Samaniego Ridge

I had read online from other accounts that this hike had a deceptive amount of elevation gain/loss even though it's not obvious from looking at the maps.  Now that I've done it, I can reiterate that this is a longer hike than it appears.  The short off-trail segment to the peak requires some steep, rough, and spiny bushwacking that may only get worse as the vegetation fills back in from the fire.

June 3, 2011
Hot day in the valley and smoke from forest fires was filling much of the sky around Tucson.  On the way back from this hike there was a huge mushroom cloud on the horizon that I thought might have been the first storms of the season towards New Mexico even though it seemed too dry for such a tall storm cell.  It turned out to be the first huge flare up of the Wallow Fire over a hundred miles away in the White Mountains.


View of the heavily burned head of Romero Canyon after dropping down the Arizona Trail from the trail junction.  The higher elevation north facing slopes such as this one are quickly filling in mostly with Quaking Aspen, New Mexico Locust, and Gambel Oak, while the south slope in the foreground is mostly Fendler Buckbrush and Netleaf Oak.  All of which are common colonizing species in this area after fire burns through higher altitude conifer forest.


A little farther up the trail with a good view down into upper Romero Canyon and over the edge of the crest ridge to Tucson in the smoky haze.  Cathedral Peak dominates the view of Pusch Ridge at center with Mt Kimball on the right and the rocky dome summit Window Peak barely visible behind Cathedral.


One of several flatter areas along the trail that dot the top of Samaniego Ridge.  This one is higher in elevation than the others which are forested mostly in Silverleaf and Arizona White Oak.


Northwest slopes of Mt Lemmon with only patches of forest left from the Aspen Fire.  Fortunately the handful of Corkbark Fir (variety of Subalpine Fir) that grow in the forest near the summit of Mt Lemmon survived the fire.


Samaniego Peak seems closer than it is as the big dip along the ridge is approached.


Looking back on Mt Lemmon and the steep rough northwest slope that remains free of trails.  More of the burn in the foreground along the top of the ridge and across the canyon on the mid-slopes, but with large areas of intact forest along the lower slopes and canyon bottom.


On the other side of the ridge dip and the peak is still farther than it seems.  Oaks become more dominant farther out on the ridge here.  Most of these burned out and bleached trees were probably Silverleaf Oak which is filling back in as dense brush. 


View from the summit looking down the steep west slope of the ridge into Oro Valley and over to Pusch Ridge.


View north along the ridge to some of the other highpoints.  The rock at right is the true summit block and is exposed enough that I didn't feel comfortable climbing it by myself in the high winds even though it's an easy scramble.  The boulders choked with brush in the foreground are typical of the the difficult terrain encountered on the route from the trail to the summit.  For some reason the summit slopes support a much greater density of Dunn Oak than what I noticed along the trail, one of the spiny components in the brush but certainly not the worst.


Looking all the way back over the ridge to the point of origin near the top of Mt Lemmon.  My route was up the slopes at far left but it looked like the slope immediately below at far right might be a little better.  I didn't take it on the way back though because I didn't want to risk having to back out since it looked like I could have been blocked by areas thick with thorny locust sandwiched between huge boulders.  Reef of Rock is at left with Oracle Ridge behind it.


Good view of Pusch Ridge on the way back with The Window clearly visible at left in a reversed perspective from that of Tucson.  Table Mountain is the highest of the rocky points at right and lower Romero Canyon is tucked between the ridges running across the center of the photo.



GPS profile from the trail split with the Arizona Trail to the top of Samaniego Peak, so there's another 600ft of elevation and some more mileage not shown to the left.  The big ridge dip is in the middle with plenty of other little dips and rises here and there that quickly add up.


Here's the GPS file, samaniego.gpx.  I left the trail at Walnut Spring where the route hooks to the right.  On the way down I think I stayed about 100ft to the right or south of this route and it seemed marginally easier.  I saw some cairns here and there but they didn't seem to mark an obviously better route.