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Mt Lemmon

Mexico to Canada in a Half-Hour
On the northern edge of Tucson, you can drive through a condensed version of western North America's ecosystem in about half an hour. On the way up the Mount Lemmon Highway (also known as "Catalina Highway" or "Sky Island Scenic Byway"), you traverse almost all of the different life zones you would encounter if you were to actually drive from Mexico to Canada: starting with the saguaro-studded Sonoran desert, up through grassland, junipers and oaks, pines, and finally a mixed-conifer forest with stands of aspen.

You begin at about 2500 ft. and end up at almost 9100 ft. above sea level (about 760 to 2770 meters).

In the summer, especially, southern Arizonans love this road: "thirty miles, thirty degrees cooler," as the saying goes. When it's 105 degrees down in the city, it's a perfect 75 up on the mountain. In the winter, you can go skiing in the southernmost ski resort in the U.S.

A 30-mile Drive from Saguaros to Skiing
As scenic as the desert around Tucson can be, one of the best things about it is how quickly you can escape, if you want. Get on the Catalina Highway on the NE edge of Tucson, and in less than thirty miles, you climb 6,000 ft, leaving the saguaros and ending up in an evergreen forest...and at the end of the road there's Ski Valley—the southernmost ski resort in the U.S.

With the summits of the Santa Catalina Mountains surpassing 9,000 ft above sea level, you can see why it's called a 'sky island'—isolated forests rising above a 'sea' of hot desert. Driving from Tucson up to Mt. Lemmon is the ecological equivalent of driving from Mexico to Canada—and it only takes about 45 minutes. (And in the summer, it's routinely 30 degrees cooler at the top than down in the city.)

While the ski runs may not rival anything in the Rockies, there is a novel thrill to being able to swim under the palms, ski beneath aspens and conifers, and end with a margarita in the birthplace of the chimichanga all in the same day...

Mt Lemmon, Arizona 85619, USA