We started out from the house around 6:30 PM. "It's a mistake," John warned. "It will be dark by the time you get up there." I assured him that we were only going as far as Molino Basin, about five miles up, and that anyway, it doesn't get dark until 8 PM these days. The car thermometer said 106 degrees as we left the driveway. The dogs rode the whole way up in the front seat beside me, taking advantage of the car A/C.
Sunset over Thimble Peak
|From Mount Lemmon Highway|
The first stop for me on Mount Lemmon Highway, traditionally, is Babad Do'Ag Vista, the first real vista point and a major destination for watching and photographing sunsets. The sun was setting, but we didn't stop until Thimble Peak Vista. The dogs got out, briefly, but there was no place for them to walk, particularly, and no wildlife to be seen.
As it happened I did not stop at Molino Basin, because it had a self-serve fee station for use (picnicking or hiking or camping). I didn't want to pay, and I didn't want to cheat. In the end we stopped at Bear Wallow or whatever it's called, a picnic area at Bear Canyon. That was probably something to pay a fee for as well, but I rationalized that we weren't picnicking or camping or hiking, and we weren't there all that long, perhaps 20 minutes. It's at this point on the drive up the Catalinas when the pine forests begin, a major contrast to the desert floor below. The temperature, according to the car, was 85 degrees.
Well, I heard lots of birds in the tall trees, and a little distant scrabbling that could have been a ground squirrel, perhaps something a bit larger. But the only living creatures we saw were the flies the dogs were snapping at. Still, they had a good time sniffing all the interesting smells, and Cayenne insisted that the grass up there made mighty fine eatin'.
At the back of that particular picnic area, just before the steep hill, is a wash that looks very different from the ones in town. The rocks are pretty much the same, but it's not broken up with imported sand or slabs of concrete, or half-ruined with illegally dumped trash. The vegetation surrounding it is very different, of course, and you can't see far along it in either direction as it curves its way down the mountain.
Bear Canyon does in fact have the occasional bear sighting, but in 23 years of visits to the Catalinas I've yet to see one. Just as well, really. John would prefer that the dogs not encounter so much as a rock squirrel, in case it turns out to be rabid.
On the way down the mountain, we stopped at Babad Do'Ag anyway, to catch the end of sunset and the beginning of dusk. It was 8 PM as we left. The dogs did more energetic sniffing, and even I could smell that a wild animal had visited, namely a skunk. There are four species of skunks in Southern AZ, if I recall correctly, but I haven't seen one in years and years. And when I did, nothing bad happened. So there.