Sawmill Canyon

Sawmill Canyon is tucked away on the far northeast end of the Santa Rita crest ridge and is seldom visited due to the rough and tediously bumpy 4x4 road that leads up to it.  The isolation and a sprinkling of springs probably means that this canyon is frequented by wildlife.  The trail leads up to but stays just below Florida Peak on its way to Florida Saddle.  It also passes through some areas of the Florida Fire burn that left portions of the trail damaged and in some spots wiped it out.

October 10, 2009

This little Mexican Garter Snake stayed frozen next to the trail as I took photos, and then it disappeared out of sight while I looked away for a second.

An old Arizona Madrone with one of the largest and least damaged trunks I've seen on this species.  It looks like someone used the branch to form a shelter in what is an obvious camp spot.

A little way past the madrone and at the edge of a large section of burn is this huge Alligator Juniper with a trunk left hollowed out by the fire.  Somehow part of the tree still survived being slowly cooked from the inside as the live branch tops in the last photo show.  The trunk looked at least 5 feet across at its narrowest and towers as tall as as the pines, easily the largest I've seen.

I lost the trail at the juniper but I think it doubles back there, otherwise you can head up slope and hope to run into it again like I did.  This area  just up trail from the juniper is thick with pine saplings springing up from the fire.

View back down canyon through the forest that was completely burned out by a crown fire, and over to an unburned portion.  This part of the trail is also in need of repair and is sometimes hard to follow.  For future hikers, the trail never crosses the gully that heads up to the ridge even though it seems like it may.

View from south to west of the crest ridge from the trail as it wraps around Florida Peak on its way to Florida Saddle on the right.  The crest ridge runs almost due north from Mt Wrightson which barely pokes up into view at center.  Florida Peak's offset to the east allows a different perspective on the range and accentuates the steep narrow profile of these mountains.  The Patagonia Mountains and town are in the distance at left near the tree top, and beyond are the mountains of Mexico.

Another view from nearby looking steeply down into Cave Creek with mosaic burn patterns also from the Florida Fire.

Looking from north to east from Florida Peak with the rest of the Santa Ritas running northwest towards the Rincons after dropping a couple thousand feet in elevation.  There was a strange chunk of haze or smoke that was blowing through which can be mostly seen at far left obscuring the Catalinas and Tucson.  Sawmill Canyon is at lower right and flows into Gardner Canyon which points straight towards the Whetstone Mountains.  The elevation difference between the grassy plains at right and the Sonoran Desert below on the left side of the Santa Ritas is easy to see from here.

Seeds forming with their twisted fuzzy tails on a Mountain Mahogany at the summit.

I circled back around the side of Florida Peak that faces towards Florida Canyon and McCleary Peak in the second photo.  This area was subjected to a normal level of burn rather than a stand replacing fire as can be seen across the canyon around the saddle.  This saddle is where the Four Springs Trail comes up from Madera Canyon on the other side of the ridge.

Two Arizona Ashes and an Apache Pine all next to each other and outside their typical altitude range at around 8000ft. 

The trail briefly straddles the narrow grassy ridge separating Florida and Cave Creek Canyons on its way down to the saddle.  The second photo looks to the south from this ridge across Cave Creek, Gardner, and Big Casa Blanca Canyons towards Sonoita Creek and the Patagonia Mountains.

Nearing the trailhead and looking back into the canyon with the grass glowing in the afternoon light.  The lower canyon had a noticably wide variety of grass species.  They were also clearly separated by site characteristics.

Just as I was driving away from the trailhead a group of coatis popped out of the brush, so I took this photo through the windshield.

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, sawmill.gpx.  The part of the route that jogs to the right and back is not part of the trail and was just some exploring.