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Monday, March 13, 2017



Saguaro National Park East, Tucson
Garwood Trail

There’s more to Saguaro National Park than the eponymous cacti. This is especially true in the park’s east side where relics of human history blend with an array of plant and animal specimens wedged between the craggy peaks of the Rincon Mountains and see-forever valley vistas of suburban Tucson.
The area’s keynote curiosities date to a cattle grazing era that ended in the 1970s. Remnants of ranch operations can still be seen along the two dozen trails that weave through foothills, washes and open desert.
View of Santa Catalina Mountains from Carrillo Trail
The interconnected trail system is setup with multiple access points and signed junctions with mileages. When paired with a downloadable map from the park’s website, hikers can easily create treks that range from short and easy to long and difficult. One recommended loop option that uses four trails is packed with points of interest and a sweaty climb into the high foothills.  
To try this ambitious loop, begin by hiking 0.2-mile on the Douglas Spring Trail, then turn right onto the Garwood Trail. This 1.4-mile segment makes a gradual ascent through a sunny cactus forest. Acres of pink and magenta Fairy Duster shrubs tickle centuries old saguaros and jockey for sunlight among swaying ocotillos.
Desert Rose Mallow
Year-round blooming plants like the fuzzy-flowered Indigo bush and delicate Desert Rose Mallow add splashes of color to the desert’s muted palette. The park’s website offers a brief education about saguaros, including how “nurse plants’ aid in their growth. You’ll see examples of this symbiotic relationship along the trails where twisted Palo Verde and ironwood trees retain futile embraces around saguaros that have outgrown the need for a “mom’s” protection.  Near Bajada Wash, keep an eye open for a
majestic crested saguaro. This segment ends near Garwood Dam, a concrete structure built to provide a water source for the nearby abandoned homestead. Turn left at the dam and follow the Carrillo Trail to the steel tank at Rock Spring. Here, you’ll pick up the Three Tank Trail to continue the skyward slog that passes by Mica and Aguila tanks on the way up to the Douglas Spring Trail. The tanks attract wildlife, so if you travel quietly and early in the day, you might spot deer, bobcats, fox and maybe a mountain lion. Though encounters are rare, it’s smart to know how to avoid mountain lions and what to do if you run into one. (check this out: After taking in the high-desert views, turn left and descend through grasslands and slick rock back to the trailhead.
Fairy Duster
LENGTH: 6.8 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,760’ – 3,720’
FEE: $5 daily fee for each hiker/biker entering the park on foot.
For other types of passes that are accepted, visit:
PETS: pets are not allowed
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Speedway exit 257 and go 17 miles east to the Douglas Spring trailhead on the right. There are no facilities at the trailhead. Roads are 100% paved.
INFO: Saguaro National Park

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