Louise Speaks: The RV club had scheduled a trip to Tucson. The couple that was hosting the trip had asked for help, so Thelma offered her assistance…this means we HAD to go to Tucson. Now those that know me, know that I rarely go to Tucson and I have strict guide lines like no eating, sleeping or breathing etc etc. But here we are for 5 days. I’m going to make the best of it and enjoy what I can. The idea is to be out of Tucson as much as possible.
We have good friends here at the RV Park with us who tow a vehicle (we don’t) so they always drive us around to things we want to see. Today’s adventure was to the top of Mount Lemmon. It’s a good thing we decided to go today and not yesterday because the roads were closed due to 8 inches of snow on the top of the mountain.
The beautiful, curving road is a favorite drive for tourists, and locals escaping the summer’s heat. The drive up the mountain was breathtaking. We went from cactus to pine trees in a matter of minutes. The rock formations were indescribable. Some looked like they could topple over any minute. We also came in contact with many many bicyclist making the trip up the climbing mountain. Local cycling organizations regularly organize rides consisting of 200 or more riders along the highway to the summit of the mountain. The top of the summit has an elevation of 9,159 feet. Once you reach the top you will find the small village of Summerhaven. The Catalina Hwy, that takes you to Summerhaven, gains over 6,000 feet in just 12 miles. Due to the rapid gain in elevation there are numerous switchbacks, but the road follows a generally northward direction until reaching Summerhaven. This looked like a very difficult ride for all the bicyclists we came in contact with, however, going down should be a piece of cake….hope they have good brakes. The Mount Lemmon highway, which is traveled by over 1 million visitors each year, was designated a Scenic Byway on April 28, 1995.
The summit of the mountain is approximately thirty degrees cooler than the base. Therefore, large amounts of snow falls during the winter months, making it a cool escape and popular tourist attraction for Tucson and Phoenix inhabitants. It is reported that Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, on the mountain’s northeastern side, receives 200 inches of snow annually. Today, the chair lifts were running but we didn’t see any skiers. Ski Valley operates the ski slope during the winter months and remains open during the summer, offering summer “sky rides” on the ski lifts. Ski Valley has been named as the southernmost ski resort in the continental United States.
Some residents do live on Mount Lemmon full time making that trip up and down the mountain on a regular basis. However, the majority of homes on Mount Lemmon are used for summer rentals. Many cabins were destroyed in the Aspen Fire in 2003, but have rebuilt since then. As of the 2010 cencus, Sumerhaven had a permanent population of 40. While in Summerhaven we stopped for lunch at the cutest chalet. The food was great and different…like meat loaf and grilled corn, and the service was excellent, There are also a few gift shops and other types of shops on the main street through town. As we were driving through town we came across a family of wild turkeys just strolling down the street. When I got out to take a photo, they quickly ran up the hill. Look very closely and you can see the turkey.
This was actually a great way to spend the day. It was in the high 70’s when we left Tucson, and we were in the 40’s in Summerhaven. We even had a chance to throw a few snowballs while roaming through town. Even though I have lived in Arizona for many years I had never taken this scenic drive. As much as I dislike Tucson, I do recommend taking this drive if you are ever in the Tucson area…it’s a great way to spend a day and don’t forget to have lunch at the Sawmill Run Restaurant. The Catalina Hwy,up Mount Lemmon gets an A rating. Like I said, it’s a great way to spend the day!