It rained in the fall and snowed in the winter. As the desert warms in the spring, voilà, wildflowers are giving it all they’ve got this very instant. Pack it up and leave for Tucson now and you will be dazzled by a billion buds and blossoms.
If children are with you, go to the kid-friendly Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum or splash in the streams and pools at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. If you prefer a stalwart hike that transitions through five life zones, from saguaros to evergreens, climb Mount Kimball, the pine-topped prominence of the Santa Catalina Mountain front range.
This through-hike affords an intimate look at two equally dominant canyons, Pima and Finger Rock. If you don’t have a shuttle vehicle or just want the quickest route to the peak, do an out-and-back on the Finger Rock Trail.
Pima Canyon Trail: From the trailhead, elevation 2,920 feet, the path threads its way through a lush jumble of Sonoran plants: congregations of the mighty saguaro square off with the red-chili blossom-tipped fronds of the ocotillo. In March, flowers are phantasmagorical. Goldenrod brittlebush predominate at knee height. Spikes of sweet-smelling lupine contrast with Mexican goldpoppy fields. Delicate, creamy evening primrose compete with raspberry sherbet fairyduster puff balls. Dark orchid verbena win over dusky apricot globe-mallow.
Stand-alone feminine sego lilies are my favorite. The staghorn cholla and prickly pear must wait their showy turn.
Descend to the floor of Pima Canyon and cross the wash. During a wet winter, the drainageway is flush with surface water, but generally it flows underground.
The track rises almost too gradually for the first 3½ miles. Climbing finally bucks up, the trail embedded with large boulders suspended above the alluring creek. Look down on tempting pools carved into Santa Catalina Gneiss.
Every Pusch Ridge canyon has an exceptional vantage point where people gravitate. Pima Vista rests on a mid-canyon ridge at 4.6 miles, 5,040 feet. Rock stack towers add to the allure. Multiple crags defining the canyon are visually dramatic. Tucson is seen in a thin western wedge.
The route is exciting, revealed as you go. Pass a massive, soaring gneiss cliff, then tread the canyon bottom, thin and tight. The contrasting cool drainage has tall pines and the biggest alligator juniper on the planet!
Pima Spring at 5.2 miles is a disappointing trickle in a concrete encasement. Don’t count on topping off your water supply.
An optional spur goes left to Pima Saddle at 5.6 miles. It is 0.2-mile roundtrip and a steep 150-foot climb. While this is a worthy side trip, just know you can’t summit from the saddle and must return to this point.
Staying on the main trail, the track climbs about 100 feet and then contours at the base of an extensive stone bulwark. It bears southeast and makes a gentle climb up a draw to gain Kimball’s northwest ridge. Upon reaching the ridge at 6.4 miles, 6,700 feet, the grade eases.
Meet the trail coming up from Finger Rock Canyon and bear left on the summit spur. Pass a small view opening, the first of two peak crests. Keep going! The path descends slightly and then climbs easily to the true summit at 7.1 miles, 7,258 feet. You’ll know when you get there. While Mount Kimball is the most wooded of all the Pusch Ridge peaks, its crest is pure, bare rock, protruding like the prow of a ship. The lookout is precipitous – towers soar above treetops below your feet. The broad swing view of prominences spanning the ridge is unexpected and welcome.
Finger Rock Trail: Finger Rock Canyon has a more uniform shape than Pima. It is the most open of the Pusch Ridge corridors. Expansive views to the southwest are one of the great features of this descent. It is a somewhat challenging treadway. Half of the route is steep and crumbly; the other is rocky with big bouldery steps. Yes, it is relentlessly steep, but it is the fastest way off the mountain and the most popular.
From the peak, return on the summit spur to the Pima Canyon Trail and turn left. In half of a mile, reach the junction with Finger Rock Trail and go right. The path cuts through ponderosa and more ancient junipers. The route crosses the canyon making for the southeast side and holds that aspect all the way to the floor.
Hug the base of cliffs on a platform just wide enough to allow passage. Slither around crenelations so close you can swipe your fingers across the smooth rock.
Linda Vista at 9.1 miles is Finger Rock’s equivalent to Pima Vista. It is perfectly located for a mid-descent break on sitting rocks overlooking the city, distinct Baboquivari Peak, Kitt Peak, and the Tucson Mountains.
Tear yourself away and scurry down rock runners. Cling comfortably to the edgy hillside, a middle path threading between cliffs above and below.
Cross Finger Rock Canyon’s wash at 10.8 miles. Pass by the day’s prize prickly pear; you can’t miss it. The pitch eases considerably and into saguaro heaven as you go. These signature cacti living on the southeast face of Pusch Ridge are easily as robust and plentiful as those in Saguaro National Park. You will intuitively understand why the Tohono O’odham Nation respect saguaros as members of their tribe. Take a final look back at Mount Kimball rising over the head of the canyon.