Cottonwood Tank is located on the west side of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness south of Catalina State Park. It appears that Arizona Game and Fish did maintenance work in 2017 and the tank is currently holding quite a bit of water.
Sadly, also apparently in 2017, a substantial amount of the tank is covered in graffiti.
Buster looks at the mountains and shifts to teaching the old geography, one that has slightly different notes from the modern hiking maps. The first gouge to the west he calls Alamo Canyon because there used to be a big cottonwood up there. Then comes Cement Tank because they put a trough in there. After that is Dead Horse for a dead horse found one day. Then Montrose on whose upper reaches Buster Spring bubbles away. And over the ridge from that is Romero for the old ranching family that came into the county in the nineteenth century. When Buster arrived in the 1920s they were still here, still ranching. And they became his neighbors.
Dead Horse Canyon is in the Santa Catalina Bighorn Sheep Management Area – lacking an official trail travel into this area is prohibited from January until May, but the summer heat means that it will be next winter before a pleasant visit is possible.
Bighorns have been documented in Dead Horse Canyon for many years – according to And Then There were None 8% of the Bighorn Observations made from 1936 to 1978 were in Dead Horse Canyon (p.88) and the photo shown below (of bighorn in Dead Horse Canyon) is described as “the largest number of sheep ever photographed as a group in the Santa Catalinas”. In 1972 bighorn permits were issued to 5 hunters, 2 kills were made – one at the head of Dead Horse Canyon (the last permits issued were in 1992).
With the first good winter storm dropping snow on the top of the mountain I thought there might be interesting views from the San Pedro Valley so I drove north from Benson along the river – the fall color in the river bed was beautiful – but views of the snow on the Santa Catalina Mountains were obscured by a grey wall of clouds – no photos from the valley today, but the drive was still beautiful.
In Oracle I parked at the Callas Drive Gap Road Parking and walked up the road. At the FR4487 and FR736 (which makes a rough 4WD journey across Charouleau Gap down to the west side of the mountain) junction I continue on FR4487 and take the small road that winds up the slopes of Oracle Hill.
From the end of the road I wander up to the top of Oracle Hill and then across the connected ridges and hillsides on cow paths and cross-country admiring the storm above, enjoying the constant wind and occasional rain before wandering back…
In the modest distance between Redington Road and Buehman Canyon the SunZia transmission line project will add ten 135 foot tall steel lattice towers, two tension pads and 5 new access roads – only a fraction of the additions the project will make to the San Pedro River Valley. It appears that the only remaining barrier in Arizona to SunZia’s plan is a single lawsuit.
The San Pedro River Valley east of the Santa Catalina Mountains is far from pristine wilderness – farms, ranches, homes, utility lines, cattle, a gas pipeline and dirt roads cutting thru the desert… But that list obscures the truth that this area is something special, a part of Arizona that should be preserved as a welcome and important contrast to (and relief from) the dense development on the south and west side of the mountain. Giant steel towers looming over the valley and power lines imprisoning the sky don’t belong here.
I walk north and imagine the towers and lines – the subtle rolling hills won’t give them any place to hide, every time I look up I can see where they will create new shapes on skyline blocking the open sky – and every time I look down the variety of rocks and plants is amazing.
The terrain is steeper near Buehman Canyon and there is still fall color in the bottom of the canyon – beautiful to see this late in the season. The SunZia line will cross high above the canyon.
On a hillside east of the line the sunset comes into view – I wonder if this shot will be interrupted by towers and lines in the future…
The Cascabel Working Group’s SunZia Page has a long history of the project and the group’s work “Helping the SunZia transmission line project to understand that the environmentally unique San Pedro River Valley is NOT a viable location for a major powerline corridor.”
Thanksgiving – I am standing in the spot marked as Cargodera Spring – a tree hangs over the canyon, there are deer tracks in the sand and a hazy white stain reveals where a bird perched above the canyon floor – we have already worked up and down canyon from this spot, there are water stains everywhere, but nowhere surface water or signs of Cargodera Spring.
It is really no surprise that we don’t find the spring – topo maps are always best considered beautiful works of historical fiction, often correct, current, and recognizable enough that it is easy to forget that they are frozen in time while the details of the real world constantly change – any blue marking on a map of the Santa Catalina Mountains is suspicious at best…
We watch a single Coati work up canyon standing still until his tall tail disappears – after one last glance for the spring we hike back to the Sutherland Trail and enjoy the sunset on the way out.