Happy Valley Lookout

This highpoint could be called Happy Valley Lookout, Point, or Peak depending on who you ask.  This peak sits at the end of Heartbreak Ridge about halfway between Rincon Peak and Mica Mountain and offers one of the best views across the whole range.  The majority of the hike follows the Miller Creek Trail up to Happy Valley Saddle, same as the hike to Rincon Peak except it splits here and continues to the north up the Heartbreak Ridge Trail.

August 21, 2006
This hike was in the thick of the monsoon and some storms had just dumped a good amount of rain the night before.  On the way up some parts of the trail were still flowing like creeks, but they had mostly drained out by the time I was coming down.

 
View of the trailhead area which is near Miller Creek and supports a variety of trees and plants, including the Arizona Grape that's climbing over some of the trees.  Happy Valley Point is visible in the right background with Happy Valley Saddle behind the trees near center.  Datura is blooming in a thick grassy area in the second photo.

 
   
A wide variety of flowers were blooming everywhere.  The morning glory in the first photo covered much of the ground at the lower elevations and the unknown sedum-like plants in the second photo were all over the lower rocky slopes.  The third photo may be a species of tick clover or vetch, it was the only plant of its kind that I noticed.  I don't know what the forth one is either but there were a few of them here and there.

 
Looking east to the ridge that Miller Creek runs along at the base and is especially green this time of year.  The trail starts to climb up the very rocky east face of the Rincons which is also thickly covered in chaparral of mostly oaks and manzanita.

   
Eventually the trail connects back with Miller Creek as both approach the saddle, and at this point the steep stream course is a jumble of large boulders that hide most of the creek itself.  The trail becomes more shaded here by larger oaks and pine.  Around this area were the coral bells in the second photo and what I believe are Torrey's Crag Lily (Anthericum torreyi) in the third photo with some tick clover or vetch (the purple flowers).


Looking back across the saddle to Rincon Peak through the very humid air.  At this point the Heartbreak Ridge Trail starts entering burn from the 1994 Rincon Fire, and the trail also becomes reinforced by huge slabs of rock.  I was impressed by the amount of work that went into that section of trail and it seems to have really helped keep both the trail and the slope from eroding due to runoff after the burn.  The Santa Ritas can be made out through the haze in the right distance.

 
Thick regrowth along the trail of mostly manzanita and what I think are Silverleaf Oak and Arizona Madrone, with burned out remains of the existing forest still standing.  This upper part of the trail lacks the monolithic stone steps and is fairly rocky.

 
This view of the forest just below the summit includes just about every large plant that is typically found in a Madrean pine-oak forest of this region.  It's an interesting hike through the open forest, especially with the eerie overcast lighting.  The second photo is of the grassy summit itself and the lookout cabin.


View to the north along Heartbreak Ridge and up to Mica Mountain.  Tanque Verde Ridge is on the left with Tucson lying at its base, and Reef Rock forms the slope below and right of Mica Mountain.  The actual highpoint of Mica Mountain is on the other side of the broad summit, but the prominent rocky points visible near the top from left to right are Helens Dome, Duck Rock, and Man Head.


Another view on the way down to the saddle as storms start to flare up over the San Pedro Valley in the distance.  The tall pines in the saddle are obvious in this view though they don't look as impressive from up above.

   
Some mountain lion tracks along the trail in the saddle in what was a flowing wash earlier.  It's difficult to photographically capture the 3D detail that is often present in these fresh tracks, even the distinct double indents on the back of the pad aren't really visible here.  The cat seemed to be tracking deer which in the first photo left its tracks on the right with the cat on the left.  The second photo is a closeup of two other tracks and the third is one with my boot print which is size 11.


I was moving pretty quickly at this point with the storms quickly sweeping over, bringing thunder and obscuring Rincon Peak as I dropped out of the saddle.  This just turned out to be the storm collapsing though and I escaped any downpours or lightning.

 
One of the side creeks that the trail crosses on the east slope.  Looking back down towards Happy Valley on the right with Miller Creek running in from the left, and the trailhead located where the two roughly meet near the open pastures.

 
 
Some views of the pools that are located just off trail and are tinted very red with the tannins of soaked leaf litter.


October 6, 2007
This was just a backpack up to the Happy Valley Saddle Campground, but I figured I may as well put it here since most of the route is shared with the hike to the lookout. 


We camped at the trailhead the night before and I decided to experiment with some long exposures.  This one is looking up towards the Rincons to the west with the lights of Tucson glowing from the other side of the mountains, the Milky Way is on the left running vertically, and a plane is crossing the sky at the bottom.

 
Looking at our camp the next morning with a similar skyline as the night shot, Rincon Peak is the highpoint just visible in the background.  These horses were just roaming around, one of them was a nuisance as we cooked breakfast, the other kept its distance.


Jerry, Mike, and JJ at the Saguaro National Park gate which is a little way up the trail after it starts climbing the bouldery east slope. 


A look at our campsite which is only one of a few in this small quiet campground. 


We decided to find a good spot to watch the sunset and found this one just a little bit up from the campground.  It was pretty dry so the temperature was plummeting as the sun went down even though it was fairly warm during the day.


This is a pan of the ridge running from the saddle up to Rincon Peak in the south.  The sun went behind some clouds as it set so this was the best light that we had on the mountains.


Once the sun went over the horizon it lit up the clouds above Happy Valley Lookout providing us with a little bit more of a sunset.


   
March 11-12, 2010
The El Nino storms had been dumping a good amount of snow in the mountains for the preceding couple months, including a storm the night before we started.  Mike and I already had the backpacking trip to Happy Valley Saddle scheduled though, so we just figured we wouldn't be able to hike up to Mica Mountain and Rincon Peak as far as we had originally planned.

 
Falls on the two main forks of Miller Creek just before they join with Happy Valley Lookout behind.  The trail and creeks were full of water mostly from the previous night's snowmelt, though rising temperatures through the weekend continued to melt off some of the snowpack as well.


Looking south along the pinyon and oak covered east slope to trees on the ridge top still carrying snow from last night's storm.

   
As soon as we turned the corner into the Miller Creek ravine, the snow quickly deepened on the trail though it was still only several inches deep.  The second photo is looking up out of the ravine at Happy Valley Lookout to the north.

 
Snowy Rincon Peak, hidden from view for almost the entire hike up to this point, suddenly pops into view as the trail enters the saddle.


Some large Arizona Pine along the trail before reaching the campground.  The one at right is especially large and probably very old, it lacks the usual furrowed bark like the tree on the left.

  
We set up camp and spent the night in Happy Valley Campground alongside the creek.  The trail weaves over the creek on its way to the campground which made for a tricky and wet hike in while carrying big packs. 

 
It dropped below freezing very quickly that evening, but before settling into camp I attempted some sunset shots from the ridge near camp.  Like the previous trip the sun was partially obscured by clouds, but pretty good sunset anyway.

 
The next morning we headed up towards Happy Valley Lookout with the intent of continuing up to Mica Mountain as far as we could manage.

   
Even on the sunny southern face that the Heartbreak Trail climbs, the snow was still lingering and deepening with altitude.  The first photo is a segment of the large steps that show up on this part of the trail.  A little farther up we came across some mountain lion tracks made the day before, which ended up following the trail for over a mile before diverging off. 

 
The snow got quite a bit deeper once we rounded over to the north side of the lookout.  The cleared path through the trees was the only sign of the trail at this point, and the mountain lion tracks were still leading the way. 


Mike at the signed junction with the short spur trail that leads to the lookout.

 
View to the north from Happy Valley Lookout of a snowy Mica Mountain.  The three summits of Pusch Ridge (Kimbal, Window, and Cathedral) are visible over the left slope.

  
Looking up Heartbreak Ridge Trail covered in rolling snow drifts as seen from the junction with the lookout.  The second photo is more of these deep drifts encountered farther along the trail.  It became more apparent that the snow wasn't going to ease up and it was becoming increasingly difficult to plow through it as the upper crusts started to thaw and give way in the heat of the day.  I was barely staying on top for most of the way in but Mike was worse off with his smaller feet punching through more easily.


Looking back along the ridge at the lookout on the left and Rincon Peak.  A lot of Heartbreak Ridge was burned out a while ago, probably by the 1994 Rincon Fire, so it's now choked with manzanita and small Silverleaf Oak as it recovers.

 
The shallow sloped east side of Heartbreak Ridge which drops off steeply out of view to the right.

 
This was as close as we got to Mica Mountain before deciding to turn around since the trail loses a little bit of elevation here just before joining up with other trails.  Manhead and Duck Rock are the two prominent points near the top.


Looking to the northeast over the forest on the ridge to the San Pedro River valley, the Galiuro Mountains, and the snowy Pinaleno Mountains on the horizon.

 
At this point the snow was getting pretty exhausting to hike through, but we were closing in on the lookout where we'd be heading back downhill. 

 
Looking down into the valley of Rincon Creek to the west which the snowmelt in the foreground eventually flows into.  The Baboquivari Mountains are on the center horizon with Tucson off to the right over the toe of Tanque Verde Ridge where it submerges under the valley.

 
Looking south over Happy Valley Saddle on the way back down as the sun gets low.  The Santa Rita Mountains are on the right, while the San Pedro River, Mule Mountains, and San Jose Mountains (in Mexico) are on the left.  We spent the next night in the saddle and then headed up towards Rincon Peak the next day before packing out.