New Year’s 2016, it being a holiday weekend, Ms. Rosemary and I, Ms. Karen, decided to stay away from the more popular hiking trails and try the Yetman Trail from the west entrance, located at the Southwest end of the Tucson Mountains. Years ago, our first encounter with the Yetman Trail was to hike to the Bowen Ranch ruins from the southern terminus of Camino de Oeste. You can also take the hike to the ruins from Starr Pass Resort, both short easy hikes of 3 miles or so, out and back.
Our exploration of the remainder of the Yetman Trail began last fall while it was still quite warm. We made it half way, then had to backtrack due to time constraints. (There is a joke in there somewhere.) This day in early winter was going to be in the low 70’s, a perfect day in January. Jim drove us to the entrance at the west side of Gates Pass. The trailhead is off the parking lot on the south side of the road, near the bottom of the ridge.
Our plan was to follow the Yetman Trail to where it forks north to the Bowen Ranch ruins, this time continuing east toward the Starr Pass Resort. The intent was to meet Jim for lunch at one of the fine dining facilities there. We chose the Catalina Barbeque and Sports Bar instead of the Signature Grill, due to our attire and after hike stinkiness. We figured that golfers are used to that. Next time we will try the Signature Grill’s Sunday brunch. It has a lovely view of the golf course as well.
There are several possible routes in the Tucson Mountain Park, none of which are clearly marked. The good news is: it is hard to get lost for long here. You may not know where you are or where you are headed, but if you head in the general direction and follow well-worn paths, you will eventually emerge, which is what we did.
My planning was impeccable or so I thought. I downloaded an overview map from ALLTRAILS.com, my favorite website for hikes, and proceeded to study the best possible route. Alltrails.com provides USGS maps with popular trails layered over them. I read the reviews. Both entered from the trailhead at the southern end of Camino de Oeste. We were hiking the reverse. No matter, we had our maps.
The trails we took this day were moderate to easy. The most difficult part is around Golden Gate Mountain, the large mountain on the west end of the trail. Golden Gate Mountain is also the backdrop to Old Tucson and several western movies of old.
I would not call this area particularly scenic this time of year, although I have heard in the spring there are ample wildflowers. The most remarkable visual on this trip was one hill with the greatest concentration of saguaros that I have seen, perhaps even more than Gates Pass.
Now, I had not studied a USGS map for several years. The trails that we take are usually well marked with signage or there is only one choice. In this case we came across only two signs. To make it even more difficult, the All Trails map shows Yetman Trail going off in two directions, one towards Bowen Ranch and the other towards Starr Pass. We missed the turnoff to Bowen Ranch, so we took the trail marked Starr Pass, which was one of the two signs that we came across.
Cell phone service may or may not be available depending on your carrier, but we were out here for solitude.
Speaking of solitude, expect mountain bikes. This trail is well suited in most parts for mountain biking. There were fewer this day than you will find any day in the Sweetwater Preserve, but it is also a bit more remote. As one biker zipped past us we questioned him as to how he made it up a particularly rocky hill headed up from Golden Gate. He proudly exclaimed that it had been difficult. One can see where the sides of the trails are well worn, dusted with caliche where bikes are wearing ruts in the trails. The trail is sandy in the lower parts and quite rocky in others. Volcanic rock is predominant. Not much clay. In looking at the map provided by All Trails, you may notice that some trails are black and others are blue. This indicates that the ones in blue are accessible to bikes, the black ones are not. So, if you do not care to share the road with mountain bikes, stick to the black trails.
Here in the desert a good pair of boots is essential, due to the rocky terrain. A good resource is http://bootbomb.com/.
It was 11:30 when we headed down the Starr Pass Trail; east down the wash between the hills. Here is where my planning failed us. If we had taken the correct trail, the one that the runner passing by had pointed out, we would have been on time for lunch at noon. As it was, we ended up getting dumped out on the street below Starr Pass in a residential area and had to hike another mile or so back up to the golf course Clubhouse. No matter, 6 miles, 7 miles, who’s counting? Our knees and hips certainly were.
We arrived at 12:30. Jim was enjoying a tasting sampler of the signature BBQ sauces. He preferred the one that tasted most traditional. I preferred the Chiltapin Sauce. Ms. Rosemary thought they were all delightful. If you go, try the sauces as well as the ANGRY Orchard Hard Cider instead of a beer. It is surprisingly tart and refreshing.
If you go: This is an easy to moderate hike of 3 to 12 miles depending on your route. Always bring water, you may get lost. There are several crossing trails in this portion of the Tucson Mountains, most of them unmarked. These Blue Trails (AllTrails.com) are bike-friendly and horse-friendly, but not dog friendly. You can, however, hike with your pooch in the Sweetwater Preserve, also in the Tucson Mountains, between Camino del Cerro and Sweetwater.