Friday, April 30, 2021

Tucson: Saguaro National Park - Day 2, Douglas Spring Trail

A view of outlying areas of Tucson over a saguaro forest with the Santa Catalina Mountains behind. The Catalinas loom over the entire Tucson area. The highest peaks are over 9000 ft above sea level. This was taken from early in Douglas Spring Trail, when it starts to climb the Sierra Rincon.


I got up at 6 am, worried about the limited parking at the trailhead, but once I arrived I realized that this was irrelevant. The Douglas Spring trailhead is outside of the main part of the park and not only was the "official" parking lot already full by 7:30 am local time, but the approach road had very wide, sandy desert shoulders with a few cars already overflowing. I went ahead and parked along the road and put my annual interagency pass on the rear view mirror, though I doubt it was applicable or necessary.

The trail starts off in a relatively flat area of typical Sonoran Desert and crosses through several sandy dry washes. The cacti were starting to bloom and I took several photos of the flowers.

Ocotillo were blooming.

Teddy bear cholla? Not sure.

After about 0.8 miles the trail starts to head uphill, and I was glad I brought my trekking poles, which I had considered leaving behind. The next couple of miles were almost entirely uphill into the lower slopes of the Sierra Rincon.

The Sonoran Desert teems with life, even after the last two years of extreme drought. The desert tans are opposed by the deep greens of the succulents, and enlivened by the scurrying of lizards and rodents. I startled Gambel's Quail a couple of times and saw and heard a myriad of other small birds. After the sun warms the day, the ground crawls with red ants and other insects dragging food stuff to the underground colonies. Flying species visit the flowers. Beware of the africanized bees.

Climbing into the foothills of the Sierra Rincon (Rincon Mountains).

The trail steepened, and soon I hiked up a well-maintained, stepped path that ascended above a narrow canyon. I enjoyed views of the eastern and northern suburbs of Tucson, with the Rincons and the Sierra Santa Catalina looming on northern and southern sides. As the sun rose, the air temps increased, but remained tolerable, even considering the uphill slope.

I'm out of shape from the snowy Flagstaff winter, but I found the uphill going reasonable, perhaps assisted by my everyday existence on the thin air of high altitude. That is not to say I wasn't passed, but I was passed mostly by trail runners.

I bought a Garmin GPS watch several months back, and I found myself watching it like a hawk, trying to decide if I had missed the side trail to Bridal Wreath Falls, but I persisted in the lack of evidence that my hike had gone astray. I passed the streaked rock of the high end of a dry wash, and eventually came upon a trail intersection with a metal sign that confirmed that my hike had gone true, and that I needed to turn right to get to Bridal Veil Falls.

Along the side trail the terrain broadened and it became clear I was climbing to an obvious place for a waterfall, and though the rising April wind tricked my mind a couple of times, I eventually realized that no water was flowing. The side trail deposited me into a dry wash that nonetheless showed signs of being a riparian area. I startled birds and lizards and a chipmunk. I made my way up 50 meters of dry boulders and found the "falls." As I anticipated, the falls were dry but for an area of rock darkened by water oozing out of cracks in the rock. I would have preferred an actual waterfall, but close examination revealed small plants living off the meager flow.

Water oozing from cracks in the rock at Bridal Veil Falls.

Tiny plants thriving on the meager water supply.

I spent some time taking photos and rock hopping, then decided to go back to the trail and try a "goat track" that I'd seen climbing the right bank of the arroyo. This lead to sketchy views down onto the "waterfall" and more bird spotting, but I finally decided that I was risking my life. The trail, such as it was, consisted of loose gravel surrounded by cacti and other spiky plants.

The day was young, so when I got back to the trail intersection, I decided to take another side trail downhill on a completely different arroyo to Ernie's Falls. Considering the lack of water on Bridal Wreath Falls, my expectations of flowing water were low.

Ernie's Falls is presumably at center. It's difficult to see but there were dark streaks that presumably were wet. The mountains above are the Sierra Rincon. They have pine forest on the higher elevations.

Ernie's Falls were almost completely dry, but I could see black areas on the rock face which I suspect revealed oozing sheets of moisture, much like at Bridal Wreath Falls. The trail continued to the park boundary, but I saw no reason to continue. If I'd taken the Douglas Spring trail further, beta tells me that it eventually leads up into pine forest above 7000 feet, but I wasn't in shape for that, nor was I prepared with my pack. I was already approaching 6 miles and carrying extra mass around my midsection from the Flagstaff winter and the COVID lockdowns and knew that hiking back to the car would take all my energy. I started back to the trail intersection, and having reached it, immediately headed downhill on the Douglas Spring Trail.

Douglas Spring Trail headed downhill.

Just another photo of beautiful Sonoran Desert slopes. Places like this make me remember my childhood visit to Arizona.

After a few minutes I was tired and moving slowly despite going downhill. I found a rock to sit on high up in a steep dry wash. It was midday, and there was no shade. I ate a leftover breakfast burrito and resumed my descent. The good thing about doing an out-and-back: you always notice things on the way back that you didn't on the way out. Like a rare opportunity to see a saguaro bloom up close. Usually they are too high to see into.

A rare look into a saguaro bloom. Usually they are too high up to see into!

I finished up, tired and feeling my continued lack of fitness. But it's amazing how much better I feel than I did a month ago. The only solution for a lack of fitness is to get fit.

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