With only a half day on this overnight in Tucson I had to pick a trail close to the airport and one that looked challenging, but maintained well enough to run. Thanks to Joe Bartels for a great trip report which I used to get to the trailhead and plan the hike. It pretty much made the morning possible. The Tanque Verde Ridge trail up to the peak looked like a steep climb with some great views all around. I would have liked to hike Mica Peak today, but just didn't have the time. I grabbed a rental car across the street from the hotel and was at the trailhead by 7:30am. With the mileage, elevation gain, trail conditions, and with temperature about 55F, I set return time of four hours. I put some water bags, fig newtons, and my phone in my pocket and got running.
The trail wandered about for a mile or so and immediately I was just taken in by how incredible the country here is. I am struck every time I hike these areas how different a feel it is than any other trails in the world. It just never gets old. I also was surprised today how much wildlife was out. I could see the ridge line ahead where the trail was supposed to climb up and it looked pretty steep. As I climbed there were a lot of forks in the trail and I took one about 3500' which turned out to be a knoll with views of the South and East valleys. Then the trail began in earnest and didn't seem to let up for a long time! The time just flew by with so much to look at and I almost missed my one hour water stop. The trail led into some grassy areas now and leveled off quite a bit. I was able to pick up the pace a bit and start making some time that I had lost looking around and taking pictures. I climbed another good hill and entered into a rocky basin. The trail here forked a lot and I quickly learned to always take the left choice. The right just seemed to be around obstacles etc. Thankfully, it was also one of the best marked cairn trails, which can be hard to follow if you are running. I also saw a few orange stakes here and there in the ground. The sun was now rising as was the temperature but it was really a perfect day for a trail run. I passed the first hikers of the day just before entering the Juniper Basin. Suddenly it seemed that the whole trail had changed. I was now in the shade and the Juniper forest here was so different.
The trail was different as well, with a lot of soft dirt and good shade. It was surprising to be surrounded by so many trees. I'm in Arizona, after all! The stone steps and pinion reminded me of the higher elevations of the North Rim trails of the Grand Canyon. The trail then leveled off and was marked by metal things in the trees which I was unfamiliar with, but soon got used to. The view of the mountains to the North and East was beautiful. The only one I knew was Mica. I then started climbing again over large patches of rock marked very well again by cairns and saw my first rabbit of the day. My GPS was showing about 6500' and I decided with my supply of water and the time remaining I better just bag Tanque Verde Peak and head back down. The trail leveled off again for a bit and then did one last hard climb up on top. I had just about enough time to look around, take some pics, drink the last water and head back down. It took 1:54 to reach the top and from past steep trail runs I knew that I usually halved the time going down. This proved to not be the case today as the trail twisted, turned and was so rocky, that I had to be much more careful going down. At about 3 miles from the trailhead a lot of hiking groups began to appear and I stopped several times to talk to hikers that were just too friendly to pass up.
In overview, tt seems that the elevation on this trail is mostly gained in the first 3 miles and at the end, with some fun hiking in the middle. This is not a straight trail at all, as it may appear on trail maps. There are dozens of 90s and 180s. It's a challenge for a trail runner since it's hard to reach a rhythm, but a beautiful hike!