Rise from the deserts of Tucson, an elevation of 2,250 ft, 25 miles up a old-fashioned two lane highway, and in just one hour you will be towering above the dry valley in pine covered peaks that top out at 9,147 ft above sea level. The small region of the earth that harbors the Madrean sky islands, the Sonoran desert, is located in the basin and range geological province. Here the set up is just that, deep valley basins bordered by sharply rising, yet compact mountain ranges. The geological architecture of this region combined with our dry and clear skied-atmosphere lend themselves to vast vistas. From the top of the Santa Catalina Mountain Range (one of the sky islands hovering above Tucson) looking to the Northeast into the San Pedro River Valley it as if the whole world has been swept out from under your feet. In fact, the drop is deeper than that of the Grand Canyon, albeit with more gradual sides and a wider valley floor. Beyond the San Pedro Valley one can see over the Galiuro Mountains and past the next valley to the giant Graham Mountains sky Island in the distance. Looking out from the Santa Catalinas Sky Island to the Northwest on a clear day, one can see all the way to the Superstition Mountains which mark the eastern boundary of the Phoenix Valley, about 120 miles away.
A sky island is defined as a solitary mountain range surrounded by a radically different lowland environment. One of the fun features of a sky island is that as you travel rapidly from low elevation to high elevation you get to witness all the biome changes along the way from the desert to the juniper grasslands to the pines. Biologically speaking, driving from Tucson to the top of the Santa Catalinas is like driving from Tucson to Canada! At the top of the mountains the temperatures are anywhere from 10-30 degrees cooler than the desert below. At the very top of the Catalinas, we have the southern most ski area in North America! There are many sky islands all over the world. You can find a list here. In Arizona many of these sky islands are only accessible by trail. There is no road access, keeping them quite wild. Whether you travel by car, by bike, on horseback, or on foot, these areas are great opportunities to meet local wildlife such as mountain lions, deer, bear, and possible even a jaguar, as well as our local plant bio-diversity!
The Inns at El Rancho Merlita is always a good home base for all your Sonoran Desert and Tucson, Arizona adventures. We are located at the foot of the Santa Catalinas. When you are ready to experience a sky island for yourself, look us up! We’d be happy to host you.
Until the next, all the best!