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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hiking the Prospector and Golden Gate Trails

Over two days, Thursday, December 1 and Saturday, December 3, 2016, we hiked the length of the Prospector Trail and Golden Gate Trail from our RV Park up to the Gates Pass Trailhead on Gates Pass Road in Tucson.  The total length of the two hikes was about 12 miles, so that each daily part was about 6 miles.

We have been all over the Prospector Trail, both on foot and by trail bike, since we arrived at Desert Trails RV Park in mid-October.  For this reason, the portion of the trail near our campground has grown very familiar.  What we curious about was the upper stretch of the trail, where maps and acquaintances told us there were sites of old mines.  We were hoping to find an old mine.

The trail still held some other surprises for us.  One example was this skeleton of an old Saguaro, who revealed to us his very unique personality as we passed him on the trail:

Up into the hills toward Golden Gate Mountain, our map showed a mine site, and we had to make some educated guesses to find it on one of the branches of the main trail.  Yet, without too much trouble, we stumbled on it.  Here are photos of Kathy and the mine site --

-- and this is a video with a 360 degree view of Tucson Mountain Park from the mine.

Tucson Mountain Park covers an area with many mine sites.  We discussed this at length in our blog entry, "Where's the Old Prospector?" so we won't repeat ourselves here.  An interesting story that involves much of our trail is worth telling, however.

Gates Pass which is where Gates Pass Boulevard and portions of the Golden Gate Trail pass, was named for Thomas Gates, a local pioneer & successful gambler, rancher, saloonkeeper, and miner. Today, we might refer to old Tom as an "entrepreneur". In 1883 he searched for and found a shorter route through the Tucson Mountain between his mine in the Avra Valley, near present day Marana, Arizona, to the west, and Tucson, to the east of the mountains.  When the county refused to build a road through the pass in the Tucson Mountains, Gates spent $1,000 of his own to build the narrow, winding dirt road that shortened his route by 8 miles.

The north end of Prospector Trail terminates at Kinney Road, and the south end of Golden Gate Trail begins across the road from the terminus of the Prospector Trail.  Here we paused with Golden Gate Mountain behind us to survey the trail as it climbed into the Tucson Mountains:

Saguaro are unique plants.  Their singular shapes give rise to interesting sculptural forms, and their singular skin can give rise to artistic patterns not found elsewhere:

Our trail led us through the sculptural beauty of the Saguaro, and also the geologic forms and stories presented in the volcanic rocks of the area:

This section of the Tucson Mountains was originally formed as a caldera about 70 million years ago, when volcanic ash was spewed up from within the earth.  As the ash fell, it fused from its own heat, forming white rhyolite, or tuff.   These layers of rhyolite were subsequently littered with huge boulders of volcanic rock that eroded and broke off from peaks that had once been the jagged walls of the caldera.  The boulders rolled down the slopes of the caldera into the valleys and arroyos within the mountains.  Along the entire stretch of the trail, we could see this history spread before us:

Nearing the top of Gates Pass, we looked back over the basin in Tucson Mountain Park, toward the south where our RV park lies, a miniature dot in a sea of cactus:

At the top of  the trail, David paused to look at the Gates Pass trailhead sign:

Near the trailhead is a stone shelter.  Between 1933 and 1941 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was active in Tucson Mountain Park (TMP).  The CCC created eight picnic areas.  At these picnic areas the CCC built tables with benches, fire places, rest rooms, ramadas, and shelter houses.  The CCC built four shelter houses in the Tucson Mountains, two in Tucson Mountain Park. The shelter at Gates Pass is one of the smallest of the group.  It was constructed of uncoursed stone with large stone piers at the corners supporting a peeled log structure, plywood sheathing and a composition gable roof and saguaro rib ceiling. Low walls on three sides of the structures form windows. The shelter house has a free-standing concrete picnic table which is supported by a stone and concrete pedestal, and a wrap-around bench that extends along the interior walls.  It also has a built in fire places.

Here is a photo of the stone shelter at Gates Pass --

-- and this is the view we had to the south from inside the shelter, which provided cool shade to us at midday:

We were startled by hordes of honeybees, who pestered us from the moment we arrived at the trailhead picnic area.  We supposed that they were desperate for food or water and had learned that visitors might provide either.  We had to keep moving in order to avoid as many as a dozen bees landing on us at once.  The bees weren't aggressive, nor did we get stung; but they were an annoyance, and we were concerned that we might get stung.  Consequently, our quiet lunch was cut short to about 5 minutes.  We gobbled our sandwiches and headed quickly back down the trail to be free of these curious creatures.

Our hike back down from Gates Pass along the Golden Gate Trail and Prospector Trail was uneventful, and gave us a chance to get another perspective on some of the things we had seen and learned on our hike up.  By the time we returned to the campground, we were ready for happy hour!

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