Just an hour's drive south of Tucson, the Santa Rita Mountains and Coronado National Forest provide the traveler with desert to mountain and back to desert landscapes. Paved roads lead back in to Madera Canyon where you can drive up the canyon as high as 5500 feet. Trails that lead up Mt. Wrightson start at the highest picnic and parking area.
Popular with birders and hikers and bicyclists, the area had a lot of visitors, some of them watching birds, for a midweek afternoon in March. Steady traffic on the roads kept us watching and hopping as we stopped to photograph the scenery.
White bark and gnarled trunking patterns make these trees distinctive. They remind me of the wonderful trees on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, Michigan. The Michigan trees are American plane trees and are found in the eastern part of the United States.
The Arizona sycamore is from the same family, but is found in New Mexico, Arizona, and part of Mexico, primarily on the sky islands which are mountains that rise out of the southwestern desertlands.
Plane trees are also found in Great Britain where they are of the variety known as London plane trees.
After leaving Madera Canyon, we drove Forest Road 62 through Box Canyon, headed east for State Route 83. The road, improved but not paved, clings to the side of the canyon for a portion of the drive. Although there are no guard rails and some of the bends are pretty scary, Ed drove slowly but surely. Just when I was feeling like we were in a pretty remote part of the world, we met two bicyclists headed west and enjoying their afternoon exercise. They looked for all the world like sensible people who knew what they were doing, so I relaxed my grip on the overhead handle in the car and started watching the scenery.
Forest Road 62 meets up with Highway 83 after passing through ranching country, complete with grazing cattle, windmills, and lot of water tanks. We drove this route in the afternoon, finishing just before sunset when the low light casts a golden glow on the grass and the landscape lights up. At this point we met more traffic, mostly ranchers in pickups and people headed to their ranch homes for the night.
From the junction of FR 62 and Hwy. 83, we turned north. It was about an hour's drive back to the south side of Tucson where Hwy. 83 meets Interstate 10. We had started from Exit 63 on Hwy. 19 at Green Valley about 3 pm and were back in Tucson, having dinner by 7:30 pm. The route for our adventurous drive is marked in orange dots on the map below.