Tucson Travels – hiking east from Patagonia

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Last weekend had nearly perfect hiking weather, so I decided to head out to a trail in the foothills of the Santa Ritas which I hadn’t been on before. The drive from Tucson to the trailhead outside of Patagonia was reason enough for the trip, particularly with the irony of Lucy Kaplansky’s song “Line in the Sand” shaking its way out of the playlist just as I arrived at the border patrol checkpoint. The map I was using left some doubt as to the nature of the 3 miles from the highway to the trailhead, but it was a very good paved road and the trailhead parking area was well marked and easy to find.

The trail itself was a section of the Arizona Trail which stretches across the state from Mexico to Utah. This section leads east from Patagonia toward Miller Peak in the Huachucas and on to the trail’s southern end at Coronado National Memorial, and I decided I’d go out about 4.5 miles from the trailhead to an intersection with a dirt road and turn back around.

The trail began by following the rocky ravine of a small stream before climbing a few hundred feet through more open grassland to cross a small saddle and drop down the other side. From there it was a fairly pleasant walk through a varied landscape with some small ups and downs with the rolling terrain surrounded by mountains; of particular note were the bleached white grasslands on the southwestern slopes, oak savannahs as the trail descended into the washes and streambeds draining the mountains, and the first wildflowers of the season in more open areas. When I reached my planned turnaround point I couldn’t help but keep going as my map showed another intersection with the same road about a mile further on and the temptation to end with a loop seemed worth the additional 2 miles involved. While it was a nice addition to the walk, when I got to where I expected to find the other road I saw nothing but a grassy track heading the wrong direction, and when I tried to follow what looked like remnants of it in the way I wanted to go I found it ended abruptly at a barbed wire fence with no evidence whatsoever of a continuation on the other side.

The return leg was a bit slower than the outbound with a few more stops for photos and enjoying the views – but it was almost too long, as the coffee shop in Patagonia where I had planned on a post-hike muffin closed at 4 and I managed to make it in at 3:59.

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