Sarah Seeks Springs in the Snow: A survey of the last upper elevation spring in the Santa Catalina Mountains

Exciting news – all springs (that we know of) above 7000 feet in the Santa Catalina Mountains have been surveyed! I recently traveled to the last remaining site and recorded my trip as I went. Jump to any timestamp (in parentheses below) of my video adventure, or watch it all for the whole trek!

Bear Wallow Spring, in the Santa Catalina Mountains, is enclosed in a large spring box.

I found my way to Bear Wallow Spring, which like many springs, doesn’t seem to be exactly where our database and that of Springs Online thinks it is. I found a spring box (3:19), maybe two (4:15)!  Join me on my adventure to burbling water amidst a foot or two of snow and listen to how I make decisions about navigation and route-finding (2:33 and throughout), missing spring points (7:37), how to fill out the survey (12:24), and other topics like safety (1:34). I even came across a surprise spring (25:30), so watch the last couple of minutes to find out how I dealt with that discovery. 

Finishing the initial spring surveys is important, because these areas in the Catalinas were affected by the Bighorn Fire. Some springs are places for regrowth and others are refugia during fires. Finishing these surveys helps us understand the importance of springs on the landscape before and after fires.

A Spring Seeker volunteer surveys fire damage around the edge of a spring in the northeastern part of the Catalinas

For springs that were adversely affected by the Bighorn Fire, we recently received funding through a partnership with the USDA Forest Service to implement spring restoration work, including installing wildlife ramps, controlling erosion, and planting native species. Check out our events page for more on upcoming projects.  

In 2021, our volunteers logged 580 hours spring seeking and drove more than 2000 volunteer miles solely seeking springs in the Coronado National Forest, including the Santa Catalina Mountains. We couldn’t do it without our dedicated volunteer Spring Seekers! 

Sometimes it’s hard to connect the coniferous forests at the tops of the Sky Islands with our lives down here in the desert. Spending time up in these mountains always reminds me how the water I see up here that falls as rain and snow seeps into the ground and eventually emerges, sometimes centuries later, as groundwater for us down in the Tucson Basin. Springs are but tiny windows into the health of that massive groundwater system that we depend on.  

Each red circle represents a Spring Seeker Survey! Known waters above 7000 feet have been surveyed, leaving the harder-to-get-to springs along the NE front of the Catalinas, facing San Manuel.

Learn more