Editor’s note: This is the next in our series exploring local neighborhoods — the homes, the vibes, the people. Look for the Where We Live series monthly in the Home + Life section of the Arizona Daily Star.
John and Linda Mulay fell in love with Mount Lemmon more than 40 years ago, drawn to the serenity and the splendor that surrounded them at 9,000 feet.
The Tucson residents spent winters sledding with their two young sons. Summer weekends provided a cool respite from the city heat.
They took the plunge in 1975, building their own cabin in the village of Summerhaven, and buying a few small rentals.
“Our boys grew up there, playing on the mountain, hiking and picking raspberries,” John Mulay recalled.
Like many Summerhaven residents, the Mulays lost their home in the Aspen Fire that charred 85,000 acres in the summer of 2003. Flames raged through the pine-studded village, incinerating 310 of the 425 homes and many of the businesses, according to Summerhaven officials.
But fire could not destroy the spirit of the community. The Mulays were among the first to rebuild, and are heartened to see the resurgence.
Today, 291 cabins dot the village. From humble dwellings to sprawling, luxury homes worth more than $1 million, the community has experienced a rebirth.
The Mulays enjoy watching their forest home heal.
“Everything is looking greener,” said John Mulay, a retired Pueblo Magnet High School educator. “It’s just so beautiful here.”
The Mulays still own a home in Tucson, but spend 90 percent of their time in Summerhaven. Linda is president of the Mount Lemmon Woman’s Club, and the couple enjoys time spent with neighbors at potlucks and bunko games.
“In Tucson, everyone is so busy,” John Mulay said. “But up there, everything slows down.”
They look forward to spending the holidays with their kids and grandkids in their 4,200-square-foot log cabin. Thanksgiving will bring a turkey and the trimmings. There is hope of a white Christmas, creating a wintry backdrop for cookie baking and tree trimming.
Carey and Linda Kent have owned a summer home on Mount Lemmon since 1989.
Their small log cabin, built in 1958, was spared from the fire. Over the years the Kents have created a magical spot for their children and grandchildren, building a wishing well, a bridge over the ravine below them, a swing and a see-saw made from logs.
“The people in the community make it very special,” said Linda Kent, who works for the Mount Lemmon Fire District. “Since the fire, the community has really bonded.”
The Kents love summer days on the mountain, which typically are 25 degrees cooler than Tucson. But the snow? Not so much.
“It’s fun to be in it for a little bit, but we prefer the summers,” she said.
Paul and Migdalia Gelsinger bought a lot in Summerhaven in 2007.
“I wanted a way to escape the heat in the summertime,” Paul Gelsinger said. “We contemplated the White Mountains but it was too far from family, and this place is 32 miles from our home — 50 minutes door-to-door.”
Their lot in Carter Canyon originally had a small cabin, built in the teens, which burned to the ground. Gelsinger built his own home, designed by his brother-in-law.
The 3,200-square-foot framed construction home with wavy edge cedar siding features two master bedrooms, a third bedroom and a loft that looks over the great room. Included is a movie theater, complete with a projector.
Gambel oak, pine, aspen and other trees grow tall around the cabin, and grasses and wildflowers have returned.
“It’s our dream house,” Gelsinger said.
The couple spends most of the summer hiking and relaxing on the deck. This summer, they enjoyed watching storms sweep through the canyon, bringing 20 inches of rain.
“It’s our great escape,” he said. “You can be yourself up here.”
Larry and Luann Waldron, who moved to Tucson from Minnesota in 1970, bought a cabin in 1986. They remodeled and expanded the place, giving it some character.
“I have several thermometers, and I didn’t see 80 degrees on the deck all summer,” said Larry Waldron, who retired from Tucson Electric Power. “It’s nice sleeping in mid-June with four blankets on and the window cracked.”
Their home survived the fire. “A lot of us who survived had a guilt complex. We felt so bad for people who lost their homes. Some people never came back.”
He said the home has been “a real blessing.”
“It helps us remain young. We are involved in community functions, homeowners board meetings, the Mount Lemmon Woman’s Club, the water co-op. We love being outside watching animals and birds. We love deck time – happy hours and pot lucks with the neighbors.”
Said Luann, a retired nurse, “There’s no agenda. We don’t wear watches on the mountain.”
They volunteer their time, raising money for new radios for the fire department and meeting in the Community Center to sew soft caps for people undergoing chemotherapy.
Every year, Luann marches with the woman’s club in the 4th of July parade.
“We have quite a good time,” Larry said.
Jerry Taylor serves as president of the Mount Lemmon Homeowners Association. He and his wife, Connie, bought a cabin in 2001. Two years later, “there was nothing left but ashes.”
They rebuilt in 2008. The Taylors’ 1,200 square-foot home is modular construction, brought up the mountain in pieces.
Jerry Taylor first discovered the community in 1986. “I play bluegrass music and country music and I would go up on holidays and we would play music for fun.
“It’s the people up here that I like the most,” said Taylor, who retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “You wouldn’t know it but there is a lot to do up there — a lot of social activities. Someone is always having some sort of party.”
He has enjoyed watching builder Dennis Cozzetti and others create a new village.
“Right after the fire it looked awful — people didn’t know if we were going to be able to rebuild.”
But the sunny village, once charred, is full of life. The Community Center is a place of activity, and residents and visitors dine at Sawmill Run Restaurant, Cookie Cabin and the Iron Door Restaurant. There’s a new sidewalk, making getting around easier.
Concerns of another fire remain, said Taylor, a volunteer firefighter. Residents do what they can to remove pine needles and other debris from their property.
While there is always concern, it’s nice to see it green again.
“It’s a remarkable place – an alpine village in the middle of the desert,” Taylor said.
Bob and Fran Zimmerman are part of a pioneer Summerhaven family. Bob’s father, Tony Zimmerman was a teacher who came to Arizona in about 1911. After teaching Algebra in the town of Blue (in Greenlee County), and later Tucson, he fell in love with Mount Lemmon in the 1930s.
Tony Zimmerman sold lots on the mountain. He set up a sawmill, and cut the lumber used to build the Mount Lemmon Inn in the 1950s. He later bought the inn, which, burned in 1977.
Zimmerman Elementary School, now closed, was named for him.
Bob Zimmerman spent childhood summers on the mountain. “They are my very best memories,” he recalled.
He studied metallurgic engineering, left Tucson and became a pilot and salesman. He and his family returned in 1973, and three of his children grew up in Summerhaven.
The Zimmermans are owners of Mount Lemmon Realty and Sawmill Run Restaurant, which opened in 2012.
“It is an amazing community,” Zimmerman said. “You can’t beat the natural beauty. I just love being here. It’s just part of me, I guess.”