“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir

 

It was time for us to start heading back to Austin. Tucson was a logical stop on the way, and in a city of over one million residents we found Saguaro National Park. The park is divided into two districts found east and west of the city about thirty miles apart. Campgrounds are not available inside the park so we settled in at Desert Trails, a private rv park, located close to the west side of the park.

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The saguaro has been called monarch of the Sonoran desert, the supreme symbol of the American Southwest, and a plant with personality – it’s easy to see why.

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The first day we elected to make the longer drive and explore the east side known as the Rincon Mountain District.

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We stopped in at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center to check out the park film and plan our day. The park ranger talked us into hiking before seeing the movie as it was going to be unseasonably hot in the afternoon. We headed out on the eight-mile winding scenic Cactus Loop Drive through the historic cactus forest where we were treated to hundreds and hundreds of Saguaro cacti lined up like sentinels.

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This road is also a popular biking destination, described in the park newspaper as “not for the faint of heart” presumably due to the narrow road with many tight turns and steep hills although we imagine heat to be a factor as well. We stopped to hike along the Loma Verde Wash, the Pink Hill Trail and then back through the Squeeze Pen Trail. We didn’t expect to see a couple of riders on horseback on the trail, gone as quickly as they came.

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All told we hiked about four miles and at the end we were grateful for the ranger’s advice to start early.

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We headed back on the loop to the visitor center where we took in the movie and then headed back to Tex to cool off.

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 The next morning we headed out to explore the west side of the park called the Tucson Mountain District.

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The Red Hills Visitor Center is located on this side and it is very well laid out and has a nice nature trail. We even found a bird nesting in one of the saguaros out front.

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Taking the five-mile Scenic Bajada Loop Drive we explored the foothills on this unpaved, combination one and two-way graded, dirt road with scenic pullouts.

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Stopping for a short hike (another super hot day!), we made our way up Signal Hill to see the pictographs and then back out of the park with time to satisfy our craving for some Mexican food in the city of Tucson.

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Up Next: Guadalupe National Park