Hiking The Sycamore Reservoir Trail From The Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi Recreational Area   1 comment

Hiking up the ridge the Sycamore Reservoir Trail from the Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi Recreational Area  to the Sycamore Reservoir.

The Sycamore Reservoir Trail is now part of the Arizona Trail.

Looking down from the ridge above the Sycamore Dam and riparian area.

Sycamore Reservoir Trail Gallery (Click on any of the thumbnail images for a larger view.)

There are some who complain about the long drive up the Catalina Highway to Mount Lemmon for summertime hiking at the cooler higher elevation temperatures. Being able to escape the desert heat in the summertime is a blessing, but it wasn’t till the middle of the last century that the journey became easy.

Work on the Catalina Highway began in 1933 in order to make it easier to get to the summit of Mount Lemmon. Starting at Tanque Verde Road in east Tucson, the highway goes several miles north before starting a 5,300-foot climb, passing through five of North America’s seven distinct life zones.  Although a road up to Summerhaven was built in 1920, the road was on the north side of the Catalina’s, a good distance from the more populated Tucson area to the south of the mountain range. Prior to the early thirties, the route to the community of Summerhaven from the south was a trail from lower Sabino Canyon to soldier Camp on up to Mount Lemmon.

Efforts to build a highway from the south struggled for seven years until Frank Harris Hitchcock convinced federal prison authorities that a prison camp in the mountains could provide a cheap labor source. The facilities called  the Catalina Federal Honor Camp were much like those in other western mountain campgrounds, i.e., barracks, a mess hall, a laundry, powerhouse and a small sawmill. As a tent camp, with no walls or fences, the prison camp was primarily made up of car thieves, bootleggers, tax evaders, draft dodgers, Mexicans entering the country illegally, and conscientious objectors, existed until 1951, when the road was finished. During that time period over 8,000 prisoners worked on the road, including 44 interned Japanese-Americans during World War II.

To supply water to the camp, Sycamore Reservoir was constructed several miles away, which included a pump-house to pump water through a six-inch pipe up over the ridge to the campgrounds. The pipeline was above ground placed on rock pilings, many of which can be seen from the trail from the honor camp to Sycamore Reservoir. Like many small mountain reservoirs, they become even smaller from mountain floods washing rock and sand into the reservoir. What remains of the dam and the lake area serves to maintain water levels for a riparian area that extends into the two canyons that form the dam site.

As mentioned above, during the war Japanese Americans were interned at the camp. Among those was Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi, an American sociologist and religious pacifist who defied internment. In 1942 he turned himself in to the FBI, after which he was convicted of curfew violation and sentence to 90 days in prison. He appealed the verdict, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled against him.

Given the wartime conditions, officials would not transport him from Seattle to the Prison Camp in the Catalina’s, nor would they pay for his train fare. After two weeks hitchhiking to Arizona, he arrived at the Prison Camp. Since it took him two weeks to arrive at the camp, his papers were not ready, causing the warden to suggest that he just leave. Hirabayashi thought that might look a little suspicious, so the story goes that he should go into town, have dinner and go to a movie — the papers were ready when he came back. One has to wonder how this took place given the camp location in relationship to the city, but then it could have involved days before arriving back to the camp.

Hirabayashi was to later spent one year in federal prison for refusing military induction. In 1999 the Prison Camp recreational area was renamed the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreational Area, where he had served 90 days during the war.

In April of this year, President Barack Obama announced that Hirabayashi would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his principled stand against Japanese-American interment. The honor was present posthumously May 29, 2012.


One response to “Hiking The Sycamore Reservoir Trail From The Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi Recreational Area

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  1. Pingback: Autumn Colors on Mount Lemmon Near The Sky Slopes « Becoming is Superior to Being

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