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When life takes your Lemmon: Outdoor adventures beyond the Catalinas
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When life takes your Lemmon: Outdoor adventures beyond the Catalinas

These destinations will ease your nature fix while Mount Lemmon is closed

Madera Canyon near Green Valley, Arizona, has multiple trails suitable for all skill levels.

Here’s the good news: Last week, Forest Service officials announced the Bighorn Fire, a blaze that had been burning its way through the Santa Catalina Mountains for weeks, was 100% contained. The fire was out.

The bad news: Plans for visiting Summerhaven, Ski Valley and all of the other stops along Catalina Highway are also out.

The nearly 120,000 acres burned have increased the chance of flooding in the area.

Officials have barred the public from traveling up to Mount Lemmon until Nov. 1.

As an added punch to the gut, Sabino Canyon is also closed.

Tucson’s summer retreats may be temporarily inaccessible, but Southern Arizona has plenty of alternatives to get you through its hottest months.

Madera Creek gives a chilly reception due to snow melt from the peaks above Madera Canyon near Green Valley, Ariz., in March, 2020

Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon

When Will Whitaker, chief guide of the Southern Arizona Hiking Club, is looking for a trail beyond the Catalinas, he heads south on Interstate 19, takes the Continental Road exit in Green Valley, then follows the signs east to Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Madera can get crowded, Whitaker said, but the canyon has multiple trails suitable for all skill levels.

On your hike, you’re likely to see deer, wild turkey and all other manner of forest creatures, turning your wander into something out of an animated Disney film like “Bambi” or “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

The Friends of Madera Canyon Facebook page ( has a feed full of critters. Madera is also known far and wide for the different species of birds that live in and migrate through the area. Bring binoculars.

The canyon has picnic areas and recently saw the addition of the 720-foot Proctor Loop Trail, which, with its concrete path that blends in with the surroundings, offers access to nature for those who might not be able to handle the more challenging walks.

Those looking for a workout can try the all-day, 11-mile round-trip to the top of Mt. Wrightson via the Old Baldy Trail.

Whitaker, who has been living in Tucson since 1994 and is a member of the hiking club since 1996, said he enjoys the Super Trail, a trek, 4 miles each way, that starts from the bottom of the parking lot on the east side of the Mt. Wrightson picnic area and takes you on a 1,700-foot elevation gain to Josephine Saddle.

“It is not as steep as some of the other trails,” he said.

Day passes into Madera Canyon can be purchased for $8.

Visit for more information.

Instead of lush green forest, visitors at Chiricahua National Monument are greeted by massive rock formations made from compacted volcanic ash and molten debris.

Chiricahua National Monument

Another Whitaker favorite is Chiricahua National Monument, located in the Chiricahua Mountains about two hours southeast of Tucson.

Instead of lush green forest, visitors are greeted by massive rock formations made from compacted volcanic ash and molten debris, creating a very different landscape, like something out of a sci-fi flick.

The visitor center and campgrounds are closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but its 8 miles of scenic drives, 17 miles of trails and picnic areas are open.

Hikes are plentiful, ranging from “easy” to “strenuous,” according to the National Park Service’s Chiricahua hiking guide (

Whitaker enjoys the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail, a 1.8-mile round trip that takes you to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, one of the highest points in the monument at 7,310 feet.

He also enjoys the Heart of Rocks Loop, which showcases some of the most unusual rock formations in the monument, according to the hiking guide.

Because of its remote location, about 35 miles southeast of Willcox on Arizona 186, it’s not as crowded as other hiking destinations, Whitaker said.

And the trails are well marked.

“It is a place where you can go and hike without too much of a chance of getting lost,” he said.

There is no entrance fee. Visit for more information.

Parker Canyon Lake in Southern Arizona offers fishing, boating and camping.

Parker Canyon Lake

Anglers missing the shores of Rose Canyon Lake in the Santa Catalinas, can take a 90-minute trip southeast of Tucson to Parker Canyon Lake to see what’s biting.

The lake has several varieties of fish, says marina owner Scott Kerr, including largemouth bass and bluegill. Trout is stocked each winter.

The lake is a straight shot down Arizona 83 through Sonoita and Elgin. Wend your way through farmland, wine country and forest until you reach your destination in the Canelo Hills, about 5 miles north of the Mexican border.

Beyond fishing, Parker Canyon Lake offers swimming and hiking opportunities. Kerr operates the marina store and has several types of boats for rent by the hour, including pedal boats, stand-up paddle boards and kayaks.

Parker Canyon was first established as a recreational lake by Arizona Game and Fish in 1965. Kerr said it is quieter than Patagonia Lake, the go-to lake for many Southern Arizona residents, but visitors have picked up since the pandemic started.

“I was renting maybe seven pedal boats a day on Saturdays before the pandemic,” Kerr said. “Now we get up to 35 rentals in a day.”

Kerr said visitors have been respectful with social distancing.

“People have been pretty darn cool through all of this,” he added.

You can rent one of 65 camping spots with views of the lake for $20 a night.

The marina shop is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. The lake itself is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Parking for the lake is $8 for the day. Visit for more information.

A paddle boarder and a motor boat make their way along Patagonia Lake in 2019. Established as a state park in 1975, Patagonia Lake is a longtime destination for recreational enthusiasts throughout Southern Arizona.

Patagonia Lake State Park

About an hour west of Parker Canyon Lake lies Patagonia Lake State Park, a longtime destination for recreational enthusiasts throughout Southern Arizona.

Established as a state park in 1975, the lake, at an elevation of 3,750 feet, offers overnight camping and cabin rentals, areas for boating, fishing and swimming, and a lakeside market where you can pick up supplies.

Getting to the park early is recommended. People start setting up their chairs and canopies along the shores as early as 6:30 a.m.

The park has several rules and restrictions regarding COVID-19 at, including a mask-wearing requirement for certain circumstances.

Admission to the park is $15-$20 per vehicle and gates are closed from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

To get there, go east on Interstate 10 and exit onto Arizona 83. Follow Arizona 83 south to Sonoita and then continue southwest on Arizona 82, past Patagonia, to a signed right turnoff for Patagonia Lake State Park.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at

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