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Butterfly Trail Day Hike
Tucson, Santa Catalina Mountains
August 3, 2019
by Tom Simonick
  GPS Map 
Before the rain. [photo by Li]
Debbie, Heather K., Mohammed, Heather O., Li, Tom

We left the heat behind us as we drove up Mt. Lemmon to the Butterfly Trailhead, where the temperature was in the mid-seventies. I had already informed the group that, contrary to the Description, we would start at Butterfly and hike to the Bigelow Trailhead. Since the trailheads are only a few minutes apart, it was fast dropping off hikers and leaving a car at Bigelow. Butterfly has a much smaller parking lot, but we lucked out finding an empty space, which Heather and Mohammed held until we came back with the other car.

Here we are at Butterfly Trailhead. [photo by Li]

It was sunny as we left the trailhead and began a gentle descent through the forest on a Jeep road. Happily the Jeep road was short and the trail became slightly steeper as we continued hiking through the trees.

Who cares? It’s downhill here. [photo by Li]
There’s something interesting. [photo by Tom]

In twenty minutes we were hiking through dense plant growth including ferns, flowers, and raspberry vines, filled with fruit.

Debbie and Li on the trail. [photo by Tom]
red yellow
Wildflowers cheer us. [photos by Li]

This forest had burned in 2003, but you couldn’t tell in this area. There was a ghostly reminder of the fire, haunting the trail.

Hoooo! [photo by Li]

The trail was in good shape. We quickly got to the low point in our hike near a small falls, about 2.75 miles from the trailhead.

It’s a wonderful trip.  I won’t let you slip. [photo by Li]

We didn’t try to hike down to the base of the falls, but it could be easily done. After leaving the falls, we started looking for the side trail to the 1957 crash site of an F-86 fighter. Mohammed had hiked this trail before and had been at the site, but he was coming from the opposite direction. Our first trail might have been leading us towards Novio Spring, but no plane. We backtracked and continued our hike.

Between enjoying the lush vegetation, and looking for the crash site, we had not noticed that the clouds were building up. A few drops of rain quickly changed to a heavy rain, about the time we took another trail to the right, 0.6 miles from the falls. Those of us that had rain gear put it on.

Don’t let a little rain dampen your spirits. [photo by Tom]

Mohammed scouted ahead and came back announcing that he had found the plane.

I found the crash site. [photo by Mohammed]

Heather O., Li, and me followed after him and in a pouring rain, we took a few pictures.

Not much left of the plane. [photo by Tom]
Tom recorded the location on his GPS. [Li]

It was not the time to explore the wreckage. According to my GPS reading the crash is located at 32.4243304, -110.718799.

Returning to the main trail, we started the three mile climb towards Mt. Bigelow. It wasn’t long until the steady rain turned into a combination of rain and hail, along with the sounds of distant thunder. The good news was the temperature did not drop significantly, and we generated heat by our climb. It’s lucky for us the trail was built with good drainage, and except in a few areas, footing was not a problem. One thing that concerned me was that the thunder was becoming for frequent and we were becoming more exposed as we approached Westfall Knob.

Lots of clouds ahead. [photo by Li]

The good news was that everyone was in good spirits and we continued talking just like we would on a sunny hike. We were all equally soaked, even those with a raincoat or poncho.

We’re already wet. [photo by Tom]
Just Singin’ In The Rain. [photo by Li]

At one point Li stopped, took off her boots, and poured the water out of them. We slogged uphill for 1 hour, 45 minutes until the thunderstorm activity moved away from us and the sun came out. At that point, some of us went back to grazing on raspberries, making up for the lack of snacking during the rain.

We’ve found raspberries! [photo by Tom]

Reaching the Butterfly-Bigelow trail junction, I decided not to hike up to summit, but continued down the short distance to the trailhead. After quickly retrieving the other car, we did what we could to dry off. One person had the foresight to have a complete change of clothes, an excellent idea for this time of year. Leaving the trailhead, we didn’t go into Summerhaven, but instead decided to descend, stopping at a Panera Bakery in Tucson, sitting outside so that we didn’t freeze inside with our damp clothing.

Outside the Panera Bakery in Tucson. [photo by Tom]

Leader’s Note: I picked the Butterfly to Bigelow direction so that we would have a longer climb and shorter downhill mileage, thus reducing the load on my knees and giving us a better cardiac workout at 7500 feet on what constitutes a short, but beautiful hike. There is a way to make this a loop hike, but it would require walking on a gravel road (E. Mt. Bigelow Rd.) and maybe a short distance along the Mt. Lemmon highway. I don’t know how much traffic would be on the gravel road.

We hiked 7.0 miles in 4 hours, 35 minutes, with an accumulated elevation gain of 2800 feet.

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updated August 6, 2019