Tucson is located at the base of Mt Lemmon, a 9300′ high mountain. The Catalina Highway goes all the way up the mountain, providing a biological and ecological perspective in the 27 mile drive, and 7,000 vertical feet in elevation gain that is the same as driving from Mexico to Canada.
The road starts in far northeastern Tucson
It doesn’t take long to gain enough elevation for a panoramic view of the city, while passing hillsides of Saguaro cactus.
For many years the road was known as one of the most dangerous in the area, but years of improvements have made it very safe, with numerous overlooks.
The appropriately named Thimble Peak is on the right of this view.
The stop at Windy Point has a large area for hiking around – a good point about 1/2 way up the mountain for an extended break.
There are numerous hoodoos in the lower elevations.
Once you go above 8000′ elevation the terrain changes, with forests of evergreens and aspen trees, with their fall colors.
The small tourist town of Summerhaven has long been a respite from the desert heat.
Mt Lemmon Ski Valley is known as the southernmost ski resort in the country. While Tucson is in the desert, with about 11 inches of precipitation a year, rarely as snow, Mt Lemmon has almost 200″ of snow a year at the summit.
A couple of miles further on up the mountain is the summit. A recent wildfire has left some of the hills burnt, but as always the vegetation returns.
The view of Tucson from 7000′ above the valley floor is amazing. This is one of the countries best drives.
The drive back down took us from 52 degrees at the summit to 85 degrees in the valley floor, as we returned back to the Sonoran Desert.