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Tuesday, November 8, 2016


The Santa Catalina mountains viewed from the wetlands
Not so long ago, the area surrounding Tucson's Sweetwater Wetlands was home to dusty croplands and tumbling tumbleweeds. This desert expanse along the usually dry* channel of the Santa Cruz River provided little in terms of quality wildlife habitat. Recognizing an opportunity to transform the site into a desert oasis with a multi-faceted set of objectives, the City of Tucson constructed the wetlands to serve as a water reclamation facility that recharges the local aquifer and provides reclaimed water for reuse in city turf irrigation thus conserving potable water for human consumption. The project also restores and protects important plant and animal ecosystems. According to the Tucson Audubon Society, more than 300 bird species have been spotted at the site. Warblers, waterfowl, song sparrows and wading birds are drawn to the watery, green oasis along with critters like racoons, deer, reptiles and amphibians.
The site is an oasis of water-loving plants and trees
Finally, the wetlands provide an outdoor classroom with recreational trails and interpretive signs enhanced by Discovery Program Journeys-- an activity developed by Tucson Water and the University of Arizona Project WET that allows guests to access information on botany, wildlife and hydrology by using a QR code smart devise app to scan posts placed at points of interest on the trails. Additionally, Tucson Audubon Society conducts year-round bird walks on Wednesday mornings. Check their website for times.
View from an observation deck
For the casual hiker, the property's pair of half-mile loop trails and a barrier-free paved walkway lead to observation decks and peek-a-boo sites with benches for spying on waterbirds among house-high cattails. Additional cottonwood-and-willow-shaded routes around the perimeter provide up to 2.5 miles of flat, easy hiking opportunities.
* Tucson Water has announced plans to divert some surface flow back to the river beginning in 2017. Stay tuned for updates.
LENGTH: 2.5 miles
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2250' - 2265'
HOURS: open daily from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
The site opens late (8:30 a.m.) on Monday mornings from late March thru mid-November due to scheduled mosquito control operations.
FACILITIES: restrooms, drinking fountain, seating, information kiosk
RULES: No dogs or bike riding allowed.
Resident waterfowl float happily in a pond
From Interstate 10 in Tucson take the Camino Del Cerro/Ruthrauff Road exit 252. At the bottom of the off ramp, continue straight ahead on the frontage road past the Camino Del Cerro intersection and go 1.2 miles and turn right on Sweetwater Drive. The parking area is 0.2 mile Go 0.2 mile and look for the Sweetwater Wetlands entrance on the left (there is a small parking lot on your left and a larger one on your right).
City of Tucson
Tucson Audubon Society Bird Walks:
Arizona Project WET

Monday, November 7, 2016


Saguaro Vista Trail

Protecting a critical wildlife corridor between the Tucson Mountains and the Santa Cruz River, Sweetwater Preserve also complements a trail-rich area of west Tucson that includes Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park. Within the 880-acre property, 16 interconnected trails combine for over 12 miles of non-motorized-use routes. For a smallish site, the trails are surprisingly varied. Based on conversations I had with local hikers and riders in the parking lot, the Saguaro Vista Trail is the best place to start exploring. Turns out, that was great advise as this cactus-cluttered pathway gets you into the good stuff quickly. Within a few minutes of mild uphill hiking, views of the Santa Catalina Mountains rising over downtown Tucson and a wildly contorted crested saguaro provide ample photo opportunities.
Santa Catalina Mountains viewed from Black Rock Loop
The trail then swings northwest where the graceful arms of chain fruit cholla and Palo verde trees frame the mounds of Wasson and Amole Peaks. Although Saguaro Vista lives up to its popularity hype, the fun doesn't end there. Each trail junction within the preserve is marked with excellent map signs that make finding your way around a cinch. The signs show a mind-boggling menu of trails that might leave you wondering which way to go. No worries though, there are no bad choices. For instance, Black Rock Loop shirts the preserve's far north sector for expansive views and a walk among jumbled basalt outcroppings. Lost Arrow Trail contours foothills above the gorge of Sweetwater Wash while The Spine traces a decommissioned road atop a sunny ridgeline. Take your pick, each trail has it's own flavor and scenic qualities making for a perfect way to spend an hour or a day in the desert.
View of Tucson Mountains from Saguaro Vista Trail
The Spine
LENGTH: 12.93 miles total
RATING: easy-moderate
ELEVATION: 2466' - 2680'
HOURS: dawn to dusk daily
Dogs must be on leash and owners must pick up and pack out waste.
Wildflower Ridge
Sweetwater Trailhead: 4001 N. Tortolita Road Tucson.
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the El Camino Del Cerro/Ruthrauff Road exit 252. At the bottom of the off ramp, head right (west), go 2.6 miles to N. Tortolita Rd, turn left and continue
1 mile to the trailhead.
INFO & MAP: Pima County Parks & Recreation