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Matt Marine is an Arizona resident who loves exploring Arizona's wonderful outdoor adventures. To find out more about Matt, click the link below.

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Although I’ve lived in Arizona my whole life, the cacti and mountains that surround me never gets old.  The desert and all of its unique beauty fascinates me and I can’t wait to tap into some of Arizona’s hidden gems and share my experiences!

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Read the Experience Arizona Disclaimer before attempting any of our adventures. Check with local authorities (FS, BLM, etc.) before heading out on any adventures for updates road conditions, closures, etc.

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Catalina Federal Honor Camp

There's a place about 7 miles up along Catalina Hwy (Mt. Lemmon Rd) which most of us who have been around Tucson for a while know as the Old Prison Camp (WP coordinates N32 20.385 W110 43.063). This area is now known as the Gordon Hirabayshi Campground or Recreation Area (for a former prisoner as we will discuss later).

For many years, the only way to access the top of Mt. Lemmon was either by foot, horse, mule or a road completed in the 1920 that connected the town of Oracle on the north slope to Summerhaven at the top. This road is known today as either the "back way to Mt. Lemmon" or the "old control road". The control road designation comes from the practice that it used to be a toll road.

In the late 1920s, a big push for a southern access (which was much closer to Tucson) to Mt. Lemmon began. After a few failed attempts, the 25 mile southern approach was approved (mainly due to the efforts of Frank Hitchcock which the road was aptly named after). Now, that the road was approved, the problem was to find someone who could build the road. Cheap labor. Hitchock came to the rescue again when he suggested federal prisoners build the road.

Between 1933 and the early 1950s, over 8,000 prisoners worked on the road, which finally opened for automobiles in 1951. From 1933 to 1939, the workers stayed in a tent camp at the base of the mountain until the first seven miles had been completed. During a snowstorm in February 1939, the camp was moved to it's current location at what was known as Vail Corral.

The camp had barracks, kitchen, mess hall, powerhouse and a sawmill, but never had any walls to keep the inmates from escaping. Painted white line and stern words were the only things used to keep the prisoners inside. During WWII, some 44 Japanese-Americans who had refused Executive Order 9066, which called for the forced evacuation of anyone with 1/6th or more Japanese blood from the Western states and interned in concentration camps.

One of those Japanese-American's was named Gordon Hirabayshi, which the camp would be named after years later.


The road was finally declared complete in 1951 and in 1958, the camp was converted to a Youth Camp for troubled teens who worked on fire suppression during their stay. The camp was then made into an Indian Youth Rehabilitation Center from 1967 to 1973. It was unfortunate that he buildings were demolished by the Forest Service in 1973. What a loss of history.

Click here for a map of the prison site.

Click here for a newspaper article on the Catalina Federal Honor Camp.

Click here for more information on Gordon Hirabayshi.

Click here for an Arizona Trail Association newsletter containing Gordon Hirabayshi.












TOPO! © 2008 National Geographic

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