February 9 - February 15, 1995

[Out There]

Wash Day

By Kevin Franklin

NOTHING SO THRILLS the human mind as discovery. And nothing so thrills the outdoor mind as a new place to go, especially when it's close by and accidentally discovered.

The Out There Reconnaissance Team has come up with a new tack for a loop over Brown Mountain in Tucson Mountain Park.

As it stands, there's a well-maintained trail running the length of the Brown Mountain. Unfortunately, the only loop for that trail entails crossing Kinney Road twice and walking along its length for a while. For me, the ideal outdoor experience does not include walking along paved roads. And of the world's paved roads, Kinney Road ranks among those where diving into drainage ditches to avoid swerving RVs piloted by men who fought in WWI is a distinct possibility.

But we plan to do it anyway. Then we find a better route.

The climb up the 3,098-foot Brown Mountain rewards hikers with one of the best views in the Tucson Mountains. Brown Mountain stands apart from the main range, and in so doing produces vistas of both the other mountains and the expansive basin of Avra Valley. As a sort of bonus prize you also get to look down into the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

With this peak being such a great vantage point we spend a lot of time looking around and happen to notice two large washes running along the western base of the mountain. One wash originates where we left our car, near the Juan Santa Cruz Picnic area. It continues southwesterly until it meets up with another, larger wash that comes from the other end of the ridge.

This sight is the catalyst for a better loop.

For as long as there have been dry river beds, assorted organisms have traveled their courses. Ask any self-respecting coyote the quickest way from point A to point B and she'll tell you to follow the wash that meanders all over, but ultimately arrives at your destination.

For some reason, humans like to make roads, hack trails into existence or otherwise do things the hard way. Washes, by nature of their aquatic origins, tend to be the most level real estate around--except for the occasional waterfall. But in the loose rubble of bajada country, they are almost certain to be good thoroughfares. Given a few large floods a year to clear out any underbrush, washes make pretty easy navigating too.

After spying the washes, our new plan is to hike the Brown Mountain Trail and return to our starting point by following the two connecting drainages.

Brown Mountain stands as the tallest of four peaks that share the same ridge. It's named for Cornelius B. Brown, the Pima County agricultural agent in the first half of the century. He was instrumental in creating Tucson Mountain Park in 1929.

The trail over Cornelius' hill is in excellent shape and easy to follow. The elevation change is modest--a few hundred feet up and down along the ridge line.

The trail descends off the ridge and, before heading off to the McCain Loop Road, crosses the major wash we plan to follow to the southwest.

This is a superhighway of a wash, big enough to drive a bus down. The occasional flash floods that rage here have cut into the slope of the Brown Mountain ridge leaving the wash in a channel with deep banks, some eight feet high. Fascinating swirls and pockets have been carved in the wash's sandstones and conglomerates by the force of these floods.

Packrats have moved into some of these mini-caves and made a sort of cliff-dwelling society in miniature.

You can always spot a packrat home, or midden, from the piles of junk outside. These rat-made heaps are mostly sticks and cactus spines, though occasionally rocks and human garbage get incorporated. The piles serve to shield their makers from the perils of sun and beast while still permitting ventilation.

We follow the wash until the arroyo walls dissipate and the surrounding terrain levels out with the wash. At this first opening you can do one of two things.

If you want a longer hike, then by all means keep following the big wash until it intersects with another slightly smaller wash coming in from the northeast.

If you want to cut corners, hike across the open country while keeping Brown Mountain to your right and you'll eventually bump into the second wash.

This second wash parallels the Brown Mountain ridge line. It's smaller than the first wash, though still wide enough for several people to walk abreast in most places.

We follow this wash past a back-filled dam. The dam is easy to get past by scrambling up the right side. After the dam we see the end of the ridge line. Here the wash forks, with the left fork heading off toward the Desert Museum. We take the right fork, which goes toward the Juan Santa Cruz Picnic Area. The wash forks again, and once again we take the right fork. We pass between the ridge and the picnic area. Eventually we come to stairs leading up out of the wash. This is the start of Brown Mountain Trail, where we began.

However, we suggest beginning this loop at the Gilbert Ray Campground instead of Juan Santa Cruz. Technically you can't park at Juan Santa Cruz, and the rangers at Gilbert Ray tend to ward off a few of the thieves that prowl the area.

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February 9 - February 15, 1995

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