We celebrated Morgan’s 2nd birthday and Easter weekend with a 4×4 camping and hiking adventure on Oracle Ridge. From Peppersauce Campground on the north side of the Santa Catalina Mountains, we were racing sun down as we searched for a campsite along the steep and rocky forest road 25. After setting up camp on an excellent campsite, we heated up our leftover pot roast, sang happy birthday and enjoyed a large piece of confetti cake.

Maddie crashed right away, but the rest of us enjoyed a campfire before calling it a night.

All night we were kept awake by the full moon shining bright through the top of our tent. Speaking of bright…it was my idea not to put the rain fly on the tent which would’ve blocked the moon a little. On at least 3 occasions, we could hear mountain bikers whizzing by in the middle of the night. Come morning, we discovered the Easter Bunny had visited our campsite.

We enjoyed a tasty breakfast of sausage, hash, egg & cheese burritos before slowly packing up camp.

With everything and everyone loaded in the truck, we made our way further up the mountain. This section of rugged dirt road shares the same route as the Arizona and Oracle Ridge Trails. After a failed attempt to drive up the final quarter mile of steep and narrow rocky road, we parked the Tundra and carried the kids to the top of Rice Peak on our backs.

We caught up to 3 older men who had driven their ATV’s and enjoyed the 360 views of the north side of the the Catalina Mountains. We could see Summerhaven and Mount Lemmon to the south, San Manuel to the East, Oracle and Pinal Peak to the north, and Biosphere 2, Saddlebrook, and Picacho Peak to the west.

We briefly hung out at the top, chatting with the 3 dudes. But a hike was in order, so we hopped back in the truck to drive a couple miles the direction we came, passing our campsite. We parked at the top of the ridge where another forest road intersects (I’ll be hiking that later). It was almost 11 already and getting warmer by the minute. We would spend the rest of the day under the sun, hiking down the mountain along the Arizona Trail.

Rice Peak

The trail left the forest road a short walk from where we parked. We cached 5 gallons of public water inside the gate and headed down the trail. When I returned moments later to retrieve my forgotten (doh!) trekking poles, a mountain biker had just finished topping off his bladder. Catching back up to Heather and the dogs, we continued along the barbwire fencing of the ridge line.

We hoped to make good time going downhill, but progress was made slow thanks to the abundance of sharp rocks and loose stones. Thankfully we were treated to gentle breezes and nice views of the valley below for most of the way.

Pretty flowers were blooming too.

Before the trip, Mom had sent me an article warning people that it’s rattlesnake season. To my disappointment, we didn’t see any snakes. But we did see 5 horny toads, and I was able to catch #3.

After 3.5 miles, we came across a livestock tank. Thankfully, we had plenty of water for us and the dogs. The thought of dunking my head in the water was tempting, but not enticing.

We marched on for another hour until we found one of the lone shady places on the trail and broke for lunch. It was almost 2pm and we well past the half-way point.

After a nice half-hour rest, we got moving again. We would pass through American Flag Ranch and end at Webb Road where we parked our minivan the evening before. All the while, we had great views of the San Manuel Valley ahead.

We passed through the American Flag trail head, crossed Mount Lemmon Road, and strolled the gentle rolling foothills, finishing a little after 4:30.

We made it!

The day’s work was over for Heather, the kids, and the dogs, but not for me. We drove the van and parked a short distance from Peppersauce Campground. The family stayed behind as I hiked over 3 miles up the forest road to retrieve the truck. I tried riding a bike, but it was too steep and rocky. I hid it in the bushes. The hike up was killer, and too me more than an hour. I drove back down the mountain picking up the bike and enjoying ice cold water on the way.

As the sun went down, we drove back to Tucson and finished the trip with dinner at Chic Fil A. Yum. Good thing it really wasn’t Easter Sunday…they’d be closed.

Date: April 27, 2019
Miles Hiked: 8.25 (team) + 3.25 solo
AZT Miles Hiked: 8.4
AZT Miles Driven: 1
Hiking Time: 5.75 hours

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