Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mt. Lemmon

Four ranges of mountains, at heights over 9000', surround and cradle the city of Tucson.  The mountains that can be seen from my friend's backyard, are called the Catalinas.   One morning last week the first snowfall of the winter arrived on the mountaintops in time to set the stage for Christmas.

The city itself seldom receives any snow and experiences only a few days per winter of temperatures below freezing.   But a mere 25 miles away at the very top of Mt Lemmon is the southernmost ski area in the country where 65" of snow fell last year.

Soon after I arrived in town--and before the first snowfall--I got together with my dear (and funny) friend, Suzanne, for a trip to the top of the mountain. Suzanne is a caregiver for a lovely 92 year old lady named Belle, who bravely came with us for the day. (Belle wouldn't get out of the car for the photo--I think she is afraid of the heights.)

Though only 25 miles to travel, the road is windy and spectacular with breathtaking views and changing vegetation the higher you climb.

Over the years a few vehicles did not make the curves.  This old VW bus has been here for decades as a reminder to slow down, enjoy the view and don't smoke pot if you're driving. (That's just a guess on my part--but if this accident occurred in the 60's or 70's there is a good probability.....)

The climb from Tucson to the tiny town of Summerhaven at the top covers 6500 feet in only 25 miles.  Two years ago in October the first Mt Lemmon Marathon was held and 800 people actually ran all the way up that mountain to finish the race.  Of course, at the end of the day, the road up was littered with heaving, panting, quivering bodies who failed to reach the top and sincerely regretted that New Year's resolution they'd made the previous winter.

I would hardly be able to run--or crawl--to the top.  But from the car window I could imagine the climb--while I worried that we wouldn't run out of gas.   Rock formations are like sentinels watching the city way below and it is easy to see why the Indians of the area gave this mountain spiritual significance.

We had started on a very warm day in the desert.....

But discovered a cool sweet-smelling pine forest at the top....

with a ski area waiting for the snow that would come in only a few more days.

We found a restaurant for lunch in the quaint little alpine village....

And Belle finally decided it was safe enough to get out of the car.  

Much of Summerhaven is brand new.  In 2003 a truly devastating fire raged across the top of the mountain and destroyed the downtown,  250 of the 700 homes, plus  great stands of the beautiful pines and aspens.

A fundraising program callled "Lemmon Aid" has helped to rebuild the town...

But remnants of the tragedy are everywhere.  I remember one night standing in my own backyard in Tucson and looking up at Mt. Lemmon, watching the fire.  The mountain looked like a raging volcano and for nights the flames reminded the people of the city that they were witnessing the demise of their beautiful summer haven retreat.
But it's coming back, better than ever.  And when Tucson temps in the summer reach 110 degrees it takes only 1/2 hour to be sitting on the mountaintop in the cool air sipping a lemonade.


  1. Now I really want to see Tucson again. Maybe some spring. Your travels are a joy to read about, and you take good photographs!

  2. Thanks, Hattie, I really appreciate the comments. If you do come this way sometime in the future I would enjoy showing you the town.

  3. I am very impressed with the photographer. Of course she had some pretty good stuff to work with. Belle loved you Toni (I know who wouldn't?!!!!) Such a fun and eye opening time. Thanks Toni for allowing us to see Mt. Lemmon through tourist eyes! Suzanne