Red Ridge, Catalina Camp, Oracle Ridge Trail Loop – 4/16/2017 and 4/19/2017

Oracle Ridge and Rice Peak from the Red Ridge Trail - the Catalina Camp Trail can be seen descending from Oracle Ridge towards its junction with the Red Ridge Trail. April 2017.
Oracle Ridge and Rice Peak from the Red Ridge Trail – the Catalina Camp Trail can be seen descending from Oracle Ridge towards its junction with the Red Ridge Trail. April 2017.

The Red Ridge Trail, Catalina Camp and Oracle Ridge Trail loop is one of my favorite hikes – and one of my favorites to recommend. I was lucky this month to be able to do the loop twice – once in each direction – and lucky to do it with many different friends who, I think, enjoyed seeing this area of the mountains.

1924, June 29, p. 13 – from the Arizona Daily Star:

The forest service is at present working on the construction of two very interesting trails … Red Ridge trail begins near the main ridge of the Catalinas that the highway crosses, and goes, as the name implies, over the ridges toward Oracle.

I wonder what the trail would have been like then – the stunning views of the Reef of Rock would be the same and with fewer visitors to the mountain in those days the trail was probably, like today, not heavily used. In the 1920s the top of the trail must have been covered in trees and it may have been impressively quiet – today the top of the ridge is largely open, cleared by the 2003 Aspen Fire, and noise from the General Hitchcock Highway is notable (the General Hitchcock Highway, not yet built in the 1920s, is larger, busier and faster than the ‘highway’ referred to in the quote above).

A Mariposa Lilly along the Red Ridge Trail. April 2017.
A Mariposa Lilly along the Red Ridge Trail – I wonder if they would have bloomed here when the trail was first constructed? April 2017.

A steep descent – past the edge of the Aspen Fire and into the oaks – takes you to the East Fork of the Canada del Oro. Water flows in this drainage most of the year, always a great spot to stop and enjoy.

A spider hunting over the East Fork of the Canada del Oro. April 2017.
A spider hunting over the water in the East Fork of the Canada del Oro. April 2017.

The Red Ridge Trail crosses the East Fork of the CDO and quickly reaches a junction with the Catalina Camp Trail. The Red Ridge Trail continues west, chasing the East Fork down to the Canada del Oro – but this loop turns east onto the Catalina Camp Trail. The Catalina Camp Trail used to be the route of the Arizona Trail as it climbed out of the CDO and up to Oracle Ridge – today the AZT takes a kinder and more practical route straight onto the Oracle Ridge Trail from Summerhaven.

The reason I love this loop is the variety. Red Ridge is a wild place, violently burned in the Aspen Fire, with just a hint of the remoteness that some of the more distant sky islands offer. The Catalina Camp Trail is something altogether different – a few minutes from the junction buildings come into view – the address above one of the doors reads ‘One Park Place’.

A moon near the 1 Park Place shack. April 2017.
A moon on the old outhouse near 1 Park Place. April 2017.

These buildings seem out of place, but they are part of the long history of mining in the Santa Catalina Mountains that predates the construction of the Red Ridge Trail by many years – if you know where to look you can see old equipment rusting back into the earth, disappearing remains of old mining operations.

At Dan Saddle the Catalina Camp and Oracle Ridge Trails meet and this loop joins the current route of the Arizona Trail. The Oracle Ridge Trail between Dan Saddle and the Oracle Ridge Trailhead routes you on and off an old road with views of Marble Peak (a long-time mining area). This area has none of the wildness of Red Ridge – but what it adds to this loop is views of east side of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the San Pedro River Valley – a surprisingly remote area when you consider how close it seems on a map. If you travel out to the east side of the Santa Catalina Mountains it is rare to see other hikers these days – with good reason I suppose, it is an hour (or more) drive from Tucson to reach the start of the long 4wd roads that access the few existing trailheads. The area probably saw more use before the 2003 Bullock fire when the Davis Spring and Brush Corral Trails could still be followed down into the area – now those trails are just off-trail routes…

Dana and Traci on the Oracle Ridge Trail. April 2017.
Dana and Traci taking a break and enjoying the view on the Oracle Ridge Trail. April 2017.

The Oracle Ridge Trailhead and Red Ridge Trailhead are close enough together that you can walk between them to start, or complete, the loop. Perhaps under-emphasized in the description above is that in addition to being about 9 miles long the loop has around 2800′ of elevation loss and gain, definitely worth considering before committing to this loop!

Down the Oracle Ridge and Cody Trails – 4/13/2015

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.

1504 Oracle Ridge
Oracle Ridge stretching out into the distance – not far from the start of the Oracle Ridge Trail. April 2015.

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.

1504 Looking Down from the Oracle Ridge Trail
From Oracle Ridge – after the climb out of Dan Saddle where the trail rejoins the top of the ridge – the CDO and Samaniego Ridge below with the Biosphere in the distance. April 2015.
1504 Looking down on the San Pedro
The San Pedro Valley from Oracle Ridge – south of Rice Peak. April 2015.

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.

1504 Late in the day on the Cody Trail
Casting a long shadow on the Cody Trail. April 2015.

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.