Catalina Has a Sun Wheel

James Bleess standing in the middle of the Sun Wheel

The cross in the Sun Wheel

Stuart Watkins and James (Jim) Bleess

Vista de la Montana United Methodist Church is on land previously owned by the U.S. government. These 10 acres were once a Titan 2 missile site complete with a silo, missile, and warhead (now deactivated, removed, and backfilled).

According to the National Park Service, the piles of rocks often found on hiking trails are called Bates Cairns. They are named after Waldron Bates, the lead author of the hiking maps still referenced to create today’s trail maps. The cairn found in Catalina at Vista de la Montana United Methodist Church should possibly be named after Jim Bleess. He built it in the center of the Sun Wheel he constructed at the South end of the church parking lot.

The Sun Wheel was two years in the making. Underneath the cairn is where the base of the radio antenna for the Titan Ballistic Missile used to be. The antenna was to receive the signal to launch, not direct the flight of the missile, to its eventual location in the event of war. All the Titan Ballistic Missile sites around Tucson have been dismantled and the silos filled with rocks and concrete. There remains one that is kept as a museum for visitors. The Titan Missile Museum is located just south of Tucson at 1580 W. Duval Mine Road in Green Valley.

Jim said it took 28 tons of rocks to complete the Sun Wheel. There are seven viewing stations. One points to the equinox, and one station points to Kitt Peak. Viewing stations point to the vernal equinox on March 20, the summer solstice on June 21, the autumnal equinox on Sept. 23, and the winter solstice on Dec. 21.

All are welcome from first light until the twilight hours. No overnight camping, tenting, or RV parking is permitted. Checkin at the church office, if open, as a courtesy. Please stay on the gravel path.