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A great grimy sunset glowers on the west. Plains of gold, veils of dust, wind-whipped clouds. The big aching tooth of Baboquivari far and high on the skyline. 

Woke up this morning on an island in the sky, surrounded by clouds. Wild swirling banks of vapor, flowing and passing to reveal brief glimpses of rocky crags, dripping trees, the golden grassy hillsides far below.

Edward Abbey in The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West

Getting There

To get to the trailhead, follow I-19 south past Rio Rico to the Ruby Road turn off. Follow Ruby Road for about 12 miles to a large dirt parking area and FS Trailhead sign. The road is paved the first 8 miles to Pena Blanca Lake but is unpaved and often washboarded beyond with narrow hairpin turns. A passenger car can do this in good weather. 

History

The Atascosa Lookout was built between 1930 and 1933 by the CCC and served as a fire-sighting post until the late 1970’s when improved aerial detection of fires led the U.S. Forest Service to close many lookouts. The Atascosa Lookout was destroyed in June of 2011 in the Murphy Complex Fire. Concrete footing remnants are all that remains of the old structure. Telecommunication structures dominate the site now. 

Author Edward Abbey spent the summer of 1968 as a fire spotter at the Atascosa Lookout and kept a journal during his time there. Parts of this journal are included in his book The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West.

The Hike

The hike is 2.5 miles each way and climbs steadily for 1500 ft. to the site of the old lookout. It starts out through a south facing open hillside then winds northward to a gate on a ridge. From here the trail climbs along the east side of the mountain with views to the east, including views of Pena Blanca Lake. The trail is rocky and often overgrown so it’s best to wear long pants. There is one difficult spot along this section where the trail has washed away but with care, one can negotiate this very short section by climbing down and back up on an easily seen trail. 

The trail continues up to the ridgetop through a series of switchbacks that lead back south but higher on the mountain. This area has more trees and shade until passing around the southern point of the mountain. 

Continuing on the west side of the mountain, the trail becomes very rocky and fairly steep in places. Views to the west, including Baboquivari Peak, open up. 

Once on top, spectacular views are 360 degrees and include Atascosa Mountain, Ramanote Peak, Baboquivari Peak, St. Rita Mountains, the far distant Catlinas, and vistas south into Mexico. 

Special Considerations

The trail is very rocky and is best done on a cool day. Parts of it are very open and would be very hot on a warm day. It is  quite overgrown so long pants are best. Bring plenty of water. We saw a snake (not poisonous) the day we did it. 

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