Ring's reflections: Primer on our mountains continues

Second part of series takes look at Sierritas, Tortolitas, Tucson Mts.
2012-08-16T00:00:00Z Ring's reflections: Primer on our mountains continuesOpinion by Bob Ring Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Last week I presented the first in a two-part primer of Tucson's fascinating and numerous mountain ranges. Here's the second part.

The Sierritas

Roughly 30 miles southwest of Tucson, just west of Green Valley and Sahuarita, lie the Sierrita Mountains, almost totally ignored in any listing of Tucson-area mountain ranges. Living up to the meaning of their name, "little mountains," the Sierritas offer mid-elevation, somewhat scrubby peaks and lower, gentle hills, cut deeply by valleys.

The range has been a popular site for cattle ranching and mining explorations since 1900. Keystone Peak tops the local mountains at 6,188 feet.

The attraction for visitors is pleasant solitude, a rich dose of mining history and a "non-park" experience. Much of the land is private property, and access to parts of the Sierritas - for example, the Keystone Peak Trail - may have to be negotiated.

Mining continues today on the northeastern side of the Sierritas in two enormous open-pit copper mines: Freeport McMoRan's Sierrita Mine and Asarco's Mission Mine.

Tucson Mountains

The familiar Tucson Mountains, just west of Tucson, are named for the city they frame with beautiful Arizona sunsets. The relatively low summits, with Wasson Peak the highest at 4,687 feet, "do not escape the desert."

Tucson Mountain Park, established in 1929, protects the natural resource area that includes rock art, Hohokam ruins and old mines. The park provides nonmotorized shared-use trails for hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers with access from several paved roads, particularly Gates Pass Road, along the old 1880s stagecoach route from Tucson to Quijotoa. There are picnicking and wildlife-viewing opportunities throughout the park.

Additional recreation areas in the Tucson Mountains include Saguaro National Park West, the renowned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Old Tucson Studios. Since 2005 the Tucson Mountains have been the home of JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa.

Perhaps the most recognizable of Tucson Mountain sites is Sentinel Peak at 2,887 feet, formerly a lookout point for the Spanish on the western edge of Tucson. In 1915 fans of the University of Arizona football team whitewashed a large "A" on its side to celebrate a victory. The tradition continues today on "A" Mountain with the permanent red, white, and blue "A" - occasionally painted different colors, not necessarily approved of by most Tucsonans.

The Tortolitas

The lowest of Tucson's surrounding mountain ranges are the Tortolita Mountains, on Tucson's northwest side, on the northern boundaries of Marana and Oro Valley. The Tortilitas nevertheless feature rugged peaks, gullies and canyons, vast strands of cacti, and a rich ranching history. The unnamed highest peak in the Tortilitas rises to 4,652 feet.

The Tortolitas ("little turtle doves") were named for the multitudes of small doves who lived there until the early 1900s.

Much of the mountain range is protected by Tortolita Mountain Park, established in 1986 at 3,000 acres and steadily expanding since. Southeast of Tortolita Mountain Park lies Honeybee Village, a former Hohokam pueblo, and nearby is Honeybee Canyon, a riparian area with one of Pima County's only perennial streams, Honeybee Creek. Both areas offer hiking and picnicking.

Beginning in the 1990s there has been considerable conflict between environmentalists and the developers of resorts, golf courses and million-dollar homes in the southern foothills of the Tortilitas. Access to Tortolita Mountain Park, especially from Marana, has also become contentious.

So, including the Santa Catalinas, the Rincons and the Santa Ritas - which I wrote about last week - that's six mountain ranges within a one-hour drive of downtown Tucson! How many have you visited?

More online

Bob Ring has combined his two recent stagecoach articles (published June 28 and July 12), added some new material, and posted the expanded article online at ringbrothershistory.com/bobsprojects/bobsprojects.htm

Read Bob Ring's recent columns, including the first of this two-part series on Tucson-area mountains, at azstarnet.com/bobring

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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