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Sabino Nights 

Tucson's favorite recreation area offers pleasures under the stars, too

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We've reached that time of the year when the spring breezes flit away, and we're left with the start of a 100-plus-degree Southwest summer.

But there are ways to go outdoors and still beat the heat—like, for example, seeing Sabino Canyon's sights at night.

One million people visit Sabino Canyon every year, but only several hundred or so each summer will peer out from benches on motorized trams running along the trail that snakes through the Santa Catalina Mountains' largest canyon, all under a bright moon.

The Coronado National Forest and its nocturnal creatures can be enjoyed during a summer night ride, a Sabino Canyon tradition for two and a half decades.

"Night trams are just for the pleasantness of the evening," said Abbey Harmon, general manager of Sabino Canyon Tours. "(Participants) like to look at the moon; they like to look at the stars, and they just enjoy the whole thing. It's just a pleasant way to spend an hour in the evening."

During the day, the tram guides people down a similar path—but the nighttime tours offer a special experience.

"People ask about them all the time; they are pretty popular," Harmon said about the night tours.

The night tram starts out on a flat, paved road. It climbs, creeping across Sabino Canyon Creek over nine stone bridges built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The tram passes Blackett's Ridge Trail, Telephone Line Trail and Hutch's Pool on its journey.

"Our purpose is to do them with the moon phase," Harmon said. About 150 people of all ages can prepay for a night ride.

"If Mother Nature cooperates, and you've got that big, bright moon in the sky, it makes for a real pleasant evening," Harmon said.

After a major fire in 2003 and a massive flood in 2006, more than a half-million dollars raised by the Friends of Sabino Canyon helped reopen trails and get the tram running through to its regular stop, Shuttle Stop No. 9.

Check out Sabino Canyon Tours, 5900 N. Sabino Canyon Road. The next night tram rides are June 12-14; after a hiatus, the evening tours will return in September. Sabino Canyon Tours only accepts cash or a business check; no credit cards. Evening rides are offered with prepaid reservation only. For more info, including rates, call 749-2861, or visit www.sabinocanyon.com for more details. For reservations, call 749-2327.

But the night tram isn't the only fun you can have after dark at Sabino Canyon.

On many Friday nights, the Tucson Hiking Meet Up Group hosts a night hike of Sabino Canyon along the route that the night tram uses. Most hikers turn back at the 2-mile point, but "die-hards" trek the entire 7.4-mile route up and back.

At dusk, Sabino Canyon is a beautiful place for recreational activities, said Coronado National Forest spokesperson Heidi Schewel. Many species of wildlife are most active at dawn and dusk, she said, which means night hikes offer a different canyon experience than daytime activities.

"You may get to do some wildlife-watching," she said. "You may want to do some hiking in the cool of the night. When the sun's down, it's a lot cooler; when the moon's out, it's a very beautiful area. You may want to enjoy your evening meal and then take a hike." Picnic tables are scattered around the Sabino Canyon Visitor's Center.

To join a Tucson Hiking Meet Up Group night hike, meet at the ramada of the Sabino Canyon Visitor's Center, 5900 N. Sabino Canyon Road, at 7 p.m. on many Fridays. It costs $5 to park, and the hiking event is free. Visit www.meetup.com/tucsonhiking to see scheduled meet-ups. For more info on Sabino Canyon, call 749-8700.

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