The Sky Islands are isles of cool forest thrust steeply 5-7000' over vast deserts and grasslands of Southern Arizona. Just south of Tucson rise the Santa Rita Mtns, one of my favorite destinations in the world.
It's also a favored destination for bird watchers around the world as it is the northernmost outpost of many Mexican-based species, also including jaguars, ocelots and other small cats.
The geology is fascinating as this area had been arcs of volcanic islands pasted up against the North American continental plate. These regions can be highly mineralized and there are signs of ancient, old, and current mining all around Southern Arizona.
Mt Wrightson at 9453' towers over a compact wilderness with incutting roads, old mines, and even a telescope complex on the secondary massif of the range. Even with periodic fires the forest is often dense, hiding countless mines, prospects, overgrown miner trails and current migrant trails with their leftover trash.
Many people might have trouble seeing this as a Wilderness Area, particularly since the view from the top includes enormous holes in the ground and fields of mining debris stretching for square miles.
Which had me wondering on my last visit to the area, what makes a destination worthy?
I've been upping my training recently, and I wanted to see if I could handle walking 2 days in a row. I brought a dog with me for her first camping trip and wandered into the northern part of the range on some of the old mining roads to scout a route up a moderate sized peak I'm interested in climbing in the future. There are a handful of old mines along the way, and I'm curious about rocks and minerals and what I might see that was familiar or new.
The view in the picture above is from our campsite and the start of my walk up more rugged mining roads. It overlooks the site of the proposed Rosemont Mine. It's not easy to see the miles of road that have been cut into this area for prospecting and proving the viability of the mine. A good third of that picture is private land, that is surrounded by Forest Service land that will be sacrificed into a large tailings mound. The Arizona Trail winds through the right side of the picture and will have to be moved, most likely directly below the base of this large ugly pile of debris. A scenic highway nearby most likely will lose the designation because the view will be of a large mine.
The consumer push for more and more computerization and the needs of battery technology in our future move away from combustion engines will make it very likely that we will need a lot of mineral development in the western USA. Large lake beds in the West have the potential for being mined for rare Earth minerals needed in today's modern technology.
Although the development of this mine is contested because of their need to use Forest Service land to dump debris, as more and more people who live farther away from this area make demands for more and more metals, the price will go up and the political will to develop this area will go up as well.
Would I love this area if the Rosemont mine was developed? How could I not.
This mountain has brought me to health, more than once. I used multiple backpacking trips in this range last year to help me recover from covid-19. One of my closest friends and long time backpacking companions made our bond on an overnight backpacking trip to this area. I have seen numerous species of birds that I've never seen before in this mountain range. I have climbed the high point so many times I've lost count, but I estimate 40 to 50 times.
I often see people talk about the destinations they feel are most worthy and they include long-distance trails with iconic names or a certain small percentage of the national parks in our system.
I have often found my most worthy destinations were not as well known as others, and often bear scars. You can love them for their quirks and flaws as much as for their treasures.
I will hike in the Santa Rita Mtns twice more this week, including climbing the second highest peak by way of bear and mining trails that are not commonly used. I will see evidence of man, as this is one of the more popular hiking destinations in the region. Day or night the impact of man is quite visible in this compact wilderness. At night there are lights of Tucson, the mines, and even dim lighting from the telescope complex. Every night there's lots of activity over there, including folks driving around, pointing lasers at the sky. It's not like being out in the middle of The Bob or the San Juans.
I'm hoping more people will love some of these less loved areas like me. I love traveling in areas that are not commonly used by hikers. Maybe we can reclaim them, at least with our affection.
What areas that others may not find worthy do you hold affection for? Looking forward to responses. Always looking for something new that someone holds dear.
Mt Hopkins, crowned with telescope.
I share your appreciation of Mt. Wrightson. In school at the U of A in the late 50's, it was a frequent summit, often climbed Wednesday night (no Thursday classes!!). It was the setting for my introduction to SAR, the 1958 search for three Boy Scouts who perished in a monumental November storm. I haven't kept a precise count, but I have summited Wrightson about 40 times.
My favorite peak of all time is Baboquivari ("mountain that is pinched in the middle"), center of the universe and home of I'itoi, wind god of the Tohono O'odham.
I have done somewhere north of 70 ascents of Babo, and spent many a night on the peak, at least one inadvertently. Babo is not the highest, but it is a solid and imposing block of granite with all kinds of climbing challenges.