Picacho Peak State Park is a state park of Arizona, United States. Located in Pinal County near Apache Junction, the park was established on July 3, 1940 and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at 1 p.m. that day. The park has been operated since its dedication by the Arizona State Parks Board until April 1, 2016 when it became part of the newly created Coronado National Forest along with most other state parks in Arizona. It covers 2,426 acres (988ha) surrounding Picacho Peak which sits at an elevation of 5,632 feet (1,717m).
The peak itself is not within the boundaries of the park; however, visitors can climb to the top of the mountain via trailhead located inside the park boundary. On December 7, 1941, during World War II, the park area received heavy damage from aerial bombing. In 1955, the site was transferred to the ownership of the City of Tucson and renamed Mount Lemmon State Park. A new facility was constructed between 1959-1961 and the park reopened under its current name in 1962.
The park offers trails for hikers, bikers, and horses as well as camping facilities including RV sites, tent campsites and yurts. There are picnic areas and two playgrounds. Hiking is popular at this park and there are several trails leading up to Mount Lemmon. One such trail starts at the campground parking lot and leads past the visitor center before climbing steeply to the summit. From the top, views can be seen south across the Santa Catalina Mountains toward where the north-running Santa Cruz River runs into the Gulf of California, east across Tabletop Mountain towards where the North Fork of the Big Salt River runs into the Colorado River, west across Black Point toward Interstate 10, north across Highway 60 to Newman Peak, then back around through more mountains to Mount Lemmon. Bikes are also allowed on some designated trails. Horses are only allowed on certain trails. Camping facilities include recreational vehicle (RV), tent, and youth group sites. Group camping requires a permit. Two equestrian groups camp here every summer. There is a separate equestrian staging area/campground just off the main park grounds with modern facilities. Backcountry horse camping is available in nearby Cottonwood Creek State Park.
Picacho Peak provides excellent 360 degree visibility throughout the entire year. Summer months tend to have clear days with no precipitation, but even during winter months, weather often clears enough to provide good visibility in all directions except directly overhead. This lack of clouds enables visitors to see both the Milky Way and the Sun at night. During the fall and early winter months, snow typically falls at higher elevations giving rise to the presence of large drifts and fields of ice crystals. These features make the peak visible even through light pollution from towns and cities. Because of the relatively high elevation, sunset occurs very late in the spring season, well after the shortest day of the year. As a result, the sun appears low in the sky compared to its position in the afternoon. This makes dusk occur very quickly and gives the false impression of twilight continuing later into the evening. Due to the rapid decrease in daylight hours, nights appear long and cold even though temperatures remain comfortable. This phenomenon is called “falling dark” and results from the fact that the earth’s rotation causes our horizon to move down while we observe the same point on the celestial sphere to be rising above the eastern horizon. Even though the sun appears lower in the sky than it does in the summer, it still rises and sets about 48 minutes earlier each day.
This means that the autumnal equinox occurs on September 22nd instead of March 21st as in the summer. September 22nd marks the beginning of true fall in terms of plant life, as well as the start of hunting and fishing seasons. The leaves of deciduous trees change colors quite dramatically, going from green to yellow to red to brown to black. Some flowers bloom now, though these are usually limited to poppies and desert marigolds. Wildlife is different too, as many mammals hibernate or go into estrus during the colder months. Coyotes and bobcats rarely venture far from their home ranges, so sightings of these animals are rare. However, there are plenty of rodents, lizards, and snakes. Birds of prey like eagles and falcons stay closer to land because they need food to survive. Woodpeckers, owls, herons, and mockingbirds live in the trees around the park. Osprey and golden eagles nest farther north, but come down to hunt occasionally in the southern portion of the range. Ruffed grouse inhabit the uplands, but descend to the foothills and canyons to feed during late winter. Mule deer are fairly common, especially in the northern reaches of the park. They are smaller and stockier than the white tail deer found elsewhere, and have substantial antlers. White tail deer are introduced to the area around Christmas time, and become accustomed to people and vehicles after a few weeks. Moose were spotted in the northern reaches of the park in November 2017, but this is extremely rare. Only males have been sighted thus far, and they stayed close to shore. Wild turkey are another species that roam outside their normal habitat, but are generally confined to the northern portions of the park.
Emory Peak, named after Dr. Edmond S. Bradley who first noted its height, is one of the highest points in the park, standing at 6,192ft (1,855m) above sea level. Its prominence over the course of a year varies depending upon the sidereal month, being greatest in June and least in February. The mountain experiences significant erosion from windstorms, rain, and snow, and therefore has varying degrees of grass, shrubbery, and tree coverage. Most of the mountain is covered in sagebrush, but patches of oak woodland and ponderosa pine forest exist on the flanks of the peak. Between 4,000 and 8,000 years ago prehistoric Native Americans hunted, fished, gathered plants, made tools, and built shelters in the region that would become the present-day park. Evidence of their presence may be seen today at Clifftop Nature Preserve where ancient stone tools and fire pits have been found. About 11 miles northwest of the park, in the town of Benson, is the Bradley Mansion, which serves as the official reception house for the park.
Built in 1914 by Edmond Bradley, Jr., the son of the original owner, the three-story mansion includes 45 rooms, 9 bathrooms, and approximately 3,400 square feet (340 m2) of living space. Tours of the residence are given daily, with additional tours scheduled for Sunday through Thursday. Visitors must purchase a ticket, which costs $8 per adult in addition to regular admission fees. The park entrance sign depicts a profile view of the mountain with a foreground vista of cottonwoods and a background of mountains. The park encompasses four distinct ecological regions known as the Sonoran Desert, Rocky Ridge, Pinaleño, and Mojave Basin ecosystems.
Plants typical of the desert environment include juniper, palo verde, evergreen saguaro, and barrel cactus. Trees native to the region grow alongside each other without conflict. Oak and sycamore thrive along the riverbank, mesquite and willow are common in the wetter parts of the park, and poplar grows along the springs and seeps in the extreme northwestern corner. Animals observed at the park include mule deer, ring-tailed cat, coyote, kit fox, ground squirrel, striped skunk, porcupine, rockchuck, muskrat, raccoon, opossum, badger, armadillo, jackrabbits, and cottontail rabbit.