Mines, Saguaro and Tucson

Standing tall at 4 687 feet above sea level, Wasson peak is the highest point in the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park, and, indeed, the entire Tucson Mountain range. Hikers wishing to bag this peak have no shortage of ascent options, with trail heads to the south, west, and north-east. The southern trail head, at the start of the King Canyon Trail, is probably the most convenient approach for Tucson residents. From there, a nice half-day hike of about 8 miles along very well maintained and signed trails takes would-be peak-baggers from 2 915 feet to the top of the mountain and back. Along the way are a few abandoned mines, old stone buildings, excellent views of the Tucson Mountains and surrounding country, and, of course, lots of saguaro cacti.

A hill, studded with tall saguaro cacti, is lit by a bright, afternoon sun

Sunlit Saguaros

In 1933 Herbert Hoover used his special presidential powers to create Saguaro National Monument. Tucson hosted around 33 000 people back then, and what we know today as the Tucson Mountain range was a mining area. The people who lived and worked in the area were far outnumbered by the saguaro cacti the new national monument was meant to protect. Today, over one million people live in and around Tucson and the monument has long since transformed into a full-fledged National Park. The saguaro population isn’t what it once was, but many of the tall, desert trees still stand today as they did a hundred years ago.

Barbed wire surrounds the entrance to an old, abandoned mine.

Barbed wire protects an old mine entrance

Virtually all of the approximately 150 mines in the area have been abandoned. Some shafts have been filled in, others are merely fenced off, like the one above, allowing small animals to freely enter while keeping us accident prone humans well away from danger. This one has, in fact, become a protected habitat for some flying creature, probably bats.

Entrance to old, abandoned mine

Entrance to old, abandoned mine

Not all the claims in the area have been forfeited, though. In 1994 the borders of the park were expanded to include “the Old Yuma Mine Area, which includes a valid lode claim, a valid placer claim, and a disputed lode claim.”[1] Apart from these, a very large and very active mining operation just north of the park is visible from the top of Wasson Peak. Like an open wound, the mine draws the observer’s eye to this anything-but-beautiful spot in the desert landscape.

Turning around, though, the view changes for the better. The Santa Catalinas shoot up from the ground in the east, with a bit of suburban Tucson in between, and, continuing towards the south, a few of Wasson’s ragged companion peaks appear, standing as barriers to the ever-expanding populous beyond. Westward a sprawling desert landscape stretches out below, with homes and bits of farm land here and there and mountains standing tall in the distance.

The entire hike, including stops to observe old mines, crumbling stone buildings, and the beautiful desert which surrounds them, is about 8 miles, and takes half as many hours. No fees or donations are required or expected. Bring a friend or two and a small lunch. The desert can be brutal in the summer, but a sunny winter day (Arizona has no shortage of sunny days) is ideal for bagging this peak. Still, bring plenty of water, tread carefully and leave this beautiful bit of desert better than you found it.

Topographical map

Wasson Peak Loop Route

Informational Sources

  1. http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/sagu/
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saguaro_National_Park
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tucson,_Arizona
  4. Warren, Scott S., 100 Classic Hikes in Arizona, 3rd Ed, 2007, 9781594850257.