Soldier Canyon

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The weather has been gorgeous here in Arizona lately, so Mike and I decided to take advantage of a sunny Sunday. Late Saturday night we packed our car and headed south toward Tuscon. Arriving just after 1:00am, we parked in a camping area on Mt. Lemmon and resettled ourselves in the back of the car (with the rear seats folded down flat Mike and I can just barely fit our sleeping pads and bags for a decent night’s sleep).

In a successful effort to evade the park rangers and their exorbitant fees, we got up early and drove a little ways back down the mountain to the trailhead for Soldier Canyon. Shortly thereafter we began our hike back up to where we had parked and slept the night before. (This canyon might best be done with a car shuttle, but since Mike and I were the only ones on the trip we had to do the round trip version. We opted to hike up then canyoneer down rather than end with an uphill hike.)

The view of Tuscon from Soldier Trail

The best “us shot” we could come up with…

Despite website beta claiming a “moderate” hike, we thought the terrain was rather steep; nonetheless, we enjoyed the three-mile trek and 1700ft elevation gain that took us to the camping area known as the Prison Camp. The Prison Camp is aptly named, we discovered, since it used to be the location of a prison. Prison labor between 1933 and 1950 actually built the 30-mile highway that goes to the top of Mt. Lemmon. Even more interesting, the prison was converted into an internment camp renamed the Catalina Honor Camp during WWII. Even more interesting, the site on Mt. Lemmon has been renamed yet again after Gordon Hirabayashi, a Japanese-American prisoner who challenged internment practices and lost his case in the Supreme Court. (The ruling was overturned in 1987.)

The result of prison labor? We think so.

Here’s another mysterious structure near the old prison camp.


After we hiked to the Prison Camp, we started back down via the canyon. There was very little water in the canyon, but apparently it features significant waterfalls at other times of the year. There was a lot of riparian growth, so we had to bushwhack through several sections. The second half of the canyon featured some pretty nice rappels, too. Four in all. The longest rappel was approximately 70 feet and ended beneath a house-sized boulder. Although this wasn’t the most remote (we saw several climbers doing sport routes in the canyon) or epic canyon ever, we had a great day enjoying the sunshine and scenery. Plus we made it out before dark!

Me, stemming between two walls.


This was the best rappel of the day.

Super Mike held up the rock and kept it from crushing me.

Hopefully we’ll have a few more adventures this spring.

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