Mount Lemmon / Image from Unsplash

Mount Lemmon / Image from Unsplash

Where did Mt. Lemmon Come From?

Shaka Guide

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So, have you been wondering where the name Mount Lemmon comes from, especially after all that talk about Babad Do’ag? Well, It’s named after Sara Plummer Lemmon, the first white woman to climb all the way to the top in 1881.

So, this means that Mount Lemmon belongs on the long list of places named by Indigenous People, that were then renamed by white explorers or settlers. But, to be fair, Sarah Lemmon’s ascent of the mountain was definitely a big deal at the time.

Why’s that? Well, lemme tell ya, friends, you and I have it easy-peasy. We’re zipping up this mountain at 35 miles per hour in a car, but turn the clock back a hundred or so years, and getting up here was no walk in the park. Ahem. Well, actually the walking part is true, it’s just that, the park was full of cacti, thorns, steep cliffs, mountain lions, and freezing temperatures. 

So, in 1881, Sara Plummer Lemmon, a botanist and librarian, decided with her husband John, that they’d go for the summit. That’s a climb of more than 6500 feet, or nearly 2000 meters above Tucson. I should also mention, this excursion was supposed to be their honeymoon. Ah, yes, the classic honeymoon… fending off frostbite, poisonous snakes, and mountain lions. Climbing the mountain took her and her husband several tries before they finally succeeded. To avoid cactus spines and snake bites, Sara wore a specially made outfit with high leather boots and a stiff dress to protect her legs. With no marked trails, the two even camped out inside a cave, on a ledge, for days, trying to find a way to the summit.

Finally, she and her husband, their guide, and a horse—who probably wondered what the heck these humans were doing—made it to the top. Along the way, Sara made several botanical discoveries. There are even a number of plants that bear her name today. She realized how amazing it was to have all these different ecosystems in one easy—well, uh, make that difficult package. 

Sara’s guide, a frontiersman named Emerson Oliver Stratton, rechristened the peak in her honor, and the name Mount Lemmon stuck.

Want to learn more? Be sure to check out our Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tour!


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