Bear Creek

Bear Canyon is home to Seven Falls which is a popular destination out of the Sabino Canyon area and is an amazing sight when the creek is flowing well.  Solitude is usually found beyond the falls and the high sonoran desert is left behind in transition to oaks and grassland.  I've always seen the canyon named without the creek specifically named, so I'm labelling the creek Bear because I don't want it to become one of those quagmire naming conflicts that I've seen elsewhere.

June 6, 2009
An unusually cooler weekend for June offered an opportunity to do a hike at a lower elevation.  I've always thought of doing the transit from Bear to Sabino Canyons but never got around to it until now.  I've also wanted to check out a terrain oddity that shows up on the topo map where there appears to be an imminent stream capture of Sycamore Creek by Sabino Creek.  Mike and Kathryn accompanied me until the falls, and I continued on to Sabino where I caught the shuttle back, all the while not seeing anybody else on the trail.  We also received some unlikely rain in the preceding weeks which still flowed in the creeks and greened up some of the plants more than usual for this normally bone dry time of year.


Looking downstream at Bear Canyon with some pools and oaks in the area just upstream from the falls.  This view is also looking at the back side of Thimble Peak which is the nub on the right skyline.


Looking over some Ocotillo and Coral Bean to Gibbon Mountain in the cloud shadow.  Down in Bear Creek is a pretty decent stand of oak and Arizona Cypress which I'll have to check out some other time.  At this point the trail enters areas burned by the Aspen Fire, and the pocket of trees down in the canyon were luckier than those upstream and up the slope on Gibbon Mountain.

 
Looking back down the canyon once the trail climbs up and out, Thimble peak is the obvious nub.  The ridge on the left of the first photo forms the south wall of Bear Canyon for the portion downstream of the falls.  From here the trail levels out a bit and enters a secluded shallow canyon that pours over a cliff on the right of the first photo or left of the second.  From Gibbon Mountain on another hike I've seen the waterfall at this pourover flowing after a recent rain.  The terrain was unexpectedly plateau like in this area, though the ridge with Thimble Peak falls away into the cliffs that form the eastern wall of Sabino Canyon. 


When the trail reaches the head of the shallow canyon it pops over a ridge and descends down into the basin of Bear Creek, which gathers its tributaries one after the other from the left to right in this photo.  This basin was badly burned by the Aspen Fire and the gray remnants of what used to be oak, sycamore and cypress can be seen in bottom of the basin.  The Catalina Highway can be seen on the right side of the photo as it ascends into upper Bear Canyon, with both the Cataracts Vista Point portion visible, and then farther along the road above to the left on the ridge is Windy Point.  Some nice lenticular clouds were forming above the Catalina summit ridge which is barely visible on the far left.


Farther down, the trail sits right on top of the divide between the Bear Canyon (right) and Sabino Canyon (left) watersheds.  This area of the Catalinas is a confusing collection of finger ridges and canyons that drop south from the Catalina summit ridge into this central basin that runs roughly east-west.  This basin follows a fault and also separates Pusch Ridge from the rest of the Catalinas.   


This is the area that I came to see, a very low lying section of the divide that barely prevents Sycamore Creek on the right, a tributary of Bear Creek, from flowing down to the west into Sabino Creek, at left in the photo.  Palisade Creek descends steeply from the Catalina crest ridge and can be seen just to the right of the burned out tree.  Hiking along this ridge had a strange precarious feeling to it, like a bathtub about to spill over.  Palisade Creek was probably captured not that long ago and Sycamore will likely be captured in a much shorter time span, in a geologic sense this photo might as well be a snapshot of the event.


I continued a little farther to check out Sycamore Creek which from satellite photos seemed like it could have some interesting pools or falls.  There were some but nothing too big.  More burned out trees and a couple of Arizona Cypress and oaks that managed to survive.

 
More creek views.  The photo on the right was taken from my turn around point which overlooks the creek as it makes a sharp hook to the east then bends north again on its way up to the Catalina summit ridge.


This is looking southwest from the same spot with Palisade Creek out of view below and Sabino Creek on the far right where the east and west forks meet.  From the junction Sabino Creek slices a canyon straight through the mountain which forms the western edge of Pusch Ridge.  I think the high point on the ridge is Rattlesnake Peak, the westernmost of Pusch Ridge summits.  The trail's very long switchbacks down to the East Fork Sabino can also be seen on the left slope.


Looking up the West Fork Sabino to Cathedral Peak, the highest Pusch Ridge summit at a little under 8000', and Romero pass.  The West Fork looks like it mostly escaped the Aspen fire even though the fire crossed it and continued to burn much of Cathedral Peak, especially the formerly pine covered summit.


The East Fork Sabino looked totally free of burn and the thick forest of a variety of oaks was very scenic.  I think most of the oaks here were Mexican Blue Oak given the forest's overall blueish cast, even though this one looks green for some reason.  Definitely an area to explore further another time. 


This is the GPS file for this hike that can be opened in Google Earth. You may have to explicitly specify the gpx extension when saving, bearsabino.gpx.  The path at the bottom that breaks off of the otherwise continuous portion is the off-trail segment that I explored.


February 6, 2010
The few weeks prior brought lots of snow and rain to the mountains.  So I decided it would be a good time to see the falls and check out the cypress that I noticed on the previous hike below Gibbon Mountain. 


When there's water, there's people at Seven Falls, but it wasn't quite as crowded as it can get in the summer.  Few people hike past the falls though.  The creek and canyon make a sharp hook to the right just past the top fall.


Stretch of sandy creek a little way after leaving the trail behind.  Some of these deciduous trees along the creek were already sprouting spring growth.  Thimble Peak is the high nub in the background, and the grassy slope is what the trail switchbacks up on its way out of the canyon.  This view captures some of the arid surroundings that make the grove of cypress seem so isolated, including some saguaro on the right at the edge of their cold tolerance.


This is the first look at the micro-grove of a few Arizona Cypress.  They're obscured a bit by the Arizona Alder which are covered in tassels of flowers.

 
There's a couple other cypress standing on their own outside the grove but for the most part this tiny pocket of trees is very different than the rest of the creek.  Some of these trees didn't survive the Aspen Fire and others that did show the damage, like the lower half of the tree at left.  The tree at right in the first photo is one of the alders, most of which had somewhat disfigured trunks, not sure if it's from being at the edge of their temperature tolerance or from the fire.  The horsetails in the second photo are flattened from higher creek levels during the storms. 


One of several outlier cypress upstream from the grove that also has been partially burned and another next to it that didn't survive the fire.  There are a few other oddly isolated but dead cypress farther downstream almost all the way to the top of Seven Falls, but it seems like these may have been dead before the fire from drought or warming climate.  The oak on the left is a Mexican Blue Oak which are common in this area.


Looking downstream of the grove along a flat sandy stretch of the creek with another burned out cypress on the right bank.