gordon K. (1918-2012). Taken from internet 5/9/19.
We put our own spin on Robert Frost's sentiments in his poem, "The Road Not Taken," and hiked a ridge less traveled to summit Lucky Peak in the Boise River Wildlife Management Area, and that made all the difference.
On Lucky Peak's (AKA Shaw Mountain) southeast ridge looking toward the northeast at Boise National Forest and
Lucky Peak Lake
View from snow-covered Lucky Peak summit (5,904') of Shafer Butte to the northwest
Route to Lucky Peak summit from Boise River Wildlife Management Area building on ID-21
We gain ridge just after intersection to the road to Adelmann Mine at 4,800 feet, a little less than 2/3 distance of hike,
climb on ridge 1,100 feet to summit.
Many years ago, when we lived in New Hampshire, Fred would read to me Robert Frost poems in front of an old fireplace, lit with crackling orange flames burning wood collected locally. New England winter nights were cold and damp and the thick forest outside our door mysterious, so the warmth was comforting as we settled in with pillows on a wide-planked wooden floor and The Poetry of Robert Frost, a thick volume with a cover photo of a low rock wall extending over a green field. Our favorite poems were "After Apple Picking" and "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." The Robert Frost Farm, where Frost wrote his early poems was just 20 minutes away in Derry, New Hampshire. Through our explorations into the New Hampshire woods, we could directly experience the moods and scenes of Frost's poems.
Frost's most famous poem, "The Road Not Taken" is a testament to his choosing the unconventional road of writing poetry instead of farming; he put some effort into the latter career, but found passion and talent for the former. Farmers were expected to work hard and rise early but Frost seldom fit that expectation. He chose a different path, and grateful that he did, for we have his writings that reflect his deep connection to the nature and land of New England.
Unlike the extensive and deep, dark woods of New England, the summits near Boise are open; landmarks are easily seen to guide off-trail hiking. With a good topo map in hand, we have taken several ridges to the summit of Lucky Peak, making our own path to see what we can discover along the way.
In winter, we like to hike Lucky Peak using the southeast ridge approach that begins at the Boise River Wilderness Management Area building on Idaho Highway 21. Sometimes we are able to get to the summit - sometimes not because of weather. In February, a snowshoe hike that started with sparse snow flakes quickly developed into a snowstorm with limited visibility. The storm became worse as each minute passed, and by the time we got up to the intersection with the road to Adelmann Mine, breaking trail through 8 inches of snow, the visibility was about 60 feet. Instead of pressing on into this white void and deep snow to the summit, another 1,100-foot climb, we turned around to find our way back down, the snow working quickly to fill our snowshoe tracks. When hiking the ridge, we use Douglas Firs that are just to the right of the ridge as a landmark.
Fred at intersection of road leading from Boise River Wilderness Management Area buildings and trail to Adelmann Mine in February snowstorm
What a difference 5 weeks can make! We hiked the same route In March and summited Lucky Peak under blue skies without snowshoes on packed snow; it was as if none of the February storm had happened.
This ridge approach begins just after the mining apparatus up the hill from the Adelmann Mine junction (see previous post, Lucky Peak Hike - Winter Ascent). Before we get onto the ridge, we follow a dirt road from the WMA building to the junction. It's a direct (and therefore steeper) climb to the summit up the southeast ridge that intersects with Shaw Mountain Road. Spectacular views of Treasure Valley and the Owyhee Mountains to the south, the white-capped mountains of the Boise National Forest and the teal-colored and basalt-lined Lucky Peak Lake to the north make this ridge route more fun than continuing up road that leads up over the mine and through the north side of Lucky through the forest to the summit.
Boise River WMA on Idaho Highway 21, just past Highland Summit as you drive north from Boise
No snowfall at beginning of hike, but that quickly changed and got progressively worse
Structure on ridge between Black Hornet and Adelmann Mines, on last year's Lucky Peak winter hike
Shortly after this, we start climbing ridge to summit of Lucky Peak
Where we leave road to ascend ridge - this hike on a day with clearing storm
Rewards for climbing the ridge instead of the road abound. First of all, finding your own way is a challenge. The off-trail route for this hike is not difficult - you keep going up, but you don't want to waste too much time recovering from a loss in elevation. Also, you often see things that you wouldn't see following someone else's tracks. Thousands of elk tracks, making deep divots in the moist, squishy soil made our steep ascent to the ridge slow and bumpy, but once onto it, we found a faint human trail. The first wildflowers of the season were poking through last year's dead grasses - spots of bright green among thick faded brown mats. Up higher and onto the snow, our route intersected a wide elk trail - deep hoof prints heading down a steep ravine. Last year, we witnessed a huge herd of elk, led by one bull elk with enormous antlers traverse a large hillside to a ridge top while we approached Lucky Peak summit from a different ridge to the east. For a few moments, the bull elk's silhouette stood on the ridge against the sky, and then was gone.
Once, a large, fast-moving shadow floating over a gulch and then ascending a ridge caught my eye. In the azure blue sky a golden eagle slowly flapped its long wings, a dark and graceful presence moving effortlessly.
We intersected a trail of elk tracks on our March Lucky Peak summit hike
In March, we navigated over the snow easily, barely sinking but still making discernible prints on the surface as we climbed over three rises to meet with Shaw Mountain Road, a birdhouse at its intersection. The Douglas fir trees on the right side of the ridge have become familiar now, and there is one huge Doug fir that stands out from the rest, a sentinel that looks to the rugged snow-capped mountains of the Boise National Forest. The view from Lucky Peak summit is awe-inspiring: Shafer Butte and Bogus Basin Ski area to the northwest, and Boise is seen in the flat darkness of the Treasure Valley.
Douglas fir trees as guide to ascending southeast ridge to Lucky Peak
On southeast ridge to Lucky Peak looking north to Boise National Forest
Taking the ridge less traveled
Frost heaves, elk hoof divots and last season's dead bunch grasses contribute to uneven ground off-trail
One of the first forbs of the season
Sure, getting up to the proper ridge is pretty intense work usually. But once on top, the world drops on either side, and you follow the narrow land and wide sky up. After intersecting with Shaw Mountain Road, Lucky Peak's summit looms with its numerous antennas. A fun loop hike would be ascend the same ridge, and then descend Shaw Mountain Road to either East or West Highland Valley Road, necessitating a car shuttle.
We initially ascended the "wrong" ridge on our way to summit Pinto Mountain in Joshua Tree Wilderness a few months ago and found a large circle of rocks making me wonder who made this and why? Trekking through the gulch to this spot, we found a vibrant and lush green garden spilling with vines and bright red barrel cactus, out of place in the stark and barren brown Pinto Mountains. You find the most interesting things off the beaten path.
Many times we have hiked the standard Lucky Peak Trail to the south of the summit. It's great to meet people along the way, but hiking Lucky's "backside" is more rewarding because it feels remote in comparison, as if we have it to ourselves. It's a distinct feeling of fulfillment and a deeper connection to our local environment to walk the ridge less traveled; and as Robert Frost writes, "...that has made all the difference."
Last approach to Lucky Peak summit
Approaching Lucky Peak summit from southeast ridge
Treasure Valley from Lucky Peak's south ridge
You don't have to go far from home for adventure and beauty. These scenes are within a one-mile radius of my house.
"Wandering is an inexpensive ticket to another level of being..."
- Ann Zwinger, from The Nearsighted Naturalist
"Be careful going in search of adventure - it's ridiculously easy to find."
- William Least Heat-Moon
There's no place on Earth like the American West, where one can experience a wide variety of absolutely stunning places and adventures. The west has expansive spaces, solitude, jaw-dropping scenery - so spectacular, in fact, people come from all over the world to experience it. Hear the roar of Vernal Falls in May in Yosemite National Park, stand atop the narrow sandstone fin on Angel's Landing with Zion Canyon spread far below, or feel Virgin River's current against your legs in Zion's narrows with rock walls towering far above. The infinite Western Experiences list goes on.
The scenery doesn't have to be as dramatic as this, though, to be memorable. The sea of sagebrush extending to the dark, flat basalt plateaus of the Great Basin can seem monotone at first glance, but walk through it during spring wildflower season, smell it just after a rain, watch a herd of antelope run swiftly by, or watch the sage grouse lek mating ritual; suddenly this "monotonous" place becomes spectacular.
For a few days last autumn, I treated myself to wandering with my cameras. For me, it's a practice in meditation and like naturalist Ann Zwinger says, "another level of being." What a luxury it is, if you are a nature lover, to have the time to "see" the natural world around you, to follow where it beckons; a bird song, a path, colors, the dark spot under a bitterbrush, or a hill top scattered with bunches of bright yellow flowers of the balsamroot waving in the breeze.
Here are a few images from "my neck of the woods." I'm lucky to live where nature is so close. But beauty is close to most of us if we just take the time to see. A Boise foothills trailhead is within a mile of my house, as well as two farms where one can buy and learn about native plants. My only limitation for this adventure was that all images are captured within a one-mile radius of my house.
This post received a few comments from friends that I thought worthwhile to mention. One was that "Mother Earth is a gift." So true, and to me a gift I will always have. Also, some of the best images are captured "near home, where your familiarity can lead to shots that others would not see."
For more Boise photos, check out Gallery --> Boise.
Northwest Boise foothills on an autumn afternoon
First snowstorm of the season
Sunny but chilly ride through sagebrush
Artemisia tridentata in bloom
Gardening/Botany books at Draggin' Wing Farm
Two outdoor libraries within one mile of my house - this is a special place, indeed!
Earthly Delights Farm next to Draggin' Wing Farm
Sunset at Draggin' Wing Farm
Alpenglow lighting Draggin' Wing Farm
Textures and colors - native vegetation of the Boise foothills
Huge sagebrush just up the hill
I wonder how old it is.....
Horses' hoof prints, rabbit brush and clearing fog
Another incredible Boise sunset
On Haystack, we found sun and solitude off of the Art Smith Trail in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, a spectacular view of Southern California's mountain ranges, and our old summit register entry from 2011.
Peninsular Bighorn Sheep near Art Smith Trail, Palm Desert, CA
Ovis canadensis nelsoni
Listed in 1998 as Endangered Species due to substantial population decline from disease, predation, habitat loss and human disturbance
Cross - country to Haystack
Directions to Art Smith Trailhead:
Travel south on CA State Route 74 (Palms to Pines Scenic Highway) from CA State Route 111 in Palm Desert 3.5 miles to long sandy parking area on right of road just as it starts to curve to the left to ascend switchbacks up hills to the south. The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center is adjacent to parking, across SR 74.
Hike Directions: (Topo map of our route below)
Cross-country route off of Art Smith Trail to summit of Haystack Mountain
Yellow marker indicates point at which we left Art Smith and ascended wash
Elevation at this point = 2,237 feet; ~1,600 feet to summit from turn-off
Geology and History:
The trail to Haystack Mountain treks through quartz diorite, a coarse-grained intrusive rock with 5-20% quartz (diorite has <5% quartz). It has the classic speckled black and white texture and large grain size. Quartz diorite is often confused with granite because they look similar. Both are intrusive rocks with a phaneritic texture in which mineral grains are visible without magnification. Granite, however contains 20-60% quartz. Quartz grains are not usually visible with quartz diorite, but can definitely be seen in a granite. This rock unit is Cretaceous age (144 to 65 mya).
The efforts of Art Smith, a.k.a. "Trail Boss", a Desert Riders equestrian helped to establish the Desert Riders Trail Foundation, a non-profit trust for trail preservation and building. The Desert Riders equestrian club was initiated in 1931, has made 28 trails as of 2010, many of them follow ancient Cahuilla Indians' migratory hunting and gathering trails.
"Probably I was too young and venturesome to feel dismay, but I know now what Mama must have felt as she looked out upon that savage scene of sand and rock and sky locked in the pitiless grip of desert summer."
- Nina Paul Shumway, Your Desert and Mine, an account of her family's settlement and beginning of the date
industry in the Coachella Valley.
The past few times we have hiked the Art Smith Trail, we have seen Peninsular bighorn sheep in Dead Indian Canyon near the rust-colored metal sign that marks the Art Smith trailhead, not far from the parking lot. They were listed as a federally endangered species in 1998. This morning, the sun shone brightly on the deep-walled Dead Indian Canyon and a group of ewes with their lambs. This trail, just west of Palm Desert, links to trails leading into the Indian Canyons in Palm Springs.
The Coachella Valley is a special place for me and I carry memories of hiking all of its trails with dear friends that I will always keep in touch with. It's my "old stomping ground", or more aptly put, my old hiking ground. Living there in the 1980's and 1990's, we climbed, traversed, slid, sweat, laughed, got stuck with cactus spines, boulder-hopped, and celebrated our hikes and friendships. I am grateful I can still be able to hike these wonderful trails and when I do, all of the memories come back vividly. I met Fred on Mt. San Jacinto, and he automatically became a part of our hiking clan.
Not many people venture off Art Smith to climb Haystack Mountain. To our surprise, we found the same notepad in which we had made our 2011 entry in the summit register can! I guess the dry climate and the sparse number of Haystack Mountain visitors helped preserve this small note pad. It's a simple message: "12/21/11 - Fred, Sue and Scott - old friends who love to hike." We missed Scott this year, but were looking forward to hiking with him to Pinto Mountain in the next few days.
Walking on Art Smith Trail is a treat in itself, a meandering path with weathering rock piles, beavertail cactus and brittlebush blooming in the spring, and that satisfying crunch of gravel with each step. One can imagine Cahuilla Indians walking to water sources on the trail and equestrians from the Desert Riders on horseback winding through washes across the open desert. But to pick your own route cross country, dodging cholla cactus, sharp-toothed agave leaves and cat claw acacia shrubs, climbing up and sliding down boulders and dry waterfalls is the greatest satisfaction.
Art Smith Trail was busy due to the Christmas holiday. This trail treks through a possible plutonic synform (a downward-closing or concave fold of topography). Shimmering green California fan palms pop up occasionally to the left of the trail, and the valley patchwork of forest green golf courses sprawl to your right.
California fan palms
Haystack Mountain on the horizon as seen from near Art Smith Trail
Leave trail at ~ 3.4 miles and hike to highest point at far left of long ridge
Palm oasis in canyon on left
We left Art Smith at 3.4 miles from the trailhead at a wide wash and headed west-southwest across relatively flat, open low desert. From here, it was 1.3 miles to the summit. We encountered no major rock barriers, only a few very small waterfalls and sandy benches covered with rounded boulders. I was surprised to see a few small junipers; the land is generously dotted with hedgehog cacti with their inch-long needle-spines.
Wash ~ 3.4 miles in from Art Smith Trailhead at SR 74 in Palm Desert
Climb up flank of cone to ridge - follow ridge to summit, seen in this photo
Getting closer to the base - climb cone to ridge and follow to summit
"False summit" on the ridge
Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) in foreground in front of cholla cactus
Arriving at the base of Haystack, we gained its sunny east ridge by hiking straight up the steep flank to the left of the mountain, occasionally grasping rocks. The ridge is a Class 2 scramble with at least one "false peak" on the way up; not a long hike and the view at the summit is nothing short of spectacular. It is here you realize the enormity of this beautiful Colorado Desert and its mountain ranges.
The controversial Dunn Road can be seen not far from the summit. It is a wide, sandy road that Mike Dunn carved out through the slopes of eastern Santa Rosa Mountains starting at Pinyon Flats in the 1960's and 70's. It traces around the contours of mountains, through what is now Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains NM to Cathedral City. Because Dunn bulldozed some of his road on federal land, the BLM put a gate across the road. But Dunn would just bulldoze it down, and the BLM would fix it. I remember, when I lived in the Coachella Valley in the 1980's, Dunn Road was used for recreational jeep tours. Now of course since it is entirely on national monument land, it is only accessible to non-motorized travel. There were also differing opinions about whether Dunn Road compromised the bighorn sheep habitat.
360 - degree view from Haystack Mountain summit
Summits include Mt. San Gorgonio, Mt. San Jacinto, Toro Peak, Martinez Mountain
Also Little San Bernardino Mountains and southern Joshua Tree NP
The summit view includes the highest points in the Santa Rosa Mountains: Martinez Mountain and Toro Peak, and also Mt. San Jacinto towering above Palm Springs. To the north lies Mt. San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California, and the northeast the Little San Bernardino Mountains and the southern part of Joshua Tree National Monument. Ancient Lake Cahuilla filled the basin of the current Coachella Valley up until 500 years ago.
This area is rich in culture and history - from the hunting/gathering Cahuilla Indians to the first settlers of this arid land, to the history of the date palm industry - not to mention the dramatic and substantial geologic history. The San Andreas Fault courses through the Coachella Valley.
View from Haystack Mountain to the northwest
Mt. San Jacinto (closer range) and Mt. San Gorgonio, the highest summit in Southern California (on horizon with snow)
Our summit register entry from 12/21/2011:
"Fred, Sue and Scott - Old friends who love to hike"
Scott and Fred near Haystack Mountain summit - 12/2011
Palm Desert in background on valley floor, Southern Joshua Tree NP on horizon
I recommend returning by the same route unless you are open for more adventure and willing to negotiate the steeper and rockier terrain to the southeast. We did just that but also ended up in a thick and tangled palm oasis, the palm fronds clashing in the breeze. Briefly crossing the oasis, crunching through dead fronds, we found our way out by ascending a steep canyon wall. Out into the open again, we saw not far from us two mountain bikers on the Art Smith Trail. Back to civilization.
As we hike back along this very familiar trail, I picture a scene from 25 years ago - a faint image of a group of friends, walking in rhythm, boots crunching, happy voices laughing and talking, celebrating friendship and this great land.
I bet we find both of our summit register entries the next time we summit Haystack.
The Cahuilla Indians roasted the heart of the agave in pits on rocky drainages
Desert Fan Palm fronds
"Filifera" describes the white filaments between the segments of the frond
Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
Fred and Sue on the way down - another beautiful hike in the desert!
Beginning of Art Smith at its intersection with California SR 74. Metal trail sign below. Wide wash is entry to Dead Indian Canyon
Topo map and our route and elevation profile to Haystack Mountain via Art Smith Trail and then traveling cross-country up east ridge
Click on image for .jpg of topo map
Bighorn Institute. 2019. Endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep.
Retrieved from https://www.bighorninstitute.org/endangered-peninsular-bighorn
Dibblee, T.W., and Minch, J.A., 2008 Geologic map of the Palm Desert and Coachella 15-minute quadrangles, Riverside County, California. Dibblee Geological Foundation.
Patten, Carolyn. "The Desert Riders." Palm Springs Life, October 1, 2010. Desert Publications, Inc.
Retrieved from https://www.palmspringslife.com/the-desert-riders/
Pearce, Al. "Dunn's Road Could be One of the Most Beautiful in Desert." Desert Sun, Volume 45, Number 214, 11 April 1972. In website: UCR Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research.
Retrieved from https://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DS19720411.2.59&e=-------en--20--1--txt-txIN--------1
Schumann, W. 1993. Handbook of Rocks, Minerals and Gemstones. Harper-Collins Publishers and Houghton Mifflin Company.
Taylor, Joan. "The Dunn Road: A Checkered Past." Desert Report, 2007. Sierra Club publication.
Winter, John D. 2010. Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, 2nd Ed. Pearson Education, Inc., New Jersey.
Our annual California desert peak hike with our friend Scott - this year to isolated and rugged Pinto Mountain in Joshua Tree Wilderness.
Pinto Mountain - eastern Joshua Tree National Park in the Pinto Mountain Range
From California I-10 East out of Indio, take Exit 168 into South Entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. Drive north 20 miles on Cottonwood Springs Road/Pinto Basin Road (past Joshua Tree Visitor Center) to Turkey Flats parking area and sign board on right side of road.
This hike treks through an array of different types of rock units ranging from Holocene cover (10,000 years ago to now) to
Proterozoic Era (up to 2.5 billion years ago). A geologist's dream. It passes through some of California's oldest rocks; these rocks also top Monument Mountain, across Pinto Basin to the southwest.
Trailhead and parking at Turkey Flats, 20 miles from Interstate 10 in Joshua Tree
Pinto Mountain on horizon
Topo map and elevation profile of hike to summit of Pinto Mountain, Joshua Tree NP.
The hike begins at Turkey Flats trailhead on Cottonwood Springs Road/Pinto Basin Road. The last half of this hike climbs 2,200 feet in 2.3 miles to summit elevation of 3,983 feet.
Our route across the alluvial fan at base of ridge; the trail travels on spine of ridge all the way to summit of Pinto Mountain in a north/northeast direction (looking at southwest-facing slopes)
Pinto Wash at base of fan
Some of our best and most memorable adventures have been on hikes to desert summits in Southern California with our friend Scott, a Desert Peaks Section hiking veteran. Last year we hiked Monument Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park. This year, drawn to Joshua Tree again, we stepped it up (literally) with a tougher hike to Pinto Mountain summit.
We parked at the Turkey Flats trailhead and signboard, a 20-mile drive into Joshua Tree National Park south entrance from California I-10. Scott had good directions for locating the ridge we would ascend: locate the summit at 32° then locate our ridge climb at 36°. Pretty straightforward direction and approach. We made a beeline toward the smaller ridge to the right of a large, shadowed canyon which is just to the right of Pinto Mountain summit (see directions, above). The flat 2.5 mile distance to the toe of the ridge accentuates the immensity of this sublime desert. A feeling of space and solitude.
To hike Pinto Mountain is to experience two distinctly different terrain types with very little transition in between: flat, soft and casual to steep and rocky. The last half climbs 2,000+ feet over rough and angular rocks and also requires route-finding, occasionally reaching for a handhold. The easy walk across Pinto Basin takes you through soft sand flats and beautifully rippled "dunes", through minor washes before crossing Pinto Wash. We saw a desert tortoise burrow near the dunes. I was surprised at the bright purple blooms of sand verbena vines draped across the sand dunes and an abundance of bright green vegetation in December. The fractured and curled "clayey" soils in Pinto Wash also give a clue to recent saturating rains. As you make the short descent off the dunes, stay just to the left (west) of a long low hill cut by a wash.
Desert Sand Verbena
Scott (left) and Fred heading out in morning to Pinto Mountain summit
The ridge to ascend is just to the left of Fred with the shadows to its left side
Sand dunes ~ halfway between Turkey Flats trailhead to base of Pinto Mountain
Shortly after crossing Pinto Wash, the hike ascends an ever-increasing amount of coarse gravel and boulders, the characteristic feature of alluvial fans where heavier rocks drop out early in its deposition and smaller rocks are deposited at the toe of the fan. We maneuver down through stream cuts and around rocks on the upper alluvial fan as we finally reach the bottom of our ridge. We missed the cairn indicating the start of the ridge trail on our way up and started the climb on the ridge spine, which was alright because we soon ran into the light-to-moderately tracked trail on the ridge. Don't be tempted to descend down the canyon on either side of the ridge - when in doubt, stay on top of the ridge. There are a few places along the 2.3-mile ridge hike where the trail bypasses a high point, however.
Pinto Wash just before base of alluvial fan
Clayey soil that has been recently saturated with water and then has dried and formed fractures into polygonal sections as well as "mud peels" caused by a fracture of clay parallel to its surface.
Approaching alluvial fan deposited from canyon on the left
Hike up ridge to the right of this canyon, and just to the right of Pinto, with vertical rocks and shadows to Pinto Mountain with its white quartzite slopes. Pinto Wash in foreground.
Beginning of ridge trail
Small cairn on the large rock on the right, faint trail in middle of photo heads to ridge
We started here at toe of ridge
The ridge walk was very windy, especially on the saddles. We took a lunch break on the lee side of a bump on the ridge to avoid being battered by the wind. From our spot we could see the alternating light and dark rock; although we couldn't see a trail, we could see our ridge to the top.
Rocks and Joshua trees define Joshua Tree National Park, but if you look closely, you will find among them smaller creatures and plants brightly colored in contrast to the neutral tones. Groups of red barrel cacti randomly dot the landscape, with mounds of curved red spines spectacularly lit by the sun. Scott pointed out a tiny round cactus with a bright red fruit and sharp white spines, sheltered by a "shelf" of equally sharp quartzite - a common fishhook cactus. There was a strange black caterpillar with bright yellow dots and stripes that went from crawling to a curled position as soon as I cast my shadow over it. The best match I could find for this caterpillar is the white-lined sphinx moth, AKA hummingbird moth that has a long proboscis to reach deep for nectar in penstemons, among other flowers.
No other place I'd rather be at that moment!
Rock with flat surface provides a "chair" to sit and rest
Pinto Mountain left (highest) summit
Alternating light and dark rocks correspond with varied rock units (see Geology, above)
Red barrel cactus
White-lined sphinx caterpillar
Common Fishhook cactus in quartzite
Nothing gets in the way of the expansive views of mountain ranges perched on the desert floor in every direction as you near the summit. It doesn't take long before you feel like you are standing far above the immense basin. Creosote bushes make tiny dots on the smooth floor below and washes braid toward the low point of Pinto Basin. The hike goes through several rock units.
Sharp and angular quartzite crunches and clinks under boots and becomes loose and steep as you near the summit. A few trails can be seen through the steep section where I had to hold onto fractured rocks; they all make their way up the ridge line. I looked down the trail to see that Scott had temporarily disappeared under the crags I was on, so I waited until he climbed and appeared again. Suddenly, the flat crown of the summit appears as you emerge from the steep rocks and take a short walk to the summit cairn. We took shelter from the persistent northwest wind at the lee side of the cairn, procured the metal box containing the summit register, and found a page to put our entry for 12/26/2018: "PEACE - from Sue, Scott and Fred - 3 friends who like to hike together".
Summit of Pinto Mountain, 3,983 feet looking northwest
Saguaro cactus sculpture from old wire present on top of the mountain
Scott, Sue and Fred on Pinto Mountain summit
Our summit register entry for 12-26-18
The entry above ours: "Christmas Eve/Dec/2018 - Happy Holidays everybody! We made it to the top". - Ecuador, USA, Argentina
Summit looking north
Together, another summit and memorable day in the beautiful American West!
U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey marker on Pinto used for triangulation station (main station) for land survey
The wind was cold and blowing steadily, so we stayed long enough to get our photos, revel in our accomplishment, and grab some food for the journey down. The bumpy ridge extended from our feet to the basin. The walk across the alluvial fan, then across Pinto Wash was a welcome change from the quad-burning descent down the last part of the ridge. This time we followed the trail all the way down and found a cairn marking the entry to the ridge.
In the late afternoon, the wind finally stopped blowing; we took another rest, lounging on the rocks and basking in the sun before our flat and long walk across the sand. Colors became more vibrant as we walked toward the sun lowering toward the hulk of mountains across the valley. The light yellow sand we walked in the morning was now a deep golden hue, and the sky above Pinto Mountain now held wispy light gray clouds, tinged with purple. I turned a few times to watch the light changes on Pinto; the white summit, where we had just been a few hours ago, was glowing. The next time I turned around, it was blue-gray in the dusk shadow. The temperature dropped as we walked across soft sand, avoiding burrows. Getting back to the parking lot and throwing off boots, a few cars drove up and people got out to snap a quick photo of Pinto. We got to be on top of that beautiful place today. We were the lucky ones - three friends who like to hike together.
"It is enough to know why I came here: to breathe in the solitude and the silence."
- Ann Zwinger, Wind in the Rock: The Canyonlands of Southeastern Utah
On the way down - Scott and Fred - descend ridge to the left with saddles in between high points
Late afternoon sun and deep red hues of barrel cactus
Not officially dunes, but an accumulation of blowing sand adjacent to mountain range
Pinto Mountain in late afternoon - "dunes" in foreground
Canaan Mountain, a towering plateau of Navajo Sandstone is a classic southern Utah adventure through red sand, forested canyons and over ancient sand dune slickrock. Located south of Zion National Park, it is wild and beautiful.
Ponderosa Pine and petrified sand dune on plateau below Canaan Mountain
"It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space."
- Edward Abbey
Driving Directions (from Hurricane, Utah)
Traveling east/southeast on Utah Highway 59, turn left (east) onto Utah Avenue (right before Subway restaurant in 2018) in Hildale. Continue on pavement for ~ 2 miles, then Utah Avenue curves left (north) and becomes Canyon Street. At 2.5 miles from highway 59, turn right onto Water Canyon Road (road becomes dirt). Travel ~ 1 mile to a sign on the right of the road that reads "Squirrel Canyon Trailhead". Trailhead parking is just ahead.
Our route up Squirrel Canyon to lower elevation of Canaan Mountain
We ascended to 6,900 feet; the summit is 7,363 feet
(note: profile illustrates trail starting at our highest point and descending back to trailhead)
Our route up Short Canyon to Squirrel Canyon to summit of Canaan Mountain at 6,900 feet. The highest elevation of the summit is to the left (west) at 7,363 feet
Beginning of trail at Squirrel Canyon Trailhead in foreground, red arrow points to trail that bears right around red bluff on left to go down into Short Creek in ~ 0.5 miles
Once in awhile, we spend more time than we would like just trying to find our trail. It happens to the best of adventurers. This costs precious time, especially when days are short and the hike to the summit is long. Fred and I briefly started in the wrong direction, then had to backtrack to the Squirrel Canyon trailhead. Another look at compass, map, and hike directions to re-orient, then we were on our way, paying close attention to which canyon we were hiking through. There are no signs or trail markers until the climb up Squirrel Canyon, as this a wilderness area (an advantage: not many people on the trail!) We would still make Canaan Mountain, but not the highest point on its summit which is a longer hike.
We stayed in Hurricane, Utah for Thanksgiving weekend in an old Zion NP ranger's cabin. Hiking in and near Zion National Park is a great way to celebrate the holidays. I have been hiking in Zion since the early 1990's. We avoided crowds this time by choosing hikes outside of the park. I was very impressed by the Canaan Mountain Wilderness because of its rugged beauty and all of the sandstone features throughout, and the fact that we basically had the place to ourselves. My kind of holiday!
Entrance into Short Creek
Entrance to Squirrel Canyon one mile upstream from this - hike along ATV road on right side of creek
We chose the Squirrel Canyon Trail instead of Water Canyon Trail, another approach to Canaan Mountain because we read that the hike goes through water in Water Canyon and the temps were only in the 30's and 40's. There must be neoprene boots for wading up streams. I plan on doing this hike again via the Water Canyon approach.
The hike starts by descending through deep orange sand, across a wash, and continues on the orange sand straight ahead. It rounds the red bluff to the left and then drops into Short Creek, ~ 0.5 miles from trailhead. There were a few people riding ATVs on the trails and washes; they looked like they were having fun. The steep canyon walls shaded Short Creek and its huge Cottonwood trees in the morning. This scene looked much different in the afternoon on the way back to the trailhead with the yellow leaves brightly glowing in the direct sunlight streaming through the canyon.
The brief walk up the creek before the trail scrambles up a small bank under a huge grove of Cottonwoods is beautiful. Sand ripples alternating red and black lie under shallow water reflecting the sky. The trail then follows a 4 WD road along the creek, passing by plenty of grey rabbitbrush shrubs whose flower heads glow a cream color in the sun. Patches of white sand are deposited on the bank above the stream, possibly sediment from the white Navajo Sandstone layer further upstream.
The entrance into Squirrel Canyon, about one mile upstream is obvious, as the ATV/hiking trail crosses Short Creek. A wide and relatively flat area at the entrance was covered with autumn leaves. The trail ascends Squirrel via the 4WD road and then a single track trail as the canyon narrows. Oak and maple trees surround and form an autumn canopy of red, brown and green, while green moss and maidenhair ferns dripped water seeping from vertical sandstone walls. The trail transitions from the soft tread of seasons of leaves to hard and angular slabs of sandstone to soft white sand as it emerges from the canyon then tops out on a beautiful plateau underneath The Beehive, an ancient sand dune. In a short distance from emerging, the canyon trail intersects with the Sawmill Trail with a pile of rocks marking this point. As we turned left at this point (west), I glanced back to make sure I wouldn't miss this intersection on the way down.
A somewhat ominous entrance into Squirrel Canyon
The Beehive, elevation 6,476 feet
Seen as Squirrel Canyon Trail opens up onto plateau above canyon
website for climbing The Beehive
Cairns mark route over sandstone while going up Squirrel Canyon
An excellent feature of this hike is that it gains enough elevation to walk through at least two geologic formations. The top of Canaan Mountain consists of the massive Navajo Sandstone which is also observed in the towering walls of Zion National Park. The hike appears to be starting in the red cliffs of the Kayenta Formation (mudstone) that lies below the Navajo Sandstone. The transition I noticed was in leaving the red sands and cliffs behind in Squirrel Canyon and ending up on the white rocks and white sand on the plateau above.
The upper walls of Canaan Mountain are the White Cliffs of Navajo Sandstone, and at the base are the Vermilion Cliffs which can be seen at the trailhead. These cliffs are widespread throughout southern Utah and Northern Arizona. At this location, they face southeast, and in the morning sun the walls are ablaze with intense orange, yellow and red (read more about geology of this area below).
The plateau above the canyon is a wondrous world of layered, cross-bedded, curving cream-colored and orange sandstone, with never-ending examples of eroded Navajo Sandstone features. Huge junipers make you wonder how old they are. Dark and light-striped hoo-doos, domes and platforms in all shapes and sizes are so plentiful - I wished that I was camping up there so I could spend more time looking. Ponderosa pine and juniper contrast against the frozen-in-time deeply angled and curving sand dune cross-beds. The spectacular dark and forested V-shape of the entrance into Water Canyon looms to the south. Time was getting short. We left Sawmill Trail and scrambled up ledges of slickrock to the highest point on the summit north of us, which is not the highest on Canaan Mountain. We found ourselves in yet another world of a flat-topped forested plateau with soft white sand. Only a few hours of daylight left - we had to get back.
Sawmill Trail required close attention because it was marked by cairns sparsely at best, requiring us to "hunt" for the trail sometimes. The trail alternated between soft sand and slickrock, steep in parts. Tire tread from a recent jeep was helpful to navigate the way. With each turn, rise and descent, there is almost an overload of beautiful, stark, weird, unusual sights along with the feeling of elevated space and expanse in every direction.
At this point on Sawmill Trail, the only marker for the trail was these scrapes in the slickrock. It rose steeply over the rocks on this rise
Sawmill Trail weaves in and out of soft sand and cross-bedded Navajo Sandstone
Sand of Sawmill Trail lower left hand corner. We hiked to the right, up to the top
At 6,500 feet with view of the Notch toward the south
Leaves found on Squirrel Canyon floor
Common trees of southern Utah canyons are Canyon Maple, Boxelder, Fremont Cottonwood, Gambel Oak, Shrub Oak.
Ponderosa Pine, Pinyon Pine, Gambel Oak, Manzanita, and Douglas Fir grow on slickrock.
Heading down Squirrel Canyon
Beautiful canyon with bright green moss, clear pools and waterfalls, thick canopy of oak and maple trees
We saw no one else in the canyon and on the slickrock plateau. It was easy to get sidetracked in Squirrel Canyon while getting almost hypnotized by watching oak leaves floating in clear pools that had ripples on the bottom. As we made our way back to the trailhead, on the ATV trail that runs along Short Creek, a large group of young backpackers were plodding towards us in the deep red sand, laughing and smiling, silhouetted by the late afternoon sun. Huge Cottonwoods, strong and rooted along the white-sand bank with leaves glowing yellow lined our way back down Short Creek. These had massive trunks - the vegetation in this area is so robust and healthy. I'm going back - I can see why the party of backpackers looked so joyous! Next time - Water Canyon!
Geology and History
The age of rocks on Canaan Mountain are Lower Jurassic (201 - 174 Ma). It is capped by 1,300-foot cliffs of Navajo Sandstone. The Kayenta Formation underlies the Navajo. The Kayenta is then underlain by the Moenave Formation. The base of the White Cliffs of Canaan Mountain is part of the greater extent of the Vermilion Cliffs, which extend over a large area of Utah and Arizona.
Key to stratigraphic units in above photo: Eroded Navajo Sandstone on cap of Canaan Mountain 1,200 feet thick; Canaan Mountain is ~ 2,000 feet higher than the plain (Jn). Kayenta Formation (Jk), Moenave Formation consisting of the Springdale Sandstone member (Jms), Whitmore Point and Dinosaur Canyon members (Jmwd). (From Geologic Map of the Smithsonian Butte Quadrangle, cited below).
Temps in the 20's at night at ~ 6,200 feet in late November
Sawmill Trail treks through sand and sandstone
Cairns mark first trail off of Sawmill Trail that treks to the lower reaches of Canaan Mountain summit
Pool in Squirrel Canyon
Along Short Creek
The sudden jaw-dropping, in-your-face view of the Grand Teton Mountain Range as you crest Table Mountain is worth the 4,000-foot gain - it's a view you will never forget.
View of the Grand Teton, Middle Teton, and South Teton from summit of Table Mountain, 11,106 feet
Trip Stats for North Teton (Huckleberry)/Face loop:
"There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games."
- Ernest Hemingway
North Teton Trail (Huckleberry Trail) from North Teton Trailhead to Table Mountain summit
click on map for full Topozone map
Jedediah Smith Wilderness boundary about 1 mile into hike on North Teton Trail #024
Fred and I hiked the amazing North Teton trail to its spectacular summit this past August, at the suggestion of a friend who found out we were going to the "Idaho side of the Tetons". We didn't want to see the crowds of people in Grand Teton National Park, so we hiked out of Driggs, Idaho.
At the end of Teton Canyon Road, 10.5 miles from downtown Driggs, Idaho there are two trailheads. The trail from the North Teton trailhead (North Teton trail, AKA Huckleberry trail) goes to Table Mountain, and the trail from the South Teton trailhead goes to Alaska Basin (another stunning hike where we saw a moose). The Face trail is accessed between these two trailheads. Some hikers ascend via the Face Trail; it is a more direct but steeper, unmaintained route to Table Mountain. We descended via Face Trail but I would not do that again because it is very steep with loose rocks and shallow switchbacks, and my toes got really sore pushing against the front of my boots!
If you want to avoid Face Trail, you can do an out-and-back hike on North Teton Trail for a total of 13 miles.
This hike gets more spectacular with nearly every step. As with most summit hikes, it starts out in thick forest canopy, hiking along North Fork Teton Creek. Multi-colored blankets of wildflowers among bright green grasses and shrubs covered the lower slopes of the U-shaped glacially-carved valley we walked through. Peaks towered above us as tall limestone cliffs seemed to surround, dominating much of the horizon. There had to be a break in those walls to get us on top of the ridge overlooking the valley we had ascended.
Face Trail trailhead located between North Teton and South Teton trailheads at the end of Teton Canyon Road
North Teton Trail (Huckleberry Trail) goes along North Fork Teton Creek
North Teton Trail (Huckleberry Trail) - Jedediah Smith Wilderness
North Teton Trail leaves the North Fork Teton Creek at 8,400 feet, then heads southward through the steep basin and toward a break in the cliffs. The trail then switch-backs to the ridge, climbing ~ 1,500 feet through basin and up switchbacks in about 1.5 miles. The ridge is at 9,900 feet. Table Mountain looks like an altar facing the immense and looming Grand Teton. After the steep ascent from basin to ridge, the trail takes a turn southeastward with its sights straight toward the summit, passing very close to the cliff edge for one last view of the magnificent basin just ascended. Just 1,200 more vertical feet to climb to the summit!
One of the switchbacks that climbs out of basin in a southwestward direction to top-off at ridge (~ 9,900 feet) and nearby intersection with Face Trail
Table Mountain facing the Grand Teton as viewed from switchbacks out of basin
Along North Teton Trail (AKA Huckleberry Trail) on ridge near intersection with Face Trail ~ 10,000 feet
After climbing out of the basin onto the ridge, the trail heads straight toward the summit, surrounded by wildflowers the entire way until the summit block. Table Mountain looms ahead and it seems to take forever for it to get closer. The juxtaposition of the tips of the Grand Teton and Mt. Owen rising behind the low, broad and grounded bench of Table Mountain is a rare sight. This is a great example of Earth's awesome forces; a relatively "young" fault (Buck Mountain Fault) raising old rocks higher than newer rocks in such a dramatic manner. After passing through pines and purple lupines, the trail suddenly opens up to a vast and high open meadow dotted with swaying white bistorts (my favorite wildflower). We saw people the size of small dots on the final incline to the summit. With legs burning, we made our way up this incline to the cool, breezy summit scrambling through a cut in the sharp rocks. A few more steps along the flat summit, and then WOW! It's that sudden "high" you feel on a peak when the earth quickly drops below you as you stand on a precipice (2,300-foot drop in this case), and the world opens up to make you feel like a speck in the middle of it. But this is no "ordinary" summit because you come face to face with the enormity of the Tetons, making you feel even smaller. The Grand is so close you can see its ledges and walls. You have worked to claim your lofty space, but you gaze at a space loftier than the small patch of Earth on which you stand.
Looking down from summit at the final approach to Table Mountain with Roaring Creek and Alaska Basin Trail to the left of ridge (southwest)
Hiking through a sea of American bistort (Bistorta bistortoides) and purple aster on the final stretch to Table Mountain
Sue on summit of Table Mountain, 11,106 feet with Grand Teton and Mt. Owen in background
Summit of Table Mountain
Peaks left to right: Mt. Owen, Grand Teton, Middle Teton
Fellow hikers lingered at the summit. We savored the experience, too, and then saw weather coming in from the southwest. We decided to get off the exposed rock, and on our way down, a lightning storm raged over another ridge. We took the Face Trail # 029 at the intersection with North Teton Trail which saved us time and mileage. Face Trail starts out with gentle decline and ends with a quadricep workout down the very steep pitch with loose rocks. At the end of this trail, a metal sign reads "Face Trail 029 - Very Steep - Not Recommended". Next time, I would go up Face Trail and down North Teton Trail. Or skip Face Trail altogether.
The next day, we hiked 5 miles up Alaska Basin Trail with millions of wildflowers - Heaven on Earth!
Intersection of North Teton Trail with Face Trail ~ 1.5 miles from summit
Face Trail is ~ 2.6 miles shorter on the way down but much steeper!
About this blog
– "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
To Subscribe to Explorumentary adventure blog and receive new posts by email:
About the Author