Tucson: Saguaro National Park - Day 1

After lunch on Thursday at Tacos Apson, I needed to use a few hours before the check-in time of my Airbnb in Tucson. I decided to drive straight over to Saguaro National Park to use them well. I visited the larger, eastern section of the park, called the Rincon Mountain District. There is also a western section called the Tucson Mountain District.

The visitors's center is relatively small compared to other parks I have been to, but perhaps proportional to the number of visitors. I embarked upon the Cactus Forest Loop Drive and visited every overlook. As always, there were drivers behind me nearly the entire time who wanted to drive faster. I'm not sure these people understand the purpose of national parks.

I knew there were some trailheads leading into the saguaro forest that I passed on the drive, but decided to just hike the easier hikes and plan for a longer hike on Friday. I've been to the Sonoran Desert many times in the past and wanted something a little more diverse.

Desert Ecology Loop - This is an easy, short loop on pavement with signs describing the plants and ecology of the Sonoran desert. It's a fully accessible trail and I recommend it for anyone.

A lovely barrel cactus on the Desert Ecology Trail. You can distinguish young saguaro from barrel cacti by the curved spines on the barrel cactus.

A classic dry wash on the Desert Ecology Trail.

Strava GPS Track - Desert Ecology Walk

Freeman Homestead Loop - This is also easy but it is an unpaved trail with a little bit of up-and-down. The trail goes through an old home site but there isn't much to see there, but it also goes through the desert and into a dry wash with a high, eroding wall. It's a good trail for beginning hikers.

Strava GPS Track - Freeman Homestead Trail

A view of the Rincon Mountains from the Loop Road.

There are many places to stop on the loop, sometimes curated with signs. Others stops provide trail access. The road climbs to a high point with good views of Tucson and the Rincon Mountains. I particularly enjoyed a stopping point where it was possible to wander out onto some rocky points to look down on the desert. There were bees and red ants everywhere though. But there were also blooming cacti and small wildlife, especially birds and lizards.

A short walk from the road on a beaten path led up to a rocky promontory with great views.

The Tucson Mountains from the rocky promontory. Tucson lies in the basin between.

The view from near the high point of the road. On a bicycle, this would be a substantial climb.

A view of the Santa Catalinas over a saguaro covered ridge from the rocky promontory.

The loop has low speed limits, and is a popular bicycling route. I brought my bike with the intention of riding while in Tucson, but found other things to do and ended up not riding it. Also, I did a lot of walking and hiking and my legs were not quite in shape to do everything my brain wanted to do! I may go back sometime to ride it, because it is surely one of the most scenic bike routes in Arizona. There is also a loop in the Tucson Mountain District, but it is partially gravel/dirt, so would require a mountain bike or gravel bike.

I always enjoy visiting our national parks and Saguaro is a very nice, and somewhat quiet park to visit. I recommend it!


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