After Picacho, I drove through Tucson and south on I-19 to Madera Canyon, the trailhead for Mount Wrightson. Since it is a popular “workout peak” for Tucsonians, I figured the trail would be packed down to the summit, and therefore doable in an afternoon. However, road construction had closed the road 1-2 miles from the trailhead, spoiling my plans for a quick afternoon strike.
Returning down-canyon, I decided to investigate the sign for the Elephant Head mountain bike trail, and was pleased to also find some nice dispersed (i.e. free) camping just outside the heavily-patrolled Madera fee zone. Some of the trails were a bit beyond my ability, and I took an extended detour through a maze of dirt roads on the way back, but much of it was easy enough to be fun. Plus, I had a perfect campsite for the next morning.
Starting from the car the next morning, I biked back up Madera Canyon, and happily found that the road was apparently not closed to bikes (which also don’t have to pay fees). I locked my bike to the trailhead bench and started hiking, finding that the trail was packed as expected. This made it somewhat icy in the morning, but much faster and easier than powder or slush.
I had hiked the first part of this trail in clouds and rain last month, only reaching the memorial for three Boy Scouts who died in a huge snowstorm 56 years ago. Continuing past the sign, I enjoyed views of some nice crags to the east, and an impressive road leading to the Whipple Observatory on Mount Hopkins. Grateful for the people who had packed a trail in the snow, I eventually reached the summit and its old lookout foundation. With the 4,000-foot climb from Madera Canyon apparently the easiest way to the summit, this must have been a hard lookout to maintain.
After taking in the view, including the huge alluvial fan leading north from Madera Canyon, I returned the way I came. I was worried that the trail would be icy, but after hiking for 15 minutes, I started running, and found that the snow had softened perfectly. The return was a wild, skittering, leaping sprint, jamming to techno, swinging around trees on switchbacks, and racing past hikers. I reached the trailhead in under an hour, then passed a few cars on my bike for good measure on the way back to the car.