A Reformed Snow Hater: It’s Beautiful on Mt. Lemmon

Snow is beautiful on Mt. Lemmon in Arizona

I spent the first 35 years of my life in the Midwestern part of the United States. We had hot, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. When I was a kid, snow didn’t bother me much because I didn’t have to deal with it.

As an adult who had to drive in it and shovel it with no escape from cold wind and wet feet, I grew to dread snow. In the part of Indiana I’m from, snow is rarely pretty. It’s completely flat, so all you see when it snows is a grey and white dead landscape. And it doesn’t take long for dirt, salt, and sand to make its way into the snow, making it a dirty, slushy mess.

This all changed for me yesterday. Tucson received its first mountain snow of the year, so with water, a warm coat, and a full tank of gas I headed up to Mt. Lemmon to take a peek. Yes, you read that correctly. Someone who hates snow and now has the option of avoiding it drove to it on purpose.

My drive started at the base of the Catalinas, with mighty saguaro cacti, lots of sun, and a pleasant 60 degrees. The base is at around 2,300 feet elevation.

As I made my way up the mountain, I lost the saguaros and the temperature began to drop. Clouds started to move in.

I made a stop at Thimble Peak vista, which is about 5,000 feet in elevation. I wish I could share how it smelled here, but unfortunately no one has found a way to share that over the internet yet.

You’ll have to settle for my really bad description. It was pine-y and fresh, with a faint floral scent. Tucson hadn’t seen any measurable rain since August, and this storm brought about half an inch. So the smell of petrichor was present as well.

I made my way to the next stop, Windy Point, and noticed a small tarantula crawling across the road. I’ve never seen a tarantula on Mt. Lemmon, and I didn’t know they hung out this high up the mountain, so that was pretty cool.

My next stop was Windy Point, which is a favorite of mine because you can walk all the way out to the edge of the cliffs and see for miles. It’s about 6,000 feet in elevation. It faces west, so it’s a great place to watch sunsets. I couldn’t see snow just yet, but I did notice a drop in temperature. It was 42 degrees.

At this point, I also noticed that the mountain was busier than normal for a Monday afternoon. I learned later that people took the day off work and school to play in the snow.

There’s a person in this photo. Can you find them?

After leaving Windy Point and continuing my way up the mountain, I turned the corner and began to see spatterings of snow on the side of the road and lots of it on the highest peaks.

I was by myself so I didn’t have anyone to share it with, but this was the first time in my life I ever looked at snow and thought, “That’s beautiful.”

On my way to Summerhaven, the little town near the top of the mountain, I drove through clouds. It was scary because the road is curvy and I couldn’t see much, but luckily it didn’t last long and I drove out of it quickly. I also managed not to get run over by the people driving way too fast. Hooray for pull outs!

I made it to Summerhaven and stopped by the general store to buy a baja hoodie for my mom. I got one a few weeks ago, and she liked it so much she asked me to get her one. I guess they are also referred to as “drug rugs,” which is frickin’ hilarious.

I wanted to stop by the Cookie Cabin, which has hot chocolate, pizza, and gigantic cookies, but it was super busy and I didn’t feel like standing in line. That just means I have to go back another day. Oh no! 😉

I left Summerhaven and drove up the road to Ski Valley. No one was skiing, which surprised me, but the ski lift was running and plenty of people were riding it. The gift shop at the base of the ski slope was hopping, too. The base of Ski Valley is about 8,200 feet and the top is about 9,100 feet.

I’ve taken a ride on that ski lift before, and the views are amazing, but it’s also kind of scary because it doesn’t seem like there’s much holding the ride bench on the wire.

I briefly considered taking another ride up since the road to the top was closed, but I decided to save my money and not deal with the madhouse in the gift shop.

No going to the top that day without riding the ski lift. Boo.

I hung around in the parking lot for a while, snapping photos and trying to talk myself into lunch at the Iron Door. Unfortunately, I had eaten before I left the RV and I wasn’t hungry.

I was going to get a photo of the Iron Door because the building is neat, but as I stood there I watched a cloud move in and obscure my view. I’m not complaining because that was awesome to watch.

At 34 degrees, it was noticeably cooler than my last stop, but for some reason 34 degrees on Mt. Lemmon doesn’t feel as miserable as 34 degrees in the Midwest and I was fine with just a hoodie.

I headed back down the mountain, all the while exclaiming to myself how awesome and beautiful it was and how snow is actually cool now.

I used pull outs all the way down the mountain and stopped to get some photos.

Snow on Mt. Lemmon: I used pull offs to admire the scenery

I made it back down to scrub and saguaro land, and after running a few errands in town, returned to the RV park to finish my work for the day and watch the sunset.

While I was working, it began to rain. I thought, “Maybe I won’t get to see a sunset tonight.” Luckily, the rain stopped before the sun went down. I glanced outside to see if there were enough clouds for an awesome sunset, and I gasped. Then ran to the trail that goes around the RV park as fast as I could to capture what I saw.

On my way out of the park, I found the rain again. It wasn’t raining at my RV, but as I approached the front gate of the park, I could see where the rain started and stopped.

I got rained on, but it was worth it because I got to experience the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen, and its friend.

I stood and gaped at the rainbows until they slowly disappeared, then headed over to the west side of the park to watch the sun go down.

I usually find that I’m by myself on the trails, but last night’s sunset was so good that there were a few other people out there to enjoy it, too.

I feel silly saying it, but yesterday was magical. One of those days where you thank the universe for being alive. Those were few and far between for me before I moved to Tucson. I went from gigantic cacti to winter wonderland to rainbows, rain, and a stunning sunset in the matter of a few hours.

Someone once told me to “enjoy the bland, boring desert” and to “tell them how great it is when I’m in the hospital dying from heatstroke.” When I have days like yesterday and I think about that, I just laugh and laugh. Tucson really doesn’t get the credit it deserves, but that’s okay. I’ll keep the secret and enjoy it myself.

Does it get hot here sometimes? Absolutely. But temperatures in the 100s are a lot better than -40. Believe me, I have felt both and I’ll take desert heat over polar vortex every time.

It’s finally real to me. I live here. This is my home. I’m finally proud of where I live.

The cost, frustration, heartache, and trouble were all worth it.

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