Written by Lauren Renteria, Wild Stew Field Crew Assistant Crew Leader.

Hello, reader and Happy New Year! After a three-week holiday break, the Wild Stew Field Crew is back at it, kicking off 2023 on the gorgeous Romero Canyon Trail in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. 

Known for its incredible views of the dramatic Sonoran Desert landscape and refreshing pools, the Romero Canyon Trail is a beloved local favorite, popular among visitors year-round. It’s a challenging hike that starts in Catalina State Park and tops out with a steep climb to Romero Pass where it meets the Arizona National Scenic Trail. After about 4,000 feet of gain, hikers who make it to the pass are rewarded with an awesome lunch spot and a spectacular view of the heart of the Santa Catalina Mountain Range.

Unfortunately, in the summer of 2020, the Bighorn Fire ripped through a good portion of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, burning a large swath of the upper portion of the Romero Canyon Trail. The fire left behind unstable terrain, overgrown vegetation and blown out sections of tread in desperate need of repair. Now, more than two years after the fire, we’re breaking ground on restoration efforts following extensive brush removal by teams with the Coronado National Forest and Student Conservation Association. 

Working just north of Tucson this winter is a big change from the frozen tread we busted through 8,000 feet up on the South Fork Trail in Cave Creek Canyon before Christmas. The chilly mornings turned into warm afternoons which made digging the 44 drains, putting in 24 rock steps, and repairing tread along 0.8 miles of the trail much more enjoyable.

Sam walks on some freshly-dug tread on the Romero Canyon Trail. Photo by Dexter Kopas.

With our campsite and work area being several miles past the popular Romero Pools, we didn’t see too many other folks. Two seasonal Forest Service trail workers lent us a big hand by shuttling us to the trailhead, helping walk tools up the trail, showing us all the areas that needed work, and camping out with us the first night. We also saw the intrepid and excited dozen or so hikers from the Hike Junkies based in Mesa on their way up to Romero Pass.

The crew gets all ten feet on a massive boulder to move it out of the trail. Photo by Dexter Kopas.

Other than that, our relatively calm and quiet week was broken only by the babbling brook, large rocks being moved off the trail, and countless ridiculous and fun conversations from happy trail workers

Next hitch, we’ll head back to Romero Canyon to finish our restoration mission on the upper portion of the trail and enjoy eight more days of camping by an incredible creek. 

New steps and fresh tread. Photos by Nizhoni Baldwin.