The Mountains of Arizona •

Brown Mountain from the east trailhead

Now ascending the eastern slope

The summit ahead

Looking back at Bren and Golden Gate Peaks from the summit

Parting view, as the sun came out more

Montage: trailhead sign, summit in shadow, zoom of Bren and Golden Gate, and cholla patch

Sentinel Peak

View from summit, looking west at Cat Mountain. To the right are Golden Gate and Bren Peaks, and way off in the distance in Baboquivari Peak

View of Tucson's buildings. The Catalina Mountains rise to the left, Agua Caliente Peak in the distant center

Montage: Park sign, view of the parking area and road, the concrete "A", and interpretive sign

All images

• • •

The Arizona
Mountains Gazetteer

Click to find out more!

We were camping at the Gilbert Ray Campground in the Tucson Mountains Park. We have camped here previously, but not in many years. Forecasters were predicting a cold front to move through the state this weekend, giving us an opportunity to camp one last time in the desert before temperatures ratchet up 40 degrees in the next few weeks.

Brown Mountain
• Tucson Mountains Park
• Pima County

Date: April 26, 2015 • Elevation: 3,100 feet • Prominence: 260 feet • Distance: 3.5 miles • Time: 90 minutes • Gain: 660 feet • Conditions: Low clouds and blustery


I wasn't interested in any big hikes this time. Instead, I wanted to be lazy. Nevertheless, I printed maps for a couple bumps in the immediate area, Brown Mountain being one of them. It's not much of a mountain, but more an appendage off a ridge from the main range to the north. One advantage of Brown Mountain was its proximity: I could walk to it from the campground.

We left Scottsdale around 1 p.m. Saturday, rolled into Tucson, bought groceries, then arrived to the campground about 5 p.m., finding a spot and backing into it. The temperatures were mild, perhaps about 80 degrees, but there was a breeze. I spent the next 20 minutes erecting our big tent, which was kind of a challenge with the breezes pushing it around like a sail. I was able to get it fully built and firmly anchored into the ground. To be safe, I put on the rainfly, and tied the whole mass down in places with twine and rocks.

I went to bed when it got dark, around 9 p.m., while βð stayed up in the cab of the truck. The wind buffeted the tent continuously, and I slept poorly, if at all. Then, around midnight, the rains came. For the next three hours, it rained steadily, often very heavily. I was concerned the tent would leak, and I just lay there, wondering when I'm going to start feeling the wetness. But I never did. The tent held up very well. By 4 a.m., things had calmed down enough so that I actually slept a little. By 7 a.m., though, I was awake.

I didn't start my hike until about 9:30 a.m.. The day was very cool for late April, temperatures in the 60s and very breezy, with puffy low clouds moving through. I got my meager pack together and started my hike walking westbound from the campground back to McCain Valley Road, the "main" road that leads to the campground. Brown Mountain rises immediately on the other side. My plan was to walk cross country to its base, then poke my way up to the top, but I was pleased to discover a signed trailhead on the other side of the road, in a pullout/parking area.

I followed the trail, which meandered through lush desert terrain, dropped into a drainage, then gained up the other side and now on the uphill slopes of the east-trending ridge. The gradients were lenient and I made good time, arriving to the top of the east bump, elevation about 3,000 feet. A jogger passed me here. The actual highpoint, elevation 3,100 feet, was immediately west along the spine of this little ridge. I dropped about 80 feet to a lowpoint, then up the easy slopes to the top, arriving about 40 minutes after starting.

The views were very nice, but it was very windy and chilly. I took a few photographs, but didn't stay long due to the conditions. I returned the way I came, meeting with a couple other hikers along the way. The trail actually goes all the way along the ridge, then drops back to the desert floor, where it loops around and also has spurs that lead to other access points.

I guessed my one-way distance travelled to be about 1.75 miles. I made good time, but along the way, gave my left ankle a little twist which didn't affect me at first, but I noticed it later in the day sitting at camp.

The weather stayed cool and breezy for most of the day, but slowly, the clouds gave way to clear skies so that by 6 p.m., the skies were mostly clear. That night, we had calm conditions, no rain, no wind, and were both able to get some quality sleep in our tent.

We left for home the following day, and I planned to hike Tumamoc Hill in Tucson, but arrived to discover it's "closed" on weekdays during normal business hours. I did not know this, and rather than get told to turn around, I bailed and we drove an extra mile to the adjoining Sentinel Peak Park, where I hiked a consolation peak before driving us home that afternoon.

Sentinel Peak
• Sentinel Peak Park
• Pima County

Date: April 27, 2015 • Elevation: 2,897 feet • Prominence: 237 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 45 minutes • Gain: 380 feet • Conditions: Sunny and pleasant


Sentinel Peak is a small hill southwest of downtown Tucson. It is a foothill to Tumamoc Hill, which is a much larger hill and a popular workout hike for people living here. My original intention was to hike Tumamoc Hill. I actually had no plans to hike Sentinel Peak.

We spent the weekend camping at the Gilbert Ray Campground west of the city. The previous day had been cool and blustery, with bands of rain. Today, though, was clear, sunny and calm, temperatures in the comfortable range. We woke early and broke down camp. Our plan was to drive into Tucson, I'd run up Tumamoc Hill, then we'd drive home.

I found the trailhead without any problem, and parked along with the other vehicles. I got my shoes on, kissed Beth, then started up the road. Immediately, I saw the signs detailing when the mountain is legally open. Unfortunately, it was not legally open at this very moment. On weekends, it's open all day. On weekdays, it's closed between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and right now, it was about 7:25 a.m.. The hill is owned by the University of Arizona as part of an active research laboratory. I was dismayed to learn of this restriction. Of course, I had done no homework beforehand, where I could have learned of this. That is not my style.

I decided to start walking up anyway. I asked a couple people hiking down just how serious are "they" about enforcing the rule. They weren't sure. Everyone was hiking down, no one was hiking up. Given that it's a University entity that runs the place, at worst I'd simply be told to turn around, probably not be cited.

I mulled on this as I hiked up the initial long stretch of paved road, gaining about 100 feet. I decided to not bother. This peak is not terribly important to me, and I can come back any time. I didn't want to be looking over my shoulder the whole time, or get 80% of the way up just to be told kindly to make myself scarce. So I returned to the truck.

At this point, I decided to drive over to the Sentinel Peak Park and hike Sentinel Peak as a consolation. Finding our way there was no problem, and I drove up a road to a parking area just below a gate spanning the road. The park is run by the City of Tucson Parks and Recreation Department, and the gate is open most days to allow people to drive to a parking area immediately below the summit and a viewing platform on the other end of the ridge. We were still a few minutes early. Hiking the road is not discouraged, and I saw people doing that, many walking their dogs.

From the lower parking area, I walked up the road and to the top in about 15 minutes, covering about a mile and 250 feet of elevation gain. The top is kind of homely, with graffiti on some of the summit rocks. I didn't staty long, just enough time to take a couple of photos.

I walked down to the road and followed it around to a point below a big concrete "A" built into the east-facing hillside. This "A" is meant to overlook the University of Arizona, similar to the big "A" on Hayden Butte in Tempe, overlooking Arizona State University. I have now climbed both "A" peaks in the state. Did I know this beforehand? No, I just saw the little trail marker while up near the top that alerted me to this "A".

I was back to the truck soon, the whole hike taking just 40 minutes. I wouldn't rate this the greatest peak I have ever hiked, but it was a reasonable way to salvage the morning after Tumamoc was closed. The day was clear and I had excellent views to distant peaks, and it was not blazing hot, so all things considered, I have no complaints.

(c) 2014 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.