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Monday, March 14, 2016


Tortolita Mountains, Marana
Yucca on Wild Mustang Trail frames Santa Catalina Mtns.
If you dig deep enough into the barrel of misunderstood hiking routes, you just might discover a gem like the Wild Mustang Trail. Because it snuggles up to the Ritz-Carlson Dove Mountain property in Marana, access to the trail requires a stroll past groomed gardens, posh casitas and a golf course. Not exactly the stuff of hardcore hiker dreams. But hold on to your horses--the scenery quickly transitions from fancy to fierce. Getting to the Wild Mustang Trail requires the use of connecting routes that are signed with color-coded posts. The trail can be hiked as an out-and-back or tied into several loop options. We decided to try the West Rim Loop as described on the Dove Mountain Hikers website (link below). The first 1.4 miles of the hike follows a wash in full view of the resort. After that, it ascends 1,250 feet into the raw beauty of the Tortolita Mountains, where crested saguaros can be spotted at nearly every turn. At one time, there were 43 documented in the area. A recent freeze culled the count to about 30 specimens. Some of them are located along the trails while others hide out in distant clefs and gullies. With patience and a keen eye, you can see 9 contorted cacti on this loop. When hiking here, it's important to respect the terrain and know your limits. Despite the various springs shown on maps, there's no water and very little shade. While the lower trails are simple strolls, the mountain routes are rough, so you'll need lots of H2O, sun protection and power snacks. What the hike lacks in terms of feral equine sightings it more than makes up for at a 3,850-foot saddle with views of a dozen mountain ranges jutting over the Tucson area. The site is outfitted with interpretive signs and a bench that makes for a perfect spot to take a break and scope out the profiles of Mt. Wrightson, Kitt Peak and a patchwork farmlands of the Santa Cruz and Avra Valleys.
At 3.8 miles, the Wild Mustang Trail is the longest leg of the loop and exudes a primitive, remote feel. At one point, its cactus population rivals that of nearby Saguaro National Park, accented with a plethora of blooming yucca and sotol growing among granite boulders and metamorphic slick rock. The trail's highpoint features dizzying vistas of the Santa Catalina Mountains and Pusch Ridge without an aqua pool or putting green in sight. After the long climb, the route makes a steep, rocky dive onto Wild Burro Canyon. You'll pass Alamo Spring, two historic line houses and several scenic lookouts before landing in sandy washes for the final trudge back to the trailhead.
From the trailhead, follow the short access path, and turn left (north) on Wild Burro Trail (purple). Go 0.5 mile north and turn left onto Upper Javelina Trail (red) and follow it 0.9 mile to Wild Mustang Trail (orange). Turn right and hike 4.2 miles to Wild Burro Trail (purple), turn right (south) and follow it 2.7 miles back to trailhead. 
Crested saguaro on Wild Mustang Trail
LENGTH: 8.7-mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2810'- 4060'
Wild Burro Trailhead,14810 N. Secret Springs Drive, Marana. From Phoenix, go south on Interstate 10 to Tangerine Road exit 240, go 4.9 miles east to Dove Mountain Blvd. turn left and continue 4.5 miles to a traffic circle. Turn right through the circle and and pass the Ritz-Carlton gatehouse. Trailhead is less than a mile up the road. There are no fees.
INFO & MAP: Town of Marana
Dove Mountain Hikers:

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