Getting to Finger Rock is no mean feat in itself, and after getting up to Kimball Peak you still have a long cross-country trek to the base of the finger. If you think this side of the mountain is steep, the other side is steeper. We've lost count of the number of times we've trashed our knees, gouged limbs, wiped out and gotten way too friendly with a cactus, run out of water and generally had a great time out there -- and that's walking, not climbing. Tired of those tame Sabino hikes, those easy Tucson Mountain strolls? Take Alvernon north from Skyline, leave Fido at home (no dogs are allowed), and head up the rocky, unrelenting Kimball Peak/Finger Rock Trail. The first mile is easy, and if you survive you'll be hooked, too.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Mount Lemmon. This summer we all learned the hard way the fragility of our surroundings when one good summer storm washed away a major chunk of the Mount Lemmon Highway, forcing the mountain folk to stay on the mountain and the desert-floor dwellers to stew in their substantial puddles of sweat. For weeks the only way to get up and down the mountain was via a road (and we use the term loosely) around the backside, near the town of Oracle. People with regular cars found they needed four-wheel drive, and those with four-wheel drive would have preferred eight-wheel drive. Some Boy Scouts had to use the road to get down off the mountain, and most of them swore off scouting for good afterwards. We think the path was carved out by the CCC back in the '30s so we'd have a place to hide in case we were invaded. Turns out to be an extreme hike, too. Ain't nature grand?!
MORE MANIA: Speedway Boulevard from Tanque Verde Guest Ranch to Gates Pass. If you really want to get a sense of the heart and soul of this city in the desert, put on your walking shoes and pound Speedway from end to end. Speedway is best known for having once been called The Ugliest Street in America, but come out and admit it -- you secretly love it. Start at dawn in the foothills of the Rincons and walk through the mesquites. Marvel at the mark developers have made on the landscape. Cross the Pantano River, enter the city. It's a long walk on pavement now, past strip malls, strip clubs, big ugly chain stores, mom-and-pop businesses, the best movie theater in town, the UA, under I-10 to the Styrofoam houses at the foot of the Tucson Mountains, up into the saguaros in time for sunset at Gates Pass. Thousands of cars will pass you, the only constant in this long diverse walk, but only by walking can the detail of our city be seen in all its horror and beauty.