Crystal Spring

May 6-7, 2020

Triple-digit heat is upon us — all the way up to 106° F on Wedesday! With all the campgrounds on Mount Lemmon closed, how to cool off at high elevation without driving for hours? Fortunately Dennis recalled seeing a few dispersed camping spots last year's birthday hike to Crystal Spring on the backside of the Catalinas.


So we took a chance and drove over the mountain, noting as we did that all the high elevation trailheads were extremely crowded, even on a weekday. But we lucked out and found a quite nice spot very close to the trailhead.

view toward Oracle

An El Paso blanket, a bag of blue corn chips, my sweetie and 76 degrees! Who could ask for more?

The full moon flooded the camper with soft white light, and sleep eluded me. About 1:00 am, a great horned owl took up residence 50 feet from the camper and serenaded us for at least 20 minutes, until I finally got up and started recording. The audio has been edited to reduce background noise and the pause between hoots, and the photo is from a different trip.

view from trail

The Crystal Spring Trail wraps around a cirque below San Pedro Vista, dropping in and out of several canyons.

photographing cacti

There was water in four of the canyons, making for some lush mid-May vegetations, including this very large clump of claret cup cacti.

claret cup cacti close-up of claret cut cacti

On of the streams creates a natural "infinity pool" before plunging over a cliff.

waterfall waterfall black-headed grosbeak

Abundant water creates some great habitat for birds. We were mesmerized by the number and variety of species. Norma M and Laurel C helped me identify this as a black-headed grosbeak.

New Mexico raspberry

This very showy flowering bush appears to be a New Mexico raspberry. I wonder if it really produces raspberries?


As we approached the spring, we found ourselves neck-deep in ferns.

I paused the record the cacaphony of birdsong. This is not something one normally hears in the Arizona desert! My birding friends think these are lapis buntings (not my photo).

crystal srping

The spring itself is rather unremarkable, although I would like to know how the old wagon wheel got here.

monkey flowers

There's not much for wildflowers this time of year, but monkey flowers still proliferate near the streams. It was a very worthwhile outing, all the way around!