Mountain Lions in my Backyard?
Unless you see it from the correct vantage you would never know that there is a rugged and relatively wild canyon cutting between Safford Peak and Panther Peak to the north and Peak 3262 (the broad flat table-top like peak) to south in the Northern District of Saguaro West National Park. The best place to see it is actually from the south side of Sombrero Peak. It got me curious, so I decided to check it out. I wanted to use this canyon to access the broad, flat Peak 3263 that is such a landmark here in northern Tucson.
To get there, take off from Sanctuary Cove. I have described this under the description to Safford Peak. Follow the same route, just continue on past the right turn off to Sombrero. Keep going along the desert terrain, enjoying the huge Saguaro and Barrels. In about 1.2 miles there is a well-defined split in the trail to the right. Take this. It starts as kind of an old jeep track, then disintegrates into vagueness. You can start to see Safford Canyon now. It is not actually named Safford Canyon, by the way, that's just what I call it. I actually called the Park Service to ask it it or Peak 3263 had a real name and neither do. In about 1.8 miles the path dumps you off in the wash that leads up to the canyon. Just follow it. There is no trail. The wash is sometimes overgrown and you will also have to boulder-hop. It's like solving a puzzle, except that the pieces rip you up if you chose the wrong way (ha ha). Really this part is pretty cool. You will be surprised how wild and rugged this little hidden canyon really is.
There are side gulleys entering from the left. You can choose any one you want to climb up and access the peak. I chose the second, for no real reason other than I was having fun bushwhacking up the canyon. At the second side canyon just climb up and out of the wash, and up the side of the wall. There are millions of large rocks to climb up. It's not technical, but it certainly requires hands and gloves. Pretty cool stuff. As you work your way of the sidewall of the draining canyon you will soon see the ridgeline. Peak 3263 is a long relatively flat peak. You can access it wherever you want. The views off the other side are nice, out over the Saguaro National Park. To your left/south is the true summit of the peak. Angle along the ridge towards it. It only takes about 15 minutes from where the side canyon places you. There is a little cairn on the highpoint. Nice views to the north of Sombrero and Panther peaks.
On the way down you can choose the canyon you came up, or go for the first one. I chose the first one, to see something different and boy did I. This canyon is much steeper, really requiring some concentration and agility. About half way down I stopped because I simply felt a presence. Then I looked across the narrow canyon and stared straight into the eyes of a beautifully full grown mountain lion, who was climbing up the other side. We just looked at each other for about 5-10 seconds, then it went on it's amazing way and I continued blundering down the canyon. I've never felt more awe while hiking. What an unbelievable treat.
Continue back the way you came, on the way back the only thing you want to make sure to do is hang a left at a fork near Sombrero, you may not have noticed a trail junction here on your way out.
As a note, this trail is much tougher than the distance or elevation gain would lead you to believe. This is because you are bushwhacking through some seriously rugged stuff. Wear pants and gloves.
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.