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Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park, AZ

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Guide 45 Triplogs  10 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson NW
4.6 of 5 by 19
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Difficulty 5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Shuttle 15.2 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,720 feet
Elevation Gain 6,360 feet
Accumulated Gain 7,700 feet
Avg Time Hiking 8 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 40.86
Interest Seasonal Waterfall, Perennial Waterfall, Seasonal Creek, Perennial Creek & Peak
Backpack Yes
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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15  2015-09-12 BiFrost
13  2014-03-08
Lemmon Summit Loop
30  2014-03-08
Lemmon Summit Loop
17  2013-08-07 Mountain_Rat
5  2013-07-18 Mountain_Rat
11  2013-05-04 Pivo
18  2013-05-04 GrottoGirl
35  2013-04-13 BiFrost
Page 1,  2,  3
Author Jeffshadows
author avatar Guides 28
Routes 20
Photos 672
Trips 169 map ( 1,088 miles )
Age 41 Male Gender
Location Old Pueblo
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Oct, Nov, Mar, Apr → Early
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:11am - 6:22pm
Official Route
4 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Prickley pear to pine cones!
by Jeffshadows

This hike is one that most hikers I know who also grew up in Tucson always have on their "To do" list. It starts in the valley floor and takes you all the way to Ponderosa pine. It also takes you through some of the most spectacular scenery the Catalinas have to offer. Nearly everyone I've ever spoken to about this route had always gone in the opposite direction, that is "From the top, down", or had done the route as an overnighter. I was able to do it in one day without much difficulty, but it is tiring. Here are some general recommendationsnotes before I get into the route details:

- Pack as lightly as possible and make sure your load is well-centered; you'll spend a good portion of the trip climbing ridges and switchbacks.
- Water was available along the entire route, with the exception of Romero pass on through to Wilderness of Rock. In Wilderness, there's water nearby so one could leave the trail and find it easily.
- Start early and give yourself time to enjoy the scenery!
- Wilderness of Rock is readily accessible from the end of Marshall Gulch and provides great scenery for little effort, e.g. - it's usually very busy on weekends. The same goes for the first couple of miles of trail that take you through Romero canyon past the pools - a "natural water park" and popular day hike destination.
- I went alone, but I also carry a portable CBHAM radio. There are stretches of this route that are completely isolated and exposed. If the weather is poor or you suffer an injury, you might be a long way from help. Although I did get a cell phone signal at some points, I was never able to send any messages out.
- You'll need to be dropped off at Catalina State Park and picked up in Ski Valley, or leave two cars, etc.
- It took me just over eight hours to complete the trip making a couple long stops and on a day when there was zero traffic on the trail. The only other person I've met who took this same route was a gentleman in his 40's who reported it taking him nearly ten hours.
- There is a fee in Catalina State Park; however, when I told the Ranger at the gate what I was doing he didn't charge me since I really wasn't using the park.

Leg #1 - Romero Canyon Trail (#8)
This section of the route leaves the trailhead at Catalina State Park and ends at Romero Pass. It is 7.3 miles in length and took roughly four hours with a few stops along the way. The first 2.8 miles of trail to Romero Pools are heavily used and the trail shows the wear. When I arrived at the pools in autumn all of the tress were ablaze with fall colors and the pools and waterfalls were swollen and crystal clear. This was one of the few times I've seen the area deserted. The trail climbs away from the pools and follows the south ridge of the canyon, crossing the stream from time-to-time until it climbs the north wall of the canyon towards a gorge that is clearly visible ahead. The trail is well beaten and large cairns (24'+ tall) have been emplaced at every water crossing. As you climb towards the gorge the trail levels at one or two spots, one includes "Old Trail Camp". The camp sits in a nice grassy area near the stream and includes copious overhead cover and a fire ring. It would probably be a great camping spot. Continuing away from the camp, the trail climbs the gorge on its way to Romero Pass. The trail follows the stream up the gorge for a ways and there were many down trees on the trail in this area when I went through. It finally begins to break away from the stream and climb steeply up the gorge on a final push to the pass. The switchbacks get shorter and the trail becomes steeper toward the end of the climb until it finally arrives at the pass.

Leg#2 - Mount Lemmon Trail (#5)
The Mount Lemmon trail connections to the Wilderness of Rock trail after 1.9 miles of uphill travel. The trail leaves the junction at the top of the pass heading east. One could leave from this point onto the West Fork trail, as well, and visit Sabino Canyon and the top of the Front Range hikes, if one were so inclined. There are excellent views to be had here of the Pusch Ridge wilderness, Sabino Canyon, and all of the other ranges to the south. The Lemmon trail immediately begins to gain elevation and is fairly rocky and rutted. The trail winds around boulders and climbs through loose rock at numerous points but the challenging terrain is outweighed by the beauty around you. This section of the route was the first time I hadn't seen footprints or poke holes from hiking poles on a trail in years. Judging by the condition of the trail it was safe to assume no one had been on it in weeks. The trail continues to climb sharply until it arrives at a small peak and drops down into the region overlooking Wilderness of Rock. There are magnificent views here, as well. From this point one can continue on the Lemmon Trail toward the summit or go through Wilderness of Rock. I chose the latter.

Leg#3 - Wilderness of Rock Trail (#44)
The Wilderness of Rock trail connects to the Lemmon Rock Lookout trail after 2.3 miles of beautiful scenery. It winds through a scenic open pine forest studded with large boulders and rock formations. This area is a great place to visit on a short hike from Summerhaven to do some bouldering or short climbs. The route reconnects to the stream here in many places and there are lots of little pools if the season is wet enough. It's easy to slow down in here and enjoy oneself, especially because the grade is marginal after hours of steep climbing. When you come upon the junction with the Lemmon Rock Lookout trail you have the choice of continuing on to the summit or following the Wilderness of Rock trail to Marshall Gulch, which will take you to Summerhaven.

Leg#4 - Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail (#12)
The Lemmon Rock Lookout trail climbs for two miles out of Wilderness of Rock and up towards the summit of Mount Lemmon. As the trail winds its way up towards Rappel Rock, the forest starts to close back in and the rock formations disappear. Eventually, the trail begins to switchback steeply towards Lemmon Rock Lookout, which is clearly visible (Look for the little cabin near the cliff). After matching elevation with the Lookout, the trail becomes a dirt road and one must continue uphill beyond the signed junction with the Sutherland trail. The trail (now a dirt road) then hits another dirt road which is actually the Mount Lemmon trail. Following the Mt. Lemmon trail will take you to the summit, which is another half-mile uphill and marked with a small medallion placed by the USGS. One can then follow the road back down to the parking lot near the electrical substation, or continue (as I did) down past the observatory to Ski Valley.

Sure, it's not Everest or Annapurna, but you feel like you accomplished something that day standing at the summit marker. It may be a dubious distinction but it gives you a little smile as you walk into ski valley and hear people complain about how long the drive up the highway was!

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a difficult hike. It would be insane to attempt this entire hike without prior experience hiking.

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2008-02-12 Jeffshadows
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent of 24 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park
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    Set out to do some testing, training and assessment.

    * Altra, Lone Peak 3.0 w/sof-soles. Nice on the feet, great grip, extremely stable, but wearing fast in the tread (I give them less than 100 miles). Great for long hauls, but not every day trails.
    * Fenix 3. 12 hours of Nav while Tracking took me down to 10% battery. Stats were unbelievably on the dot.
    * Packing. Camel ultra-10 weighing 10lbs, front-belt pack at 5lbs. Used 60 oz before Quartzite Spring, drank ~20 while there and loaded up with 80. Drank another 60 the rest of the trip. Could have easily gone with half the weight, but wanted to keep it a bit heavy today.

    As for training, this was time well spent. A 295 FPM average, sustained for 12 hours is a productive day.

    On to the assessment. According to the spreadsheet, this came in at 74% of my ability. As of 20 hours later, I feel more like it was 100% of my ability. I'm not impressed with the results. Gotta beef it up.
    Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park
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    All day grinder to the summit and back. Up RC#8 and ML#5 then a counter-clockwise loop around WOR#44, LR#12, summit and Meadow#5A, then back down ML#5 and RC#8. Especially enjoyed all the gorgeous granite formations in WOR.

    Other than some downed trees, trails are in good condition. Moderate water flow in Romero Canyon, good pools and light creek flow at several places along WOR#44.
    Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park
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    Lemmon Summit Loop
    So it's been 3 months since I did an overnight backpack trip, which is waaaaay overdue. 9L and I had talked about it recently, and somewhere on Thursday or Friday we settled on Mt. Lemmon. Apparently I'm an idiot, because I agreed to this.

    The first few miles up Romero Canyon were great, but as the elevation increased, I started to drag. At Romero Pass, I told 9L just to go ahead and I would meet him whenever I got there. I was moving at a snail's pace uphill. Perhaps as tired as I have ever been on a hike. The saving grace was the cool temperature and the stationary cloud that hovered overhead most of the time with the looming threat of rain. Luckily all the precipitation remained just to the east in the Rincons.

    Once the climb was over, I really enjoyed the couple of miles in the Wilderness of Rocks. There was water in just about every creek crossing which was a pleasant surprise. I eventually reached the area we had decided to camp, and was happy 9L had taken the time to scope pick a spot.

    We gathered a lot of firewood (there's plenty to be found with very little effort) in preparation for the cold night ahead. Before the sun set, we explored a couple of view points and cool rock formations nearby before settling in for dinner and fire. The wind picked up through the evening, and by the time we went to bed, it was gusting through the trees at an impressive speed. We had both carefully scoped our tent spots staying well clear of dead branches or trees that might fall in the wind. I woke up several times with the sound of the wind howling through the trees wondering if we shouldn't have camped out on the exposed rocks instead. :scared:

    Morning was chilly, probably in the upper 30s, and continued crazy windy. We took our time with breakfast and packing up camp before making the final 2000 foot grind to the summit. The wind wasn't too bad in the sheltered gully the trail follows, but at the Lemmon Rock lookout, it was borderline dangerous and viciously cold and unpleasant. Needless to say, we didn't stay long. A short trip from the lookout we reached the summit where I managed to find the benchmark (Catalina 2 Reset) at the high-point. This is actually outside of the fenced-in restricted area, though I'm not certain what route would be best taken to get there legally.

    The cold and wind were unpleasant, so we quickly headed down the Meadow Trail and joined the Mt. Lemmon trail heading down through the burn area. We had considered following Lemmon back to Romero and retracing our route back to the car, but instead decided to make a loop and take Sutherland back. I hesitate calling it a trail. Let's just say there was once a trail named Sutherland. Years ago.

    This is a steep and relentless descent, and the miles and elevation from the past 36 hours took their toll on me. Route-finding was challenging, especially in the 2 miles along the main ridge after the power line turns from the trail (about half a mile below the Samaniego junction -- or mostly everything between 6700 and 7700 feet). There are a lot of boulders, and the trail has been lost to new growth. There are numerous cairns and some ribbons, so when we got lost, it was just a matter of back-tracking a bit and searching for the cairns. They were always there, just not always visible at first glance.

    From there, the trail descends steeply, about 3000 feet in 3 miles, before joining a miserable, rocky old road for two more miles. It was no longer cold and windy, but instead hot, sunny, and sweaty. The turn back into the state park and onto smooth singletrack was extremely welcomed. Tired and in pain, we managed to make pretty good time over the last 2.6 miles, with great views of Pusch Ridge and the rest of the Catalinas, along with a nice crop of wildflowers.

    Back at the car, I enjoyed a single Dales before snoozing home. Thanks to 9L for driving, and for suggesting this ridiculous hike to begin with. Not sure I'll ever hike Sutherland again. The rest maybe, but not sure about the weight of an overnight pack. That's a lot of miles and elevation in two days. Likely the toughest overnight I've ever done. I think I'm in worse shape than when Joe, Bob and Denny dragged me on a 21 mile and 8100 ft dayhike to Cheops that time...

    Nice blooms along lower Sutherland inside the state park.
    Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park
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    Lemmon Summit Loop
    Mount Lemmon has been on my list for a while now. After the recent rain/snow I felt this was the perfect weekend for a backpacking trip. I talked to Chumley and he was down so off we went for a grueling weekend!

    We left Phoenix early on Saturday and drove to Catalina State Park. It’s closer than I anticipated. We started hiking before 9am and made our way up Romero Canyon. There were several groups day hiking but not any backpackers. We proceeded up the trail and were delighted to see running water. This is a very enjoyable area and would be great for day hiking. We continued on and reached Romero Pass where we took a lunch break. From there it was another 4+ miles and roughly 2K feet of AEG to Wilderness of Rocks. We selected a campsite a few minutes west of the junction to the summit trail. Our site was well used and had some improvements to it including a seat with a backrest. See pics. We enjoyed a campfire and plenty of cold water was close by. The overnight temps got chilly but weren’t too bad.

    We woke early on Sunday and got the fire going again. We ate some breakfast and then tore down camp and were hiking soon after. Our goal for the day was to reach the summit another 2K feet above and then hike back down the state park. The hike up to Lemmon took considerable effort. We both noticed our elevation as we were short on breath. Our packs were lighter from the day before but were still a burden. With much effort we reached the summit where we checked out the fire lookout hut and then went over to the structures on the summit. It was very cold and windy up top. There was some snow in patches in the shady areas.

    From the summit we went west and followed a two track road towards the Sutherland Trail. Once we reached that junction we decided to make this a true loop and we followed the Sutherland Trail down. This trail is a mix of good and bad. Some sections are in good shape and are easy to follow. Other sections are overgrown and route finding is a pain. We lost the trail at one point but consulted the map and had to bushwhack down to reconnect. The Sutherland trail drops around 6K feet in 8ish miles and it took its toll on my knees and ankles. It eventually levels off near the state park boundary. From there the rest of the return was tiring but straightforward and we were back to the jeep in no time and then home in Phoenix by late afternoon.

    This is an amazing yet grueling hike! I doubt I ever do this loop again but it was well worth it. Wilderness of Rocks is fantastic and the views from the Lemmon Summit are jaw dropping. Tucson hikes are terrific and I plan on doing many more!
    Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park
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    The weather forecast seemed as good as it could get, so off I went. had a bit of a cloud burst the first hour in, but that's all I saw for rain. I started out at 73 deg and pretty much chased that 3/4 of the way up to the point that it was actually cooler. I took 3, 1/2 hour breaks, and just kept pluggin the rest of the way.

    I'm beat :stretch: ,so I'm off to bed :zzz:
    Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park
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    The plan was to take the Romero #8 to the Mt Lemmon #5, east on the Wilderness Of Rocks #44, north up the Lemmon Rocks #12, then to the parking lot, back down the #5, to the #8, and home. This would have taken a couple of trails off my list, and filled out a 15-1/2 hour day.

    In the a.m. I started 40 minutes late, then high humidity affected both my speed and water intake to the point that this wasn't gonna happen today. From there I just throttled back and quit beating myself up. At least I had the Wilderness of Rocks to look forward to. I hadn't been on that trail before. Turns out that it's not so eventful, at least on the section I visited. A lot of fire damage made it almost depressing. I could kind of see what it must have looked like before it burned.

    The trip back was the reverse. A pleasant down hill, with broken cloud cover, and fairly consistent breeze, until the last 5 miles where the sky cleared up, the breeze stopped, and the bugs came out.

    Probably shouldn't have tried to pull this one off in July, but... :?
    Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park
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    Really, really nice hike today with a very strong group of hikers. Perfect weather, not hot, nice and cool for the 0530 start. The trails are in good shape, and there is water at numerous spots. Including Romero Pools and Lemmon Creek.
    Due to some recent scares, I opted to carry almost 8L of water. Quite a load for that distance and AEG.
    No surprises today, and everyone had a great time.
    Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park
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    The alarm went off at 3:40AM and I quickly grabbed the gear and headed towards Catilina State Park. Today had a mission a fast ascent and decent of Lemmon via the trails.

    Left the trailhead parking lot at a little past 4:30AM (thanks to the unbelievable amount of confusing road construction in the Tucson area).

    By headlamp and for encouragement an IPOD I headed into the darkness with a headlamp. :scared: Thanks to the darkness mixed with being solo and having a headlamp that was fading fast (thanks rechargeables), I was on full alert. A few steps past the trail sign I decided I was going to trail run as much of this trip as possible. I kicked up the tunes, found a rhythm and hammered down.

    I got turned around for a minute at Romero Pools, but spotted the route thanks to the GPS :worthy: . After an hour or two (IDK) I reached Romero Pass to see the sun paint the side of the mountain a beautiful pink. The colors visually stimulated me and distracted me from the nearly vertical trail that follows after the pass. Another hour or so passed by and I found myself at the turnoff for Wilderness of Rocks. Toughboots (AKA Mr. Boots (Use your seductive voice)) informed me that this was worth the trip so I turned. I was not disappointed with the area. Beautiful rock formations, soft leaf covered trail to run on and a few pools of crystal clear water along the trail.

    After WOR the trail, I turned onto Lemmon Rock Trail and was slapped in the face. About this time my legs were screaming why (and I said "Because it's there") and the trail was unforgiving. Most switchbacks are something I look forward to but not here. The switchbacks didn't seem any less steep as a direct route to the top would be. The only difference was the switchbacks stretched this out. Sucking air :sk: and hoping for some relieve I made it to the next trail junction.

    Only a little more climbing left, but at least it was a decent dirt road instead of painful switchbacks. The route dumped me out at the entrance to the observatory and I foolishly walked around looking for anything that resembled the route to the marker. I checked the odometer here and I had made way better time then I thought I would (4 Hours 15 Minutes). :wlift: After a half mile of wandering I opted to conclude the climbing (as I technically reached the high point thats marked on the gps route). I prepared my pack, and checked my water and headed down.

    Down hill posed more difficult then I figured as the trails were steep and the footing was varied, especially for running. I had no issues descending and saw no one until the last two miles (everyone was walking the two miles from the lot to Romero Pools; even grandmas :out: ). I made it to the lot in 7 hours and 50 minutes (moving time) and I was satisfied with that, especially since this is technically my first marathon. :y:

    This trail/trails are beautiful and would make a great day hike with lots of photo ops. There were even some camp sites along the trail that looked inviting.
    Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park
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    San Gorgonio had snow in the forecast, and the lodge on the North Rim sold out by the time I could figure out the details, so it was onto plan C.

    I hit the trail about 10 minutes before sunrise and reached Romero Pass in 3h 15m, if I remember correctly, losing my sunglasses somewhere in the process. There are a few tree hurdles just below the pass. My pace slowed further up, and for the first time in a long time I had to sit down and take a couple brief breaks. A sign where Sutherland and Mt. Lemmon meet said the peak was another 1.5 miles away, on top of the 11.something I had already gone. A couple pumpkins were dropped and I continued on, even though I had already gone through 100oz of my water.

    Finding the spur trail for the highpoint took a minute, and staying on it took some paying attention, though you could probably just follow the fence of the observatory. At the top, I had some much needed food and accessed my remaining water. I drank most of my 16oz bottle and emptied the rest into my reservoir, along with another liter. The other liter was left in its bottle where I could visibly keep track of it. As it turns out, I ended up drinking less than a liter on the way down.

    I finally started to feel sore on the descent. Before hitting Romero Pass again, I passed two people who were on their way up. I asked them if they had seen any sunglasses and they said yes, and told me about where they were at. That was kind of useless to me, but at least there was hope. Back in Romero Canyon, my legs were crying! I kept telling them the car was right around the corner, but they knew I was full of it. And just when I didn't think I'd ever see my sunglasses again, I found them lying right next to the trail. :D

    I really wanted the last few miles to be over. I sat down a couple times to ease the pain in my legs but it was no use. I pressed on, spotting a deer in the process. The last two miles were mostly in the dark. All's well that ends well, and despite feeling sore, I'm happy to have bagged Lemmon this way. This goes down as the biggest hike I've ever done, in every sense.

    Miscellaneous notes:
    Shin daggers are a pain in the ass, or leg. Yeah, mostly leg.
    I need a trowel.
    Mount Lemmon from Catalina State Park
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    I was hoping for a one way shuttle, but no one was able to commit, so I did an out and back that I knew would not include the summit. I was not in the shape to make Lemmon Creek, so I went to the Wilderness of Rocks Trail junction, and then turned back from there. I spent some time at the rock overlook just before you drop down to the trail junction, so that was sort of my summit. With all the down, I think this is a little harder than a one way up hike. I used edited GPS tracks to get my AEG and mileage.

    The hike had a noticeably different feel than the last times. October is very different from spring. Cooler, so I needed less water, quiet, as there are basically no bird calls, though there are insects after dark, and I didn't smell the oaks, pines, the soil, or the desert as I could last time. The grass was a lot thicker, too. The seasons are changing, and for winter.

    Permit $$
    Visit this link for full details.

    There are four specific day use areas that require a Coronado Recreational Pass or a National Pass/America the Beautiful Pass.
    1) Sabino Canyon - located on the Santa Catalina Ranger District (520)749-8700
    2) Madera Canyon - located on the Nogales Ranger District (520)281-2296
    3) Cave Creek - located on the Douglas Ranger District (520)364-3468
    4) Mt. Lemmon at 11 day use sites.

    Catalina State Park $6 per day. Sabino Canyon Tram is $10 extra.

    Coronado Forest
    MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
    Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

    Catalina State Park State Park

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To Catalina State Park Trailhead
    From Phoenix take 1-10 south to the 241 exit (Tangerine). Follow east to AZ 77 (Oracle Road). Turn right (South) on AZ77 and signs for Catalina State Park lead the way.

    From anywhere in Tucson, connect to Oracle Rd (Highway 77) and head north past Pusch Ridge. After you have gone about 15-20 miles you will see the sign for Catalina State Park on the right. There is an entrance fee to get into the park. To get to the trails, just drive in and follow the signs to a large parking area marked "trailhead".

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 107 mi - about 1 hour 44 mins
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 14.0 mi - about 23 mins
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 251 mi - about 3 hours 50 mins
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