Florida Canyon

This is a good alternative to Madera Canyon if your looking to be mostly alone or just for a change in scenery, and the distance to the trailhead is about the same.  That the final section of road is dirt, there's no facilities, and you can only drive up to the mouth of the canyon which is about 1000' lower than the road's end in Madera probably accounts for the limited visitation. 

January 27, 2007
This was my first time hiking in the canyon, and actually it was still officially closed due to the damage from the Florida Fire that happened in the summer, but I didn't feel like changing my plans when I saw the notice at the trailhead.  It had also snowed earlier in the week so I thought this would be a good way to get up into some lingering snow.  Other than the danger of falling snags, the fire also caused the monsoon rains to severely gully down the slopes, bisecting parts of the trail.  The 8 foot vertical walls of rocky soil combined with snow made the gully crossings a tricky and dirty task.  By the subsequent hike these sections of trail had been repaired and I was surprised to see that the gullies had already filled with several feet of debris and sediment.

Came across these mountain lion tracks near where the trail follows a creek for a bit under the cover of some oaks.  It looked like the cat was tracking deer which left the hole-like prints running to the left of the cat tracks.

The trail ascends out of the canyon bottom and starts to climb into a mostly conifer forest with all the representative pines of the border region; Mexican Pinyon, Apache, Southwestern White, Chihuahua, and Ponderosa as well as Douglas-fir and Alligator Juniper.  The lighting seemed to accent each tree species' subtle shades of green and various textures.  Signs of the fire are everywhere along the trail and on the slopes above and across the canyon, but it's enough of a patchwork that it's far from complete devastation.  The openings created by the fire higher up in the mountains may allow some stands of aspen to start up, which are currently fairly rare in the Santa Ritas.  McCleary Peak is an obvious rocky highpoint that dominates the landscape from this perspective, though from Madera Canyon it's obscure and doesn't seem to need it's own name.  I had forgotten about the cliffs when I hiked the summit at a later date and they certainly weren't obvious from up there either, other than the view into the canyon being very steep.

Farther up the trail the view opens up and Florida Saddle comes into view as the right of the two apparent low points on the ridge.  McCleary Peak along with the highpoint behind and to the left of it form the crest ridge of the Santa Ritas which heads south towards Mt Wrightson.  The silvery foliage on the lower left is Mountain Mohagany which is common on the sunnier slopes of mountains throughout central to southern Arizona.

As the trail approached the saddle the snow deepened, which was okay for a while since it softened the hiking path.  The forest also became more uniformly Douglas-fir, almost entirely bearing freshly charred trunks.

This was as far as I got where I had to turn around because the weight of the snow on my boots and the repeated stomping into soft snow that was about knee deep had taken its toll on my knees.  The snow made for a fast easy descent though.

February 7, 2009
Though almost the same time in the season as my previous visit to the canyon, this year it was warmer and drier with almost no sign of snow on the hike.

View down at the mouth of the canyon with its oak grassland transitioning to mesquite grassland in the valley floor beyond which is part of the Santa Rita Experimental Range.  On the horizon are the Catalinas on the right, the Tucson Mountains on the left, the Tortalitas appearing inbetween but farther back, and metro Tucson spreading around the bases of all three ranges. 

Contrasting forests on the more southern facing slope versus the northern facing pine covered slopes just beyond.  At left is a young Alligator Juniper, in center is Mountain Mahogany, and down slope is a Schott's Yucca.  

Views up at the burned slopes around McCleary Peak and Florida Saddle seem to show the surviving trees near the fire recovering a bit since the previous hike.

I kept going up towards the crest from the saddle since I still had a good amount of energy left.  The trail enters parts of the forest that are completely killed off by the intense crown fires of the Florida Fire near the saddle.  Florida Saddle is at the bottom of the photo near the green patch and Florida Peak is the highpoint beyond.

I didn't realize it at the time but I turned around only a short distance from where the crest trail reaches the crest and peers into Madera Canyon.  Florida Saddle is just left of center and Florida Peak is on the right which form the head of Florida Canyon downslope to their left.  Beyond lies the northern extension of the Santa Ritas which reaches towards the Rincons.  From this angle you can clearly follow the crest of the Rincons, from left to right; Tanque Verde Peak drops to Cowhead Saddle then up to the nub of Helens Dome on the way to the broad summit of Mica Mountain back down and almost level across to Happy Valley Lookout then steeply down to Happy Valley Saddle and steeply back up to the summit of Rincon Peak.  Barely visible on the horizon to the right of the Rincons are the Pinalenos at least 60 miles distant.

This is the view southeast across the oak grassland towards Sonoita somewhere near center and the Huachucas on the right.  Bisbee lies even farther beyond in the Mule Mountains on the center horizon.  The Mexican border runs across the far right side of both of those mountain ranges.  The canyon immediately below is Cave Creek and the straight line running diagonally across the photo is Gardner Canyon which obviously follows a fault line.  This fault line leads right up to Mt Wrightson and seems to split around it to the north and south, one segment separating it from Josephine Peak while another runs through Baldy Saddle.

April 22, 2011
Made it a goal on this hike to at least get to the saddle that I didn't realize I was so close to last time.

Warming of the season has made the burn patterns very clear with the remaining forest displaying a healthy green and recovering well.  Almost all of this forest was burned to some degree but the dead patches were killed by intense crown fires.

Took a little more time on this hike to scan the forest for big trees and noticed these two Douglas-firs, which are quite a bit larger than the surrounding trees as well as most others in the rocky mountain subspecies.    

Though the Douglas-fir are dominant in this forest, Arizona Pine seem to have the advantage after a stand replacing fire.  I suspect the Douglas-fir will catch up by being more shade tolerant and will take over in another several hundred years to form the mature stage of the forest.  These species succession sequences take place in forests around the world but involving different species, though in many places it has been interrupted or altered by human actions, even in what seem to be wild environments.   

Burned trees but most of them survived just fine in what is a more natural open stand, lacking the clutter of sapplings or young trees (due to fire suppression) which provide ladder fuels into the canopy of old growth.  The second is a triple trunked Douglas-fir which is fairly rare, though double trunks seem to be relatively common. 

View from the saddle along the crest, which I think should be called Windy Saddle especially now that it's completely devoid of trees after the fire. This saddle is apparent from many locations in Madera Canyon now that its bare slopes are in stark contrast to the adjacent forests.  Pete Mountain is the highpoint across Madera Canyon and Elephant Rock is the blade of rock near center.  The Four Springs Trail runs across the forested knoll immediately below and could be connected via a quick off trail descent in order to loop back to Florida Canyon.  The green strip on the valley floor is Madera Creek on its way to the Santa Cruz River.  Baboquivari and Kitt Peak are on the horizon.

Barren rocky slopes on the way up to peak 8853.  There's a fairly obvious and easy route that hangs a bit below the ridge top the whole way up to the summit.

Pan of the range crest and Madera Canyon from the summit of peak 8853.  Mt Ian and Wrightson are on the left over the burned out saddle.  Mt Hopkins is the highpoint to the right.  The grassy plains of San Rafael Valley are in the left distance beyond Sonoita Creek and the town of Patagonia, with mountain ranges in Mexico extending farther to the horizon.

Looking north to the Tucson Valley and Catalina Mountains.  The cliffed peak just left of center is Mc Cleary Peak and is a little more brushy and difficult to get to than this peak.