Hiking Around Arizona: Huachuca Mountains

A Hike Along the Shore of a Sky Island Flutters With Butterflies and History

By Kelly Tighe

We set out through an almost surreal landscape of blooming pink penstemons, the flowers creating a rosy blush across the eastern slopes of the Huachuca Mountains.

Two friends and I embark on the 3.7-mile Perimeter Trail connecting Miller and Carr canyons, with plans for a picnic at the Carr House visitors’ center at the end of our hike.  Hikers can make this a one-way hike by leaving a vehicle at either trailhead.

Leaving the trailhead in Miller Canyon on a breezy day, we head north on the trail. The hillside glows with colors--the pale green and golden grasses of the slope are accented by white rock outcroppings, the darker green of Emory oaks and everywhere, the blooming stalks of waist-high pink penstemons.

Hike (Perimeter Trail) 2-05 (Peter, JoBeth, Beth, Randy, Kelly Tighe

LOCATION: Huachuca Mountains. Approximately 9 miles south of Sierra Vista, Arizona.

GETTING THERE: From Tucson travel southeast on Interstate 10 for 35 miles to Exit 302. Travel south on State Route 90 for 30 miles to Sierra Vista.  From Sierra Vista, travel south on State Route 92 for 8.9 miles to Miller Canyon Road. Travel west on Miller Canyon Road 1 mile to the parking area. Pick up the trail on the north side of Miller Canyon Road.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Coronado National Forest, Sierra Vista Ranger District, (520) 378-0311; Carr House Visitor Information Center, (520) 378-1563, or (520) 803-6865 on weekends.  For information on the John Cooper and Perimeter Trail Tour, www.dawntodustmountainbikeclub.org.

We all agree that "pink" falls far short in describing the exquisite color.

"How about magenta or fuchsia?" suggests one of my hiking companions, a high school art teacher. Beginning with "sunset rose," our descriptions degenerate to "cotton candy" and "bubblegum-pink" before we give it up.

Naming the exact hue is obviously not an issue for the multitudes of butterflies and hummingbirds hovering about the long, trumpet-shaped flowers. A large yellow two-tailed swallowtail butterfly floats by, iridescent blue spots shimmering in the sunlight. Southeastern Arizona is renowned for hummers and butterflies, with some species found nowhere else in the United States. Most migrate up from the tropics and many don't go much farther than this scattering of mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona.

After an initial short climb, the route levels, following a rolling course in and out of small gullies as it traverses the perimeter of the Huachucas to Carr Canyon Road. The trail offers wide-open vistas of the San Pedro River Valley. On the southern horizon loom San Jose Peak and other distant mountain ranges in Mexico.

Towering above us, the high peaks of the Huachucas still have scattered patches of snow. Rising from the Upper Sonoran/chapparal landscape of the Perimeter Trail to pine-forested peaks above 9,000 feet, the Huachucas form a sky island refuge harboring one of the most diverse gatherings of plants and animals north of the tropics.

Although today we have the path to ourselves, if we had planned our hike for the first Saturday in May, we would find ourselves in the midst of throngs of enthusiastic runners, hikers, mountain bicyclists and horseback riders. From babies in backpacks to senior citizens, the John Cooper and Perimeter Trail Tour is a popular community event. The Perimeter Trail forms part of the 9-mile loop trail tour, an annual fundraiser that celebrates the memory of 18-year-old mountain bicyclist John Cooper and raises money for trail enhancement and maintenance.

Rather than stop at the Carr Canyon trailhead and picnic area, we continue another half-mile to the Carr House visitors’ center. Down a path to the left just before Carr Canyon Road lie a grassy meadow and a view of intermittent 300-foot Carr Falls. The path continues west through a shady wooded area to the visitors’ center. Carr Canyon boasts a remarkable variety of wildlife, including rare birds such as the blue-throated hummingbird, white-eared lucifer and berylline hummingbirds, buff-breasted flycatchers, black-throated gray warbler, red-faced and Grace's warblers, red crossbills, yellow-eyed juncos, Scott's oriole and Strickland's woodpecker.

The historic stone building, once the home of James Carr, the first notable settler in the area, is the start for guided bird walks, a nature trail and recreational programs for the community. Along with displays highlighting the history, plant and animal life of the area, the visitors’ center has a special Discovery Room for children with books, educational toys and a play bat cave.  The center is open on weekends, mid-April through mid-October.

Relaxing under shady oaks next to the visitors’ center, we watch tiny green hummingbirds buzz feeders hanging from the trees.  From bubblegum-pink penstemons to bright yellow butterflies to the rosy-red chin of a broad-tailed hummingbird, the Perimeter Trail is an entertaining and colorful hike from beginning to end.

This month in Arizona Highways Magazine Arizona’s best writers and photographers illuminate the places that inspire them. To subscribe at 60 percent off newsstand price, go to www.arizonahighways.com and type in promo code ARN5.

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