Late autumn color, rolling grasslands and big blue skies reward hikers and mountain bikers who hit the Molino Basin Trail this week.

The scenic trail, in the Catalina Mountains northeast of Tucson, begins at the Molino Basin Campground between mile markers 5 and 6 on the Catalina Highway. It extends 2.4 miles west to a junction with the Sycamore Reservoir and Soldier trails.

Starting at an elevation of about 4,350 feet, the route gains about 400 vertical feet on an easygoing climb toward the trail junction.

Trees along a creek bed near the beginning of the trail are showing intense golden hues now, well after fall color has faded from most forests higher in the Catalinas. Here and there, shrubs sport leaves in shades of red.

Elsewhere, oak trees stand green on hillsides, and wild grasses in hues of wheat-field brown wave in a gentle breeze.

Those grasses are pleasing to the eye, but they pose a fire danger in the dry weather prevailing over Southern Arizona this fall.

FIRE PREVENTION

Coronado National Forest officials say hikers and mountain bikers should be alert to fire dangers.

“We urge forest visitors to be especially careful to prevent wildfire while recreating,” said Heidi Schewel, spokeswoman for the forest. “At the low to mid-elevations, fine fuels are abundant in the form of thick, dry grasses, waist-high in places. We have not received significant rainfall in some time, and grasses and shrubs are dry and quite flammable.”

Schewel emphasized that “one less spark means one less wildfire.”

“We encourage visitors to prevent causing that spark that could ignite a wildfire by properly disposing of smoking materials, not building fires on windy days, and never leaving fires unattended,” she said. “When stopping in an area, cyclists without kickstands should lay their bikes down gently, as metal striking a rock can create a spark.”

GET TO THE TRAILHEAD

Take Tanque Verde Road to the Catalina Highway and follow the highway to the Molino Basin Campground between mileposts 5 and 6. Park outside the campground, walk a short way up the campground road, and watch for a trail sign on the left.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@tucson.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz

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