Rick Metcalf: Sabino Canyon, a nearby world away - The Explorer: Sports

Rick Metcalf: Sabino Canyon, a nearby world away

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Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:01 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Sitting relatively at our doorstep is one of the most beautiful nature-loving experiences in all of Southeast Arizona.

Sabino Canyon Recreational Area, near the intersection of Sunrise Drive and Sabino Canyon Road in Northeast Tucson, waits to impress visitors, of which there are nearly 1.25 million annually.

On a recent hot July day, that number reached not much more than 50.

Arriving in the early afternoon under clear skies and near 100-degree temperatures, some sound decision-making will be essential. Shuttle trams operate hourly from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, taking folks to the end of the recently reopened road, 3.7 miles into the Santa Catalina Mountains.

During a 2006 monsoon storm, over 20 inches of rain fell, washing out much of the road and trails. With repairs now completed, the tram transports outdoor enthusiasts to all nine stops.

An elevation gain of close to 600 feet will be reached from the visitor center to stop number nine, making it an easy choice to pay the $8 adult fee ($4 ages 3 to 12) and ride to the top, returning on foot. The ride/walk combination covering the entire 7.4 miles will require only about 3 hours — outdoor time well spent.

Knowledgeable guides narrate the 30-minute ride to the road’s end, contributing abundant canyon information. Riders have the option to exit the tram at all stops and get back on a later tram.

A lovely creek running nearly year-round supports healthy groves of cottonwood, sycamore, willows and more along the banks. Hillsides covered with saguaros, ocotillos, mesquite, creosote bushes and various cactus plants also benefit from the mountain runoff. Following the strong monsoon rainfall of this year, the creek runs strong and the hillsides are a dense, vibrant spring-like green.

Snowmelt and rainfall provide the water, cascading from the top of the Catalinas 6,000 feet above, to the desert below through numerous canyons. Descending close to 10 miles, the water turns a unique rusty color, a result of tannin found in oak trees in the watershed.

Above stop nine, the Phoneline Trail offers a more challenging return to the visitor center, climbing out of the canyon, passing high above on the eastern slopes, offering stunning views while extending the return trip to nearly 6 miles; an adventure to be savored in cooler times.

Large, deep pools in the upper section are occupied with delighted swimmers, their splashing and laughter echoing off the narrow canyon walls. Simply wading in the creek or standing beneath falls pouring under bridges gives instant, welcome relief.

Massive boulders litter the creek bed, believed to have fallen from above, during a strong earthquake late in the 1800s. These metamorphic boulders — gneiss — are a combination of granite, quartz, feldspar and mica, formed beautifully in dark and light layers.

Close proximity, abundant wildlife, gorgeous plants, running water and educated volunteers all result in a delightful, enlightening day.

Unlike much of Southern Arizona, Sabino Canyon offers four distinctive seasons. Pick a season, drop in and enjoy.

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HS Schedule

Tuesday, September 16

Boys Golf (@ 3 p.m.)

Buena, Cienega at Marana

Mountain View, Ironwood Ridge, Catalina at Amphi (Silverbell GC)

Catalina Foothills, Pueblo, Sahuarita at Sahuaro

Girls Volleyball (Fr 4 p.m., JV 5 p.m., Var 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Mountain View at Rio Rico

Ironwood Ridge at Glendale Ironwood

Swimming (@4 p.m.)

Pusch Ridge, Sahuarita at Desert Christian

Wednesday, September 17

Girls Golf (@ 3 p.m.)

Rincon at CDO

Ironwood Ridge, Desert View at Flowing Wells (Silverbell)

Cross Country (@4:30)

Salpointe at Catalina Foothills

Palo Verde, Nogales at Marana

Rincon, St. Gregory at CDO

Sahuarita, Pueblo, Pusch Ridge at Desert View

Girls Volleyball (Fr 4 p.m., JV 5 p.m., Var 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Empire at Marana (4:30, 5:30, 6:30)

CDO at Queen Creek

Cienega at Mountain View

Sahuaro at Catalina Foothills

Walden Grove at Pusch Ridge

Thursday, September 18

Girls Golf

CDO, Ironwood Ridge at Phoenix Aguila Invitational (all day)

Boys Golf

Sahuaro and Salpointe at Ironwood Ridge

CDO, Rincon, Sunnyside at Tucson High

Girls Volleyball (Fr 4 p.m., JV 5 p.m., Var 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Marana at Sahuarita

Ironwood Ridge at Sahuaro (4:30, 5:30, 6:30)

Catalina Foothills at Rincon

Pusch Ridge at San Manuel

Swimming (4 p.m.)

Marana vs. Tucson at Quincy Douglas Pool

Cienega at Marana

CDO, Ironwood Ridge at Amphi

Catalina Foothills at Sahuaro

Freshman Football (all games at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Flowing Wells at Marana (4 p.m.)

Desert View at Mountain View

Cienega at CDO

Ironwood Ridge at Buena

Catalina Foothills at Sahuarita

JV Football (all games at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Amphi at Marana

Santa Cruz Valley at Pusch Ridge

Mountain View at Desert View

CDO at Cienega

Buena at Ironwood Ridge

Sahuarita at Catalina Foothills

Friday, September 19

Boys Golf

Catalina Foothills, Ironwood Ridge, CDO, at Phoenix Aguila Invitational (all day)

Cross Country

Mountain View, Ironwood Ridge at Mt. Carmel Invitational (San Diego, CA)

Girls Volleyball

CDO at Westwood Tournament of Champions

Football (@7 p.m.)

Pusch Ridge at Santa Cruz Valley

Catalina at Marana

Desert Vista at Mountain View

Ironwood Ridge at Buena

Cienega at CDO

Catalina Foothills at Sahuarita

Saturday, September 20

Boys Golf

Catalina Foothills, Ironwood Ridge, CDO, at Phoenix Aguila Invitational (all day)

Cross Country

Marana at Old Pueblo Invite(Lincoln Park)

Mountain View at San Diego

Catalina Foothills, CDO at Ojo Rojo (Chandler, AZ)


Marana at Wolves Classic (Chandler High)

Girls Volleyball

CDO at Westwood Tournament of Champions


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