Start at the beginning

You know those fairy tale illustrations where there's a village at the foot of a mountain so huge it seems it would have its own climate? Mount Lemmon, as seen from Tucson, is like that. As a sky island, Lemmon really does have a climate radically different at its top from at its base. It's only about a thirty-mile drive from bottom to top, but you pass through five separate biomes, from desert to alpine forest.

It's one bizarre little trip up the mountain. "30 miles and 30 degrees," they say, and they're not kidding. It's said to be the equivalent of traveling from Tucson to Canada, but the trip's over in a blink. At the bottom you're surrounded by saguaro; at the top you're in a thick forest, looking down at the desert that surrounds you. They don't call them sky islands for nothing.

The next day we were back in the desert, but the road to Mount Lemmon was closed by snow.