Italian Spring Trail

Italian Spring Trail gradually meanders across the grassy hills of the Redington Pass area and then steeply ascends up the north slopes of Mica Mountain.  The lower areas have been damaged by cattle grazing but it is still scenic and hopefully recovering.  As in other areas around Reddington Road, off-roading has also damaged the landscape but the forest service seems to be starting to get a better handle on controlling it.  The trail length can be shortened a bit by taking the 4x4 road in, but this road is slow going and is definitely high clearance only. 

April 11, 2007
I planned out an off trail route to a flat spot perched among the large rock outcrops that can be seen from most parts of Tucson.  I've wanted to see those rocks closer up and I wondered what that unusally flat spot was like.


I'm glad I was following some GPS waypoints because the terrain was a confusing jumble of rocky ridges.  This was the only good view I had on the way to my destination, from east to southwest.  The rest of the time was spent tucked between trees and ridges.  The lip of the flat spot extends from center to the left.  The northeast face of Mica Mountain is at right and Helen's Dome can be seen on the right edge, which is just farther away and not really much lower than Mica Mountain.  Other than being suggestive from this angle, the pinnacle on the ridge seems to be pretty tall and with an unusually large overhang.  Could be interesting to check out, though it's way off trail over difficult terrain. 


This is the lip of the flat area which has an unusual terrain of bare grus which is granite weathered into small gravel.  It didn't look like anybody had been there, at least not for a long while since I was leaving deep tracks in the soft gravel and I didn't see any others.


This is the view across the flat basin towards the outcrops.  I made a short loop through the basin which quickly became a full on brawl with manzanita.  I think I could have gone farther in if I followed a different branch of the wash but at that point I was pretty tired and had a long hike back to look forward to.  The oaks, junipers, and manzanita seem to really do well in this gravelly basin, forming a crazy massive thicket.  There may be a record size manzanita in there somewhere since a lot of them seemed to be as big as the oaks (they weren't large oaks though).

 
Mariposa Lily (Calochortus gunnisonii) and an unidentified species of Delphinium, also known as Larkspur, in the grasslands as I headed back.  I've only seen the Delphinium very infrequently on hikes, usually only a few scattered plants at a time.  The lily is more common but not that much, and I think it's one of the more interesting looking wildflowers in the region.


A look back towards the outcrops that hide the flat basin from the foothills of mesquite grassland.


October 10, 2009
After the previous hike I wanted to get back and continue farther up the trail to see what the rest was like.  This time I made it to the spring at the trail junction and continued a little way up the North Slope Trail to a good view at a rock outcrop.


Looking up a rocky ravine burned badly either by the Rincon or Helen II Fire, or both.  The tree silhouettes on the ridge are a handfull of survivors from the Rincon Fire of 1994.  These are the trees that are fairly obvious from down below on Redington Road and even all the way from the Catalina Highway.  Eventually the trail makes its way up that ridge and traverses it to the right to connect over to Mica Mountain.  At this point the trail has started to steepen dramatically, leaving the foothills behind.


The trail briefly passes through this almost pure stand of Silverleaf Oaks which is unusual in that they are usually found mixed with other oaks or interspersed among pines.  With this many of them together under an overcast sky there was a distinctly odd grayness to this area. 

 
Farther up the trail, just as the pines are more frequently encountered, the burn devastated area is also entered and pines are almost entirely absent until the trail junction at the end.  The Arizona Walnut in the first photo is right at the edge of the burn along a creek.  The second photo is looking up the same drainage at some fall color from aspens on the right and probably Gambel Oak on the left.


View from east to south from the burned out ridge as the trail nears the junction.  This whole area was nearly wiped out completely by the Rincon Fire with only a few very small isolated patches of trees surviving.  There's a distinct boundary of forest where the fire stopped burning on the far right.  The Pinalenos are partially hidden behind the branches at far left and the Winchester Mountains behind the other branches to their right.  Then the Dos Cabezas and Chiricahua Mountains form the center horizon with the Dragoons to their right.  Reef Rock lies just on the other side of the right ridge and poking out from this ridge on the horizon are the Whetstone and Huachuca Mountains.  The reddish brown color of the ridge is from ferns that have dried up for the fall.


View from northwest towards the Catalinas and to the east towards the Pinaleno and Winchester Mountains on the right, from a little farther up the trail very close to the junction which is out of view to the left.  The Redington Pass area lies below between the Rincons and the Catalinas, and stretching across the center of the photo beyond the San Pedro River are the Galiuro Mountains.  In the lower center, down among the large rocks is the large fuzzy dark green patch that I visited in the previous hike.  From this vantage point the burned and unburned areas in that rocky region are more obvious than they are from down below.

 
One of several mountain lion territorial scent scrapes or scratches that I came across on the upper part of the trail.  It's hard to tell from the photo but the toe indentations were still visible in the dirt.  The second photo is of the open forest near the junction and edge of the burn with one of the many large rocks that are scattered all around Mica Mountain.  I checked out some of the needles from the pines expecting them to indicate 5-needled Arizona Pines, but the few that I checked only had 3 needles.  Something to look at a little closer next time.

 
Views from the rock at my turn around point along the North Slope Trail.  The first looks towards the Mica Mountain summit several hundred feet higher.  This is a forest of Douglas-fir, Southwestern White Pine, and probably Ponderosa Pine if not Arizona Pine, with a few Gambel Oak here and there.  The second photo looks west towards Tucson.

 
Looking northwest across Redington Pass to the Catalinas, and to the northeast over a large rock dome to the Galiuros.


View across the rocky area that I was looking down on earlier, with the flat brushy green patch on the other side of the slabs on the left.  This area is a rough jumble of ridges and ravines which are difficult to tell apart at times, or at least determine distances.

 
An old Arizona Madrone that is more than half burned out but regrowing strongly.  These trees seem to take the strategy of surviving rot and fire rather than resist it altogether since I've seen very few old large ones in their entirety.  The manzanita in the second photo is fairly typical with the strips of live bark coating silvered dead wood, but the geometry with the rocks seemed worthy of a photo. 


Sun getting low on the savanna of oaks and juniper in the foothills, looking across the San Pedro Valley at the Galiuros with Basset Peak prominently poking up.
 

Looking back from the foothills at the steep northeast slope of Mica Mountain.  The trail heads right up the center and then hooks left to connect with the ridge before heading up to the right.  I think the large pointy rock at top center is the same dome that I was looking down on previously.



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, italspring.gpx.