Orienteering in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona

The Tucson Orienteering Club and the Greater Phoenix Orienteering Clubs invite you to join us for a week of map and compass in the sunny desert at the end of February. We call it SWSW: the Southwest Spring Week.

Weather Advisory: Highs may be in the 80s at some of the SWSW events. Please dress for hot weather, hydrate well starting the night before the event, take an extra slosh just before going out on your course, carry water on the course and drink up at water controls. It's easy to feel cranky, tired and stupid when dehydrated - especially coming from colder climates. And don't forget to use sunblock!

The week's event schedule begins in the Tucson area with:

  • Saturday, February 20: morning long courses and a Night-O training course at Catalina State Park
  • Sunday, February 21: morning classic courses at Catalina State Park
  • Monday, February 22: courses using “virtual” controls on the University of Arizona campus
  • Tuesday, February 23: long and short Goat in the rolling grasslands south of Tucson
  • Wednesday, February 24: classic courses on the desert at Ironwood Picnic Ground
  • Thursday and Friday: rest and tourism in beautiful Southern Arizona

SWSW then moves to the Phoenix area for:

  • Saturday, February 27: 3 hour score at challenging flats of Robbins Butte, southwest of Phoenix
  • Sunday, February 28: sprints at desert Papago Park in the heart of Phoenix

Training camp: Saturday, Sunday and Monday can also include an orienteering training camp with U.S. Junior Team coach Erin Schirm. There is an additional charge to join the camp. Juniors (20 and under) and adults (over 20) are both welcome. Learn along with the young stars of American orienteering! Note that waiver forms for minors have to be signed by a guardian. Link to form here.

Updates:  Check here for updates:

  • Added: parking and location information for University of AZ (2/15).
  • Added: times for beginners' clinics (2/15).
  • Added: sample of the base map on the pictures page (2/9).
  • Added: Tucson Rodeo Parade on Thur. Feb 25 (2/6).
  • Added: description for goat event (2/6).
  • Added: links to the Robbins Butte and Papago Park event web pages (1/28).
  • Fixed: a few links in the Travel and Tourism section (1/28).
  • Added: camping charges for Saturday night $15 per vehicle (1/28).
  • Changed: details for Robbins Butte on Sat. Feb 27 (1/15).
  • Added: Travel and Tourism section (1/15).

See who else will be there!          Pics!


Registration: Online registration is now closed; please register when you arrive onsite. You will pay your totaled fee at your first event with cash or check. Onsite registrants cannot be guaranteed maps, though we will try to accommodate.  Groups of more than 5 are especially asked to pre-register!  Note that waiver forms for minors have to be signed by a guardian. Link to form here

Fees:  Adults 21 and older: $60 for the week of events, $80 for the week of events plus participation in training camp sessions on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Individual events are $10 per individual for members of any recognized orienteering club. Non-members $13 per individual event.

Juniors 20 and younger: $30 for the week of events, $40 for the week of events plus participation in training camp sessions on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Individual events are $5 per individual for members of any recognized orienteering club. Non-members $6.50 per individual event.

Electronic SI-punching will be used during the day on Saturday and Sunday. If you need to rent an SI-card, the fee is $1/day. Expect pin punching at all other events. Compass rental: $1. Safety whistles to keep: $1. Every person, regardless of course, will be required to carry some type of safety whistle at all events.

Event planners: Leif Lundquist, Ludwig Hill and Peg Davis.  Please contact Peg with any questions about any aspect of this event: pegdavis at u dot arizona dot edu or 520-628-8985.

Updates: Be sure to check this site again before coming to SWSW. We will be posting updates.

2016 Southwest Spring B-Meet

- by Leif Lundquist, Course Setter and E-punch Wizard

Welcome to Tucson for the 2016 Southwest Spring B-Meet, and the opening weekend of a week orienteering in southern Arizona! Saturday morning we’ll kick off with Long courses. Sunday we’ll shorten the distances some, but still offer some challenging Classic courses. Each day we’ll offer seven classes from beginner’s White to expert’s Blue.

As a free bonus on Saturday evening you’ll get the chance to practice your Night-O skills on a 4-5 km training course set up by Glenn Haselfeld from our sister club in Phoenix. Bring your Night-O lamp!

The courses will be at 2700 feet altitude, where the desert meets the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. We’ll run in the foothills among the iconic giant saguaro cacti, palos verde, and mesquite trees, in canyons, and over grassy fields against the backdrop of 9000 feet high mountains. The desert terrain is generally open with scattered trees, cacti, and bushes, sometimes in groves; thickets of thorny cat claw or spiky chollas may occur in smaller patches. From the top of the hills you can see far and wide, but to get where you want to go you may have to pass drainages and go down into the valleys where it’s a challenge to keep track of which side canyon or re-entrant you’re heading for. The area is rich in features orienteers love (or sometimes hate), all on our 2015 map. Click here for pictures from the area.

Agua at Catalina State Park
Agua at Catalina State Park (Photo by Daniel Lobo) 

Visitors: The Catalina State Park is just north of Tucson along the old stagecoach road to Oracle. It has camping and RV facilities (booking required), and it’s also close to hotels and restaurants of all price ranges. Tucson during the winter season is a lively place. The February weather is generally sunny and pleasantly warm, but there can be the occasional cold and even rainy day. Fly, drive, or come by train. Tucson has all levels of accommodations close to the meet site. Historical Tucson, museums, and the University of Arizona are nearby.

Directions: The entrance to the Catalina State Park is located about 15 miles north of the center of Tucson on Oracle Rd (AZ SR 77) in Oro Valley. We have reserved the Gila Monster group area, where you can park and camp (park camping charges for Saturday night of $15 per vehicle apply. Pay on entering park). The area is booked from 5AM Saturday 20th to 1PM Sunday 21st. Friday arrivals who wish to camp, please book an overnight place with the park in the public area. Saturday you can move to our group area.

GPS coordinates for the park are: N 32.416777, W 110.937581. For detailed driving instructions go to the park webpage listed above.

Please note that the park charges an entry fee per car, so carpooling is a good idea. If you wish to carpool into the park, the nearest suitable location is the parking lot on the north side of Chase Bank in the Oro Valley Marketplace, which is directly across the highway from the park entrance. Please park away from the bank at the northernmost end of the lot so as not to inconvenience the bank.

Maps: Pre-printed for each course, scales 1:10,000 and 1:7,500. During the last year we have added about 4 km2 to our orienteering map of the park.

Electronic SI-punching day courses – rental sticks will be available.

Courses: The designs are still only preliminary but as a guide this is what we had last year (km/no. controls).

  • Long: Blue 8.6/18, Red 6.9/15, Green 4.5/12, Brown 2.6/8, Orange 4.8/11, Yellow 2.3/8, White 1.6/9.
  • Classic: Blue 7.1/15, Red 5.9/13, Green 4.0/9, Brown 2.4/7, Orange 4.7/10, Yellow 2.4/10, White 1.8/6.
  • Night-O: 4.5/13.

Schedule: Saturday morning:

  • 9:00 AM: Registration opens.
  • 9:30 AM: Beginners' clinic.
  • 10:00 AM: First start, Long courses
  • 11:30 AM: Start closes.
  • 2:00 PM: Long courses close.

 Saturday evening:

  • 6:00 PM: Registration Night-O opens
  • 6:45 PM: First start Night-O
  • 9:00 PM: Night-O course closes


  • 9:00 AM: Registration opens.
  • 9:30 AM: Beginners' clinic.
  • 10:00 AM: First start, Classic courses
  • 11:30 AM: Start closes.
  • 2:00 PM: Classic Courses close.

Control retrieval: Please volunteer with the meet director.

Check-In: To ensure that all are safe, every runner, whether finished with the course or not, must check in at the Finish before leaving the meet site.

Newcomers: Go directly to the Registration. Ask for instructions and introductory information. Beginner’s clinics start at 9:30 am Saturday and Sunday.

Route choice reviews: Orienteers love to talk about alternate routes and their advantages and disadvantages. If you would like to discuss your choices, there will be advanced orienteers available near the Start/Finish area.

Weekday Events

Monday, February 22: courses on the University of Arizona campus

The entire University of Arizona campus is a designated arboretum. Use our sprint quality map to run through a wide variety of vegetation and around the red brick buildings of the oldest university in Arizona. Our guest setter is Swedish high school phenomenon Isak Prellner. Run a short (3-5 k) course or a long (5-7 k) course in the afternoon sunshine. We will use virtual controls, so that instead of punching or epunching, orienteers will mark an answer like a multiple choice test.

Start/Finish/Registration will be at the Chemistry Quad, a tree-shaded plaza at this spot with abundant outdoor seating located between the Chemical Sciences, Koffler and Biological Sciences East Buildings. A map to the start will be provided in the event participant packet. Parking available in University parking garages (see http://map.arizona.edu/​). Or park your bike right at the start!

  • 1:30- 3 PM: Registration.
  • 2:00 PM: First start.
  • 3:00 PM: Start closes.
  • 5:00 PM: Courses close.

Tuesday, February 23: long and short Goat in the rolling grasslands south of Tucson

Jeff Coker, the famed Goat course setter of the SDO Anza-Borrego meets, will be setting 10-12km and 4-6km courses.at this mass start event. There is always something special in the middle of Jeff's Goat courses – it could be a string-O or a memory-O or a box. Looking at this map has reminded how hilly it is out there. This will be perfect for the goat style First Annual Tucson Pronghorn (no Big Horns or goats out there, but there is a pretty good size herd of Pronghorn in the area! You'll just have to ready to follow or lead through rolling hills, skirt the pesky catclaw shrubbery and dress to avoid collecting grass seed in your socks. In the beautiful foothills of the Santa Rita Mountain Range, the rolling grass covered hills have plenty of live oak trees.

Goat events have:

  • Orienteering
  • A mass start
  • Requirements on the sequence of visiting controls
  • Climb (terrain permitting)
  • Flair, fun, following, and competitive camaraderie

Directions:  From I-10:  Exit 281, take State Road 83 south for 17.0 miles where you turn right onto Greaterville Road (which leads to Madera Canyon and Continental).  After about 3 miles you reach a junction where you take the right fork (Box Canyon Road, improved dirt road).  Follow the O-signs to the meet site. From I-19:  Exit 63, drive east on Continental Road and later White House Canyon Road in the direction of Madera Canyon.  At a junction after 8.2 miles, take the left fork (Box Canyon Road, FR 62, improved dirt road). [Note: the right fork leads to Madera Canyon]  Follow the O-signs to the meet site.  Note: Tucson is near the border with Mexico and the border patrols are active. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, bring some ID suitable for border patrol check points.

Registration opens at 10 am, mass start is at 11 am and courses close at 2 pm.

Wednesday, February 24: classic courses on the desert at Ironwood Picnic Ground

In the Tucson Mountains on the west side of Tucson, you will run classic courses on a map of great subtlety. The benefit of dealing with little elevation gain will be balanced by the challenges of remaining in intimate contact on a map without any lost distance and large relocation costs. Experts at pace counting and compass use will shine here! Choose from White, Yellow, Orange, Green, and Red courses. Courses designed by John Little, who you may remember as course setter at the Tucson “A” meet in 1996.

Directions: The GPS coordinates for start/finish are 32.197774, -111.134512. From Exit 257 on I-10 drive west on Speedway Blvd. After approximately 5 miles Speedway Blvd. becomes Gates Pass Rd.  Continue another 5 miles through Gates Pass until reaching the T-intersection with Kinney Rd.  Turn left on Kinney Rd and drive south 1.5 miles until reaching the entrance gate to the Ironwood Picnic Area on the right.  Follow the orienteering signs to the event registration area, which is at the end of the road. Take care with the speed bumps!  The trip time from I-10/Speedway Blvd to the event site is about 30 minutes.

Parking:  Limited parking is available at the turnaround at the end of the road; otherwise, park at turnouts along the road. Carpooling is highly recommended due to limited parking.

  • 9:30 AM to 11 AM  Registration.
  • 10:00 AM Courses open.
  • 11:00 AM Last start time to start a course.
  • 2:00 p.m.  Courses close.  Everyone must be back by then. 

Phoenix Events

Saturday, February 27:  3-hour “Score-D’OH!” at Robbins Butte

On Saturday, February 27th, the Greater Phoenix Orienteering Club will be hosting a Score-O at the Robbins Butte Wildlife Area out near Buckeye.  In a Score-O format participants have 3 hours to locate as many controls marked on their map as possible. Controls are worth points based on distance and difficulty. The “D’OH!” is the sound you might make when you approach a dummy control marker that isn’t shown on your map. Dummy markers can appear anywhere, with the only rule being that a dummy control will be located at least 50 meters away from the actual control. So, stay focused and check the control code on the bag before you punch!

Robbins Butte is near the Buckeye Hills recreation area in the west Valley. The terrain is a mixture of rocky outcroppings and flat desert. Due to the relatively flat terrain and sparse vegetation, cross-country travel is “friendlier” than on some of our other maps—there are very few areas of dense cactus or catclaw. On most parts of the map, terrain visibility is also excellent.

People of all skill levels are encouraged to participate. A free beginner's clinic will be available for new participants and those needing a refresher. There will also be a learner’s course (White/yellow) available.

For more details and updates see the Robbins Butte event web page.

Sunday, February 28: sprints at desert Papago Park in the heart of Phoenix

The sprint courses will vary in length from 2-4 km. Courses are designed for winning times from 12-20 minutes. Most participants will finish each course in under 30 minutes. Navigation on the sprint courses is intentionally easier than for normal orienteering events. The emphasis for sprint orienteering courses is on rapid decision making rather than on precision navigation. While our sprint courses are offered to seasoned orienteers as a nice alternative to regular events, beginning orienteers will also find that they are able to complete the courses without much difficulty.

For more details and updates see the Papago Park event web page.

Travel and Tourism

If you will be flying to this event, please check airfares for both Phoenix and Tucson. There can be large, capricious differences in price. The week of events begins in the Tucson area (meets are north, south, west and central) but ends in Phoenix (central and very close to the airport).

Events sites can only be reached by car (no public transportation), but roads are passable to passenger cars, though you may need to drive slowly.

Tucson is near the border with Mexico and the border patrols are active. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, bring some ID suitable for border patrol check points when you go to the Goat on Tuesday.

If you fly into Phoenix and have time, consider driving to the events at Catalina State Park using route 77. The desert views along this route and beautiful and unspoiled.

Tourism: Tucson and Phoenix are alive with interesting events this time of year. Some highlights include:

Military aviation history has been made in Tucson. See it up close at the  Davis-Monthan "Boneyard" tour and the Pima Air and Space Museum http://www.pimaair.org/ .  The Pima Air & Space Museum offers exclusive bus tours of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARG), also known as the "Boneyard." The facility is located adjacent to the Museum at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Seats are available on a "first come first serve" basis. It is recommended that you purchase your tickets when the museum opens at 9:00 AM. The tour bus boards at the Museum entrance. https://www.aerialsphere.com/spheres/arizona/tucson/boneyard/1/

Re-live the Cold War by taking the Titan missile silo tour.  http://www.titanmissilemuseum.org/

Kitt Peak National Observatory is one hour SW of Tucson: http://www.noao.edu/kpvc/

Probably Tucson's most famous museum is near the Ironwood event on Wednesday: the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Find details at http://desertmuseum.org/

On Tuesday, the Goat is held close to the Arizona Trail. This 410 mile trail runs from Mexico to Utah. Get a taste of it. More info at http://www.aztrail.org/

On the University of Arizona campus, you can find weeks of entertainment.  Visit one of the nine museums on campus:   http://www.arizona.edu/arts-museums Come experience how we make the largest and most challenging giant telescope mirrors in the world, right here on campus, on the eastside of the UA Football stadium at Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab. Details at http://mirrorlab.as.arizona.edu/tours .

Monday, February 22, 2016 Climate Change and Human Health: Impacts and Pathways to Resilience; Kacey Ernst, Associate Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, College of Public Health, University of Arizona; Climate change will inevitably lead to negative impacts on human health. Certainty in predicting negative health outcomes is higher when changes are more directly related to the natural environment. Research is advancing our understanding of these complex systems and how they might be altered under different climatic conditions. Mitigation strategies can be applied now to improve both the current and future health of populations.

Lectures are held at Centennial Hall on the campus of the University of Arizona. Parking is available on a pay-per-use basis in the Tyndall Avenue Garage. All lectures begin at 7:00 PM and are free to the public. Doors open at 6:00 PM. We encourage you to arrive at Centennial Hall before 6:30 PM as seating is limited.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016 - 7:00pm: 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore' - Filmed in Tucson! http://tftv.arizona.edu/news/267 .

Thursday, Feb. 25: 91st ANNUAL LA FIESTA DE LOS VAQUEROS, : TUCSON RODEO PARADE 9 A.M. - Largest non-motorized parade in the world!  http://www.tucsonrodeo.com/home.html