Catalina mountains

The Santa Catalina Mountains, commonly referred to as the Catalina Mountains or the Catalinas, are located north, and northeast of Tucson, Arizona, United States, on Tucson's north perimeter. The mountain range is the most prominent in the Tucson area, with the highest average elevation. The highest point in the Catalinas is Mount Lemmon at an elevation of 9,157 feet above sea level and receives 180 inches of snow annually.

Originally known by the Tohono O'odham nation as Babad Do'ag,[1] the Catalinas were later named by Italian Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino in honor of St. Catherine in 1697.[2]

The Catalinas are part of the Santa Catalina Ranger District located in the Coronado National Forest, and also include the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area. The mountain range is considered a prominent range in the Madrean sky islands, and partially delimits the mountain ranges in the northwest of the sky island region; lower elevation bajadas associated with the Santa Cruz River Valley spread northwestwards towards Phoenix.

The Catalinas are a significant focus of recreational activity, with areas such as Sabino Canyon providing streams and perennial pools for visitors, by road access; Sabino Canyon is also a dayhiking access point. Catalina State Park in the western foothills of the Catalinas attracts visitors for its hiking opportunities and permanent pools in Romero Canyon. The village of Summerhaven on Mount Lemmon serves as a popular summer retreat from the heat of Arizona's lower deserts. Mount Lemmon Ski Valley is also notable as it is the southernmost ski destination in the United States.

Other mountain ranges surrounding the Santa Cruz Valley include the Santa Rita Mountains, the Rincon Mountains, the Tucson Mountains, and the Tortolita Mountains.

Naming of the Santa Catalina Mountains

The Catalinas were originally named the "Sierra de las Santa Catarina" as depicted on a German map from 1875 and prior maps dating back to 1864.[3] A successive map from 1890 still referred to the Catalinas as the "Santa Catarina Mountains."[4] However, a map from 1895 depicted the range with the name "Santa Catalina." [5] Various maps during the 1880s and 1890s referred to the range as either "Santa Catarina" or "Santa Catalina." [6] However, by 1902 the range was officially designated the "Santa Catalina Mountains," as the General Land Office established the Santa Catalina Forest Reserve that year, encompassing 155,520 acres (later to become the Santa Catalina National Forest.)[7] As such, the name of the range apparently morphed into the current "Santa Catalina Mountains" sometime between 1890 and 1902, but each previous version of the name always referred to the namesake St. Catherine.

Creating a National Forest

Following the Gadsden Purchase, Americans increasingly moved into the Arizona Territory and focused on the Catalinas in search of gold, silver, and copper beginning in the 1850s.[2] By the late 1880s, residents of southern Arizona desired protection for the Catalinas, and the U.S. Congress authorized the President to designate specific lands around the U.S. to be removed from the public domain under the Forest Reserve Act of 1891.[2] As mentioned above, the Santa Catalina Forest Reserve was created on July 2, 1902, and after the National Forest Service was organized in 1905, the reserve became the Santa Catalina National Forest on March 4, 1907.[8] On July 1, 1908, it was combined with two other nearby national forests (Dragoon and Santa Rita) to create the present Coronado National Forest.

The south side of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Notable sites and areas

Mountains and ridges



Miscellaneous facts

  • Contrary to popular perception, Mount Lemmon is not the highest point in the Tucson area. Mount Wrightson in the nearby Santa Rita Mountains has an elevation of 9,453 feet (2,881 m).
  • It is the type locality of a species of Noctuidae or owlet moths (see List of butterflies and moths of Arizona)
  • Mount Lemmon is named after Sara Lemmon, a plant collector and the first white woman to ascend the peak in the 1870s. The plants she collected on the way were shipped to Asa Gray at Harvard.



External links

  • Forest History Society
  • Forest History Society website) Text from Davis, Richard C., ed. Encyclopedia of American Forest and Conservation History. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company for the Forest History Society, 1983. Vol. II, pp.¬†743-788.
  • Coronado National Forest
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