Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Best trails to see Saguaro N.P.’s wonders

Saguaros at sunset at Saguaro National Park. Photo courtesy of Saguaro NPS.
Among the best ways to see Saguaro National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just five short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – towering saguaros, desert wildflowers, petroglyphs, the Javelina Rocks, and Sonoran Desert wildlife.

Synonymous with the Old West, the majestic saguaro can grow 70 feet tall and provides nesting sites for a number of songbirds. The Deer Valley Loop runs 4.1 miles through stands of large saguaros, including a strange-looking four-trunker and a cristate.

Desert wildflowers
Though many think of deserts as barren and inhospitable, they bloom in a glorious array of colors each spring following a rainfall. Among the best hikes for seeing Sonoran Desert flowers – cholla, prickly pear and barrel cactus – with mountain ranges lining the horizon is the 1.3-mile Freeman Homestead Trail at the Javelina Picnic Area.

Hohokam petroglyphs of spirals, circles and a variety of other geometric shapes were created by Native American groups residing in the desert here between 500-1100 A.D. You can see hundreds of them on the 0.4-mile round trip Signal Hill Trail in the park’s Tucson Mountain District (Saguaro Park West).

Javelina Rock
Among the most popular picnic spots in the national park is the Javelina Rocks, located off of Cactus Forest Drive. Formed more than 25 million years ago, the rocks are an interesting example of Catalina Gneiss, in which sheets of other minerals were melted into one another while deep underground. The oft-photographed rocks also mark the trailhead for the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail, a 6.9-mile one-way route that offers some excellent views of the Tucson basin.

Desert wildlife
Coyotes, roadrunners, jackrabbits and quail all thrive in the Sonoran Desert that stretches across Arizona and northern Mexico. Many of these creatures – or at least signs of them – can be seen on the 6.05-mile (one-way) Douglas Spring Trail in the Rincon Mountain District (Saguaro Park East).

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.