After a leisurely start I setup at the Oracle Ridge Trailhead to wait for a friend who is coming up the mountain from the American Flag Trailhead – intermittent clouds and a nice breeze keep things cool on my first miles of the day, walking the top of the trail, waiting…
Soon enough RA appears and after a few minutes of talking, organizing gear and confirming plans I start down the Oracle Ridge Trail.
The trail leaves Dan Saddle and climbs (and climbs!) past good views and thru tunnels made of trees, some alive and full of leaves, some just silvery skeletons.
After the trail re-joins the top of the ridge I am stopped several times by views off both sides – the CDO on one the left and the San Pedro Valley to my right.
I chat with a friendly backpacker and share some water to ease his concerns about the dry dusty miles ahead – he is the 2nd and last person I will see today – after Rice Peak the descent towards Oracle begins in earnest. Signs guide me sometimes onto single track and often back to the dirt road – not a purist’s dream perhaps, but out here – alone – it really doesn’t matter.
The shadows get longer on the Cody Trail – power lines, buildings, roads and houses all come and go but my mind stays on the lovely winding trail – I stretch out and run for a while but I am too tired to run even the slight incline of the final hill and manage only a slow walk to end the day. 15.75 miles, +1,650/-4,800 feet of elevation gain/loss.
When discussing where to go hiking with a visitor to Tucson you can count on the Marshall Gulch Trail and the Aspen Trail getting mentioned in some loop/combination/variation – and certainly there can be NO argument about these being sublime and incredible trails.
But as lovely as those trails are the loop that – for me – has come to best represents the spirit of the Santa Catalina Mountains is the Oracle Ridge – Catalina Camp – Red Ridge loop. This loop has astounding views, steep descents, cows, mines, water, washed out two-track, a bit of pavement, the Arizona Trail, flowers, steep climbing, more steep climbing, bones, big trees, burned areas, One Park Place and even an occasional cactus…
The harshness, history and beauty of this loop may be without parallel in the range – 9 miles, 2550′ of elevation gain/loss – with the great company of Korey Konga!