Prison Camp to Sycamore Dam

off the Catalina Highway


Prison Camp to Sycamore Dam is a “1.8 mile” hike, according to the guide book.  The Tucson Prison Camp was created to supply labor for constructing the Catalina Highway, which was officially called the General Hitchcock Highway when it was completed in 1951.  Begun in the late 1930s, the 25 miles of road cost an average of 44,000 per mile.  About 8,000 inmates were “incarcerated” at the honor camp, which had no guards, during construction.  The camp was finally closed in 1967.


Among the prisoners at the camp was one Gordon Hirabayashi, who later sued the Federal government for the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry.  The recreation area is named after him and there is an exhibit board describing how prison labor was used to build the Catalina Hwy and that many of the prisoners were conscientious objectors and Japanese who refused to go to internment camps, etc.


The hike begins as an easy stroll along a creek bed with a trickle of water in it.  After almost a mile, the trail climbs to a saddle with an Arizona Trail sign.  It’s a mile downhill from here to the dam.  When the prison camp was in operation, the dam created a large reservoir.

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