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Monday, January 29, 2018


Rincon Mountain District, Saguaro National Park
Hope Camp
The Hope Camp historic site sits near the base of the Rincon Mountains wrapped in high desert grasslands, flood plains and thorny vegetation.  What remains of the long-abandoned cattle-herding camp is a barbed wire addled spread of dusty concrete troughs, corroded water tanks and a windmill that’s seen better days.  
View of the Rincon Mountains from Hope Camp Trail
This quiet pocket of relics and the trail that leads to it is now part of the Saguaro National Park Rincon District outside of Tucson.  The dilapited watering hole is the end cap of a remarkable trek and one of many points of interest hikers will encounter on the Hope Camp Trail.  From the Loma Alta trailhead that sits at the edge of Tucson’s eastern suburbs, the route reveals its treasures at a leisurely, constant pace beginning with a stroll on a wide dirt two-track popular with equestrians and mountain bikers.  The initial scene is one of sparse vegetation and little shade, but as the trail begins its descent into Rincon Valley, the landscape explodes with greenery.  At the one-mile point, Deer Camp appears in a depression off to the left.  A collection of rusty metal contraptions and crumbling troughs afflicted with the kind of decay that intrigues rather than offends, sits below a creaky windmill. 
Hope Camp windmill
With half its blades missing and the others dangling like loose teeth, the spider-like tower is a ghostly heirloom of a bygone era.  The trail then enters a mesquite-shaded stretch of washes and intermittent creeks before heading uphill to the hike’s biggest ooo-ahh moment. A short climb reveals a sprawling valley backed by the pine-juniper capped Rincon Mountains that rise to over 8000 feet.  
Hope Camp Trail is within Saguaro National Park
Clambering down from this highpoint vista, you’ll pass among stands of enormous saguaros, cholla and ocotillo before connecting with the Arizona Trail Passage 9 for the final half-mile walk to Hope Camp.  An arch of wooden benches beneath a patch of mesquite trees makes for a good place to take a break and explore the scrappy artifacts that groan and clink in mountain-borne breezes.  The toppled blade wheel of the Hope Camp windmill rests bent and broken at its base.  Look up and you’ll notice a famous name on the tail vane: F. Ronstadt.  Federico Jose Maria Ronstadt arrived in Tucson from Mexico as a teenager in 1882 and became a major contributor to the town’s pre-statehood commerce and culture.
Deer Camp
His business ventures in blacksmithing, wagon making, hardware and pharmacy are legendary. If Tucson were to  elect a “first family”, the Ronstadts would be strong contenders. In addition to his business and civic acumen, Ronstadt’s love of music led to the establishment of one of Tucson’s first orchestras--
Club Filarmonico Tucsonense.  Best known among the musical family members is Federico’s granddaughter, singer Linda Ronstadt.  
Hope Camp relics
Drenched in pioneer spirit, the Ronstadt family legacy is a permanent part of Arizona history. Hope Camp; not so much.  Who knows how long it will be before desert sand, encroaching shrubs and consumption obscure the site from memory.
Beneath the windmill, tucked among rusty-nail planks and unidentifiable tangled bits, a giant saguaro cactus skeleton trapped in the clutch of encroaching tree branches stands frozen, arms to the sky as if locked in a contest with its mechanical neighbor to see which can stay standing the longest.
Rincon Mountains
LENGTH: 5.6 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 3,120 – 3,360 feet
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Speedway exit 257 and go 14.2 miles east to N. Freeman Road.  Turn right (south) on Freeman and continue 3.5 miles to a stop sign. Veer left onto Old Spanish Trail and follow the signs to the Saguaro National Park Rincon Visitor Center to purchase your $15 pass which is good for 7 days. (There are several pass options; visit the park website for details.)With pass in hand, circle back and continue 7 miles south on Old Spanish Trail to S. Camino Loma Alta. Turn left (north) and go 2.5 miles to the trailhead.  The last half-mile is on rough dirt passable by carefully-driven passenger cars.  Dogs are not allowed.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for this article! I saw it today in the Republic; I live in Chicagoland now but am from Tucson and still subscribe to e-versions of Arizona newspapers. I'll enjoy this!

Jeri Jahnke