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Catalina State Park – Patience, Grasshopper

With a bit of patience, lots of checking, and a little luck, we got into Catalina State Park!

In the dog-eat-dog world of scoring an Arizona (or Florida) state (or county) park campsite during the winter months, patience sometimes pays off. Open sites at Catalina State Park northeast of Tucson are as elusive as a good hair day coinciding with date night. We’ve never gotten in. Usually I don’t even check. But, early one morning, to put off starting on taxes, I pulled up their camping reservations site and—eureka!—3 nights were available! In the following days I kept checking and found two more nights, and then two more nights! Seven nights in a row at Catalina State Park in February!

Once we settled into our first of three sites, we quickly understood why it’s such a popular park. The sites are paved, level, enormous, and there isn’t a mediocre view in the campground. The park nestles up to the Catalina Mountains. Every morning the sun yawned over the snow-dusted rugged peaks, bathing them in a dreamy haze, and every evening the setting sun covered them in a golden blanket before putting them to sleep. Hiking and biking trails lead to canyons, streams, and summits. And just outside the park entrance, you can access Tucson’s unbelievable paved bike trail system, which will take you almost anywhere you want to go in the city. 

(Seriously, Tucson’s bike trail system should win some kind of award. The trail is completely separated from the road. No risking your life crossing 6 lanes of traffic. It has its own bridges, underpasses, and rest areas (yes, you read that right—trail rest areas with bathrooms and picnic tables). None of this “share the road” baloney that drivers only abide by when it’s convenient. 131 miles of a separate, dedicated trail. Truly unbelievable. Tucson must employ some urban planning geniuses.)

Even in this day of simply turning a faucet to get your water, coming upon a stream in the desert feels like a stroke of luck. Especially when you’ve just hiked through a cactus graveyard, charred and crispy from an October wildfire. 

The Canyon Loop trail first took us up a steep incline to a bluff with a wide-angle view of the burned area. Then, as we curved back down, we heard a whisper, then a gurgle. I thought my ears were playing tricks on me. In the three weeks we’d been in Arizona, I’d traversed many washes, and even after two straight days of rain, they’d been bone dry. But then we saw actual trees and grass, and finally, with our own eyes, we saw the water. 

The trail followed the happy little brook for about a mile, crossing it three times. By the last crossing, the water wouldn’t have wet a Dachshund’s belly. A bit further, it completely petered out—just disappeared into the gravelly wash. But it did exist!

Once again, due to Covid, we weren’t able to grade this park on its “bar bike-abilitiness.” But with Tucson’s stellar trail system, I feel fairly secure in giving it high marks in this category. Which means, if we have the patience to keep checking, we’ll be back!

By Jenifer

My husband, Mitch, and I own an eco-tour business at the beach in Delaware called Coastal Kayak (http://www.coastalkayak.com/). We work very hard during the summer so that we can have fun during the winter!

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