“The desert, to those who do listen, is more likely to provoke awe than to invite conquest”. – Joseph Wood Krutch, Author, Naturalist, Conservationist
Desperately seeking a break from a cold, dreary Minnesota winter my kids and I decided to come out to visit my parents in Tucson, Arizona for the long holiday weekend. The first few days have been absolutely spectacular however against the odds the past two days have been rainy and cold. Even stranger is the fact that we are having record warmth back in Minnesota with highs in the low 60s and sunny which is unheard of for February. Nevertheless, I’m one to look on the positive aspects of life. There is nothing we can do about the weather.
Friday was spectacular and we decided to take a three generational hike in a new part of Tucson. I have been visiting Tucson for over 23 years and have done many hikes in this gorgeous mountainous place however I had never been to the Saguaro National Park. I had passed by it several times en route to the famous Desert Museum in the western reaches of Tucson but had never stopped. Little did I know there are actually two parts of the Saguaro National Park: The Tucson Mountain District in the west of Tucson and the Rincon Mountain District in the east. We decided to check out the Saguaro National Park East as my dad had read a recent article about a beautiful hike to a waterfall.
We packed a lunch and headed out to the park a little after eleven. We were shocked to see the parking lot was full as we were really in the middle of nowhere. I am assuming the other hikers had read about the falls too.
There are several hikes inside Saguaro National Park however we chose to follow the Douglas Spring Trailhead to the waterfall, a six-mile hike roundtrip.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir
There was a steady wind sweeping over the desert most likely from the oncoming storm that would bring us two days of rain. Other than the wind, it was perfect hiking weather. Not too hot and not too cold.
I had happily convinced my ten-year-old daughter Sophia to join us on the hike. She had already completed two longer hikes in the past, one to the top of Eagle Mountain in northern Minnesota and another to Harney Peak, the highest peak in South Dakota. I knew she could handle a six-mile hike, I just needed to get her confidence up that she could do it. My twelve-year old son Max has already done a ton of hiking in Arizona, and then of course my dad is an avid hiker. My dad and I have hiked all around the world together. It would be the first time that Sophia got to join us so I was pretty thrilled.
The trail begins very flat until you reach the base of the Rincon Mountains and climb upwards for over an hour. The views throughout the hike are breathtaking and the topography changes quite drastically from rough rocky canyon to desert scrub and grassland. What is the most astounding of all, however, are the multitude of enormous saguaro cactus dotting the landscape, many which are hundreds of years old. Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert and can live upwards of 150-200 years. They are amazing plants.
I found out this fun fact from the Desert Museum: “Most of the saguaros roots are only 4-6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep root, or tap root that extends down into the ground more than 2 feet”.
The Saguaro National Park was created in 1994 and encompasses two distinct areas – east and west- of over 91,445 acres. The Eastern district reaches up to 8,000 feet in elevation covering over 128 miles of trails for your pleasure. The hotter, drier Western district is much lower in elevation and the saguaros are much more densely populated across its landscape.
“The Sonoran Desert’s extreme temperatures, perennial drought, frequent lightning, banshee winds, and voracious predators keep the saguaro forever at the limit of its endurance. Odds against survival rival a lottery: Though the cactus annually produces tens of thousands of pinhead-size seeds—some 40 million over a life that may last two centuries—few ever even sprout. Even fewer seedlings achieve the grandeur of towering 50 feet and weighing up to 16,000 pounds”. – National Geographic
We followed the trail and continued to the turnoff to Bridal Wreath Falls. We had heard a week ago that the falls were pouring down after the recent snow in the mountains. We were curious to see if it was true.
I was amazed how much the landscape had changed. Now we were in the high desert grassland. There were barren trees yet still the greenery of the cactus. There were also some pretty desert flowers that I couldn’t resist photographing.
Finally, we reached a split in the trail and headed a short distance to the right where we would reach the falls. It was just a trickle now but still quite spectacular to find an oasis in the desert.
We enjoyed our lunch and the trickling falls all to ourselves. No one else was there however we had seen a lot of people hiking on the trail. What amazed me is that the water didn’t pool at the end of the falls. Instead, it ventured into the rocks and sunk somewhere down below. A mystery as to where it ended up.
I laughed at the fact that despite the longevity and steepness of the hike, Sophia remained strong and steady at the lead. I beamed with pride thinking that I have a future fellow hiker on my hands. How wonderful is that?
It looks like I not only found a hiking mate but a new hike in Tucson. I can hardly wait to do it again on my next visit.