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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Vistas & Ecosystems

~Wednesday, February 2, 2022~

Day 598

Well, another one bites the dust. Our friendly neighbors in site #20 asked to be relocated to the other loop, just as I guessed, because of the barking dogs. He said he’ll miss the views but would take any site over listening to the incessant noise. And just as we thought would happen, another RV family pulled in just 2 hours behind. Should I warn them or let them figure it out for themselves? Honestly, the disruption has seemed to improve, leaving us to wonder if they received a formal complaint or if the evening chill has brought the dogs in. O.k. enough of site #20 updates….

Just when our new neighbors showed up, we hit the road for some action. Time to learn about the Catalina Mountain range more up close and personal. We headed up to the Sky Islands region to the summit of Mt. Lemmon, the highest point in the Catalina Mountain Range. With our handy dandy accessory (the Mt. Lemmon Science Tour app), we were able to learn the details of what we’ve only seen from a distance…..layers and layers of rock and ridges that lead all the way to the Tucson basin and produce astounding vistas. The Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway is

one of the “must-do’s” in Tucson with the only downside being the 30-minute stop-light laden drive through the city. There are a few alternate routes, but nothing that will save you time. But once you’ve made it through the urban sprawl, you’re transported to a whole different world. Mt. Lemmon was named after botanist Sara Plummer Lemmon who trekked to the top of the mountain with her husband and local rancher E.O. Stratton by horse and foot in 1881.

What we didn’t realize was just how many different climates exist due to the changes in altitude from the basin’s 3,000 feet to the peak of Mt. Lemmon at 9,000 feet; all in about 90 minutes time, driving 35 mph. In other words for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain on this drive, it replicates a new climate zone like going from Mexico to Alberta. That’s how fast the landscape changes. In other words, there are 8 climate zones in 2,300 miles from Mexico to Alberta. But here you’re going through 8 climate zones in 27 miles. It’s insane.

Once you begin the “tour” you notice the forests of Saguaros, and they are EVERYWHERE. But by about 3,000 feet, you begin to see a shift to grasslands and by about 5,000 feet, where it’s cooler and a bigger water source available, you see dwarf oaks and pine trees. Thanks to our app, we got detailed descriptions of what we were seeing (technology is a good thing). With each overlook stop, we noticed of course a decrease in temperature. The temperatures drop 5 degrees for every 1,000 feet you climb.

By the time we got to 6,000 feet we saw hoodoos, slightly different than what you’d see in Bryce or Mono Lake but they’re called hoodoos

just the same. At about 7,000 feet we spotted snow where Sadie could not control herself. Can’t imagine what’s going through her mind about the variety of landscape we’re seeing today. She must be very confused.

The last few thousand feet we stopped at vistas that gave us views from the west to the east where we could see a continuation of the Catalina Mountain Range with its 65 peaks. We also learned that without these mountains that create their own weather, the landscape and the water source for Phoenix and Tucson would be much different. Both plants and people rely on the summer monsoon season and the winter rains. Aquifer levels used to be much closer to the surface up to the 1940’s, but since have dropped to 300 feet in recent years.

Unfortunately, our tour had to be stopped a few hundred feet short of the summit due to winter road closures. There appeared to be only 6” of snow on the ground. But 6” is plenty for a furry friend to play in so while Sadie frolicked we checked out the base of the Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley Resort. Maybe the resort is only open on weekends. But boy was it cold with the windchill at 30 degrees. We weren’t quite prepared for these conditions with the lower altitude apparel we had on.

Since the byway is not a loop, we had to descend the way we came up. I’m always a fan of this as it gives you another opportunity to see what you might have missed on the first pass, as well as a different perspective. One thing we couldn’t figure out was the haze over the city of Tucson. It had been quite a windy day so imagined it would produce a very clear day. But as soon as we got out of the basin, it cleared up the remainder of the drive to our campsite. Puzzling.

Speaking of cold weather, we got updates from Hannah about how the winter storm is affecting their area in Illinois. It’s bad. In fact, on the way home from work, Devin (Hannah’s partner) noticed quite a few cars stranded on the side of the road. Many either slid in embankments or simply got stuck. So Devin and his buddies rallied together with their trucks and shovels to help pull people out. Mind you, it was snowing with a windchill of 2 degrees F. All in all, they managed to pull out about 6 people. And what could be more fun than a bunch of young 20 something men pulling together to be heroes for the day. Very satisfying I’m sure. Glad everyone’s safe!

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