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Take a hike, and just barely leave city limits

CARRIE STERN/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Pima Canyon is a short drive away from campus, but it rewards hikers with some fantastic views of the desert. It makes a great hike for those looking to get away from the city - but not for too long.
By Carrie Stern
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 13, 2003

It's a great time of year for UA students. Midterms are long over, and we've still got a good month until final exams. The hot weather has finally faded, and Tucson's brief but balmy autumn season has begun. Along with the new chilly weather comes the opportunity to emerge from our swamp-cooled dens and savor Tucson's surroundings before it's time to bundle up in mittens and hats.

Last summer's Aspen fire decimated some of the Catalina Mountains' most popular trails. Nonetheless, the area still offers many opportunities to enjoy nature while sneaking in a bit of exercise. Best of all, one of Tucson's most impressive natural areas lies just 15 minutes' drive north of the University of Arizona. Intrigued? Fill up your Nalgene bottle and read on.

Located at the northern end of First Avenue, Pima Canyon is home to a variety of plants and animals which, depending on the season, can frequently be seen in the area. The canyon is also part of the range for the Pusch Ridge herd of endangered desert bighorn sheep. Although high daytime temperatures make summer the most active season for animals such as lizards and butterflies, several animals can still be seen this time of year, when mild temperatures and hazy skies make hikes especially comfortable. On a recent visit, raptors, wrens, woodpeckers, butterflies and a tiny zebratail lizard were in evidence, as well as a variety of plants.

Pima Canyon features panoramic vistas of saguaro-studded slopes and a bird's-eye view of Tucson. From the trailhead, follow the path past the temporary construction - the noise fades almost immediately - and enjoy the mostly uphill walk into the canyon. A rare crested saguaro can be spotted in a wash below the path as it curves far above the town. Beside the path grow plants such as hedgehog and pincushion cactus, desert mallow, desert hackberry, and a variety of grasses. Take a rest and soak up some sun on a large rock face, or enjoy a small picnic under a shady cottonwood tree.

To get to Pima Canyon:

To get to Pima Canyon, drive north on First Avenue. After Ina Road, the name of the street will become Christie Drive. Follow the brown signs for the Pima Canyon trailhead and parking lot. Parking is free, but overnight parking requiresa permit.

As the path winds its way up and into the canyon, the foliage becomes more lush, and the presence of leafy trees indicates a moister area. In wet weather, a seasonal stream lies alongside the trail in some areas. Butterflies, an oddly chartreuse algae, and water-loving trees are among the flora and fauna that call this section home. A range of

wildflowers can be seen in the spring, but autumn has its own color: plants large and small are preparing to shed their leaves, and colors ranging from burgundy to lemon-yellow light up the foliage.

Dedicated hikers can follow Pima Canyon's trail as it runs deep into the Catalina Mountains, while more leisurely visitors will enjoy the tranquil surroundings and quiet, picturesque places to relax. The trail is gentle enough for kids, but also challenging enough to provide an invigorating chance to stretch one's legs. With different sights each season, Pima Canyon is a local jewel and an exciting destination for a short stroll or a long hike.

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