Rincon Peak

The Miller Creek Trail makes its way up to Happy Valley Saddle and then the Rincon Peak trail continues up to the summit.  This hike is longer than Mt Wrightson but has similar precipitous views from the top and gets much less hiking traffic.  The landscape is very different though and I think the east escarpment of the Rincons is one of the most scenic areas in southern Arizona.  The road in can be long and bumpy if it hasn't been graded in a while, but should be passable by passenger cars.

May 7, 2006
This was one of those pre-summer hikes up to a higher altitude to get into cooler air before the summer heat makes it more difficult to start from lower altitudes. 


View from the trailhead over large oaks at the eastern escarpment and Rincon Peak barely poking out on the left.


View north back to the pines in Happy Valley Saddle on the right and Happy Valley Peak rising above it with its bare slopes a small sample of the Rincon Fire damage of 1994.  Mica Mountain and Tanque Verde Ridge come into view in the distance.  This saddle is kind of unusual not just because of the isolated stand of Ponderosa Pine but also because of its relative flatness which is bounded by steep slopes falling off to the east and west, and the crest rising to the north and south.  From this point the trail starts climbing up the crest towards the summit.  Most of the forest at this elevation is a mix of oak, juniper and pinyon.


Looking up at the long ascent still to go to the summit.  The notoriously steep final switchbacks go up the far left shoulder of the peak.

 
Views to the north from the summit down to the saddle and back up to Mica Mountain, feels like you're suspended in the air.  The large bare areas above the saddle are damage from the Rincon Fire which continues to the entire large ridge on the right (east) of Mica Mountain and on to the other side.  That east ridge was devasted by the fire and only has a few very small patches that survived the burn.  The second photo looks over the edge of the east escarpment down to Happy Valley where the trailhead is.


A view through the heat haze from southeast to the southwest over the southern slopes of Rincon Peak.  At left across the San Pedro Valley are the Dragoons, under the clouds are the Whetstones in front and the Huachucas in back, and the range on the right is the Santa Ritas.


View from west to north with Tucson on the far left and the Catalinas rising behind the Rincons to the northwest.  Rincon Valley is down below on the left which the X-9 Ranch road travels through along with all the contraversy associated with its exclusion of public access.  The residents of the exclusive neighborhood are obviously responsible since they hold control, but the government is also at fault for failing to have the foresight to acquire rights of way decades ago to what was an established trailhead.  Now the residents have a significant national park trailhead meant for the public all to themselves, good for them, I'm guessing a tiny fraction have ever been up into the mountains.


June 26, 2009
The monsoon storms were starting to bring rain to the mountains and this weekend was not quite as hot so I decided to try my luck, knowing that I may be turned around by lightning at some point.  The day started warm, overcast, and very humid as usual for this time of year but once the sun came out it actually seemed to get cooler with the breezes picking up.  I had initially set either Happy Valley Saddle/Peak as my destination but I was feeling pretty good once I got to the saddle so I decided to attempt Rincon Peak.  Even though storms were starting up nearby, they never materialized overhead so I was able to safely hike to the top, but I was also left hiking back without the shade I was expecting. 


Some Butterfly Milkweed in Happy Valley Saddle with a very appropriate butterfly. 

 
The tall Ponderosa Pines in the saddle with a large dead trunk on the right and an Arizona Grape climbing one of the trees in center.  The second photo is of another large old grape vine wrapped aroung an oak in the saddle.


View back at the forest in the bottom of the saddle.


View up the north slopes of Rincon Peak which seem to show evidence of some intense fires probably over the last few hundred years.  This is indicated by the patches of large trees that don't seem to be following the influences of the terrain.  The patch of trees at far upper left seems to be an isolated surviving stand.  Other small patches may also be survivors or they may be the first generations of colinizing trees.  It probably takes at least a couple hundred years for the development of soil and cooling shade of surrounding plants before there's enough moisture retention to support larger trees.  Then it probably takes at least another couple hundred to attain large enough trees to call a forest.

 
On the summit there were quite a few ladybugs congregating which is normal for the high peaks this time of year, don't know why.  In the first photo they're covering the branches of small oak and in the second they were on the upper surface of a rock ledge.

 
Looking south to the Whetstones and Huachucas with rain starting to fall at the far left of the first photo.  The Santa Ritas are starting to generate some storm clouds in the second photo.

 
Clouds billowing up from the northeast side of Mica Mountain and a view of the mountain with Helen's Dome on the left and Reef Rock on the right.


View down on the crest with its patchy covering of old growth forest and Happy Valley below at right.  The Galiuros are in the distance across the San Pedro River and farther back on the right are the Pinalenos.


Looking down on the large cliffs south of the summit.  The bright green patches amoung the pine are probably Gambel Oak.

 
The slope in the first photo is steeper than it looks.  The trail switchbacks down forests of primarily Douglas-fir and some Southwestern White Pine just below the summit here.  The trail could use some maintanence and rerouting for the last section that climbs up towards the peak.  The second photo is a view through the forest of mostly Douglas-fir, Arizona Pine, and Southwestern White Pine farther down the trail looking towards Mica Mountain.


A look back up the very steep slopes to the cliffs that make the peak feel so elevated above the rest of the mountains.



March 13, 2010
This hike is a continuation of the backpack trip started on the Happy Valley Lookout page.  After our snow hiking experience the previous day I didn't hold out much hope for making it all the way to the summit.


The trail starts fairly level as it meanders across and out of the saddle forest which is mostly oak with some Alligator Juniper, like the one on the right with a trail tag, as well as some pine.

   
The trail starts climbing steeply as it crosses the slopes on the way to Rincon Peak.  Near the view of the peak in the second photo, is a bright and fairly conspicuous Arizona Madrone leaning over the trail.  

 
The trail crosses this creek as it contours across the slopes to another creek which it follows on the way up to the summit.  The route went across the top of the snow bank on the left of the second photo, which was a little scary since it was steep, icy, and a long way down to bare rock at the bottom.  It was hard to kick in footholds on the way up and I thought it would be easier on the way down after warming up, but it just made the snow a little wetter but still icy.

   
Looking back down trail along the second creek which still had some snow bridges across it.  At this point the trail quickly transitions from the drier Mexican Pinyon covered slopes into a forest of mostly Douglas-fir, Arizona Pine, and Southwestern White Pine.

   
The snow became several feet deep at this point, the signpost on the right was visible only because it happened to lie in a low spot between drifts.

 
Just as I was getting to the final steep climb I noticed an Arizona Cypress trunk mixed in the forest in the first photo, which I had never noticed before and was surprised to see at almost 8000ft and away from a creek.  I cut off trail to the top of the canyon that drops steeply to the east of Rincon Peak, since this was my secondary goal if I couldn't make it to the top.  At this point I noticed some more cypress lining the slopes at the head of the canyon, some of which can be seen on the lower left of the second photo.  Prior to seeing these cypress, I didn't know of any in the Rincons except along the forest road below the outlet of this canyon, in the area near the center of the photo.  On the hike out however, I also noticed that what I thought were odd looking Alligator Juniper on previous hikes near the Miller Creek ravine are actually odd looking Arizona Cypress.  The hills below on the right are the Little Rincon Mountains, and the other small mountains behind them are the Little Dragoon Mountains, with the north end of Willcox Playa visible behind and to their left.  The snowy mountains on the left horizon are the Pinaleno and on the right are the Chiricahua, with the Dos Cabezas Mountains in between and past the playa.

   
A group of cypress along the top of the ridge in the left of the first photo, and the same group closer up in the second. 


View north to Mica Mountain from the same cypress stand with Helens Dome prominent on the left and a younger cypress on the right surrounded by mostly Douglas-fir.

 
Bright shiny green leaves of a nearby Canyon Live Oak which can take on a distinctive holly-like or more elliptical shape, both types seen in this photo.  They may be Dunn Oak, but the leaves and stems seem to be closer to the other's description.

 
Back down in the saddle with large Silverleaf and Arizona White Oak lit up in the midday sun along a creek.