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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Tortolita Preserve


Candelabra saguaros are the preserve's icons

The saguaro cactus is one of the most iconic plants of the Sonoran Desert.

They thrive in Arizona’s warm, low desert areas and their creamy white blooms are the state’s official flower.  Growing up to 50 feet with lifespans of 150-200 years, the signature cacti take on many forms.  They exist as single columns, many-armed giants and sometimes develop elaborate contorted crests.  But in the sandy washes of the Tortolito Preserve in Marana, the elegant branching specimens are known as candelabra saguaros. 

The hike has a posh, botanical garden feel

It makes sense that the thorny cacti would take on a moniker that mirrors the area’s posh vibe.  Surrounded by golf greens in the foothills of the Tortolito Mountains a few miles north of Tucson, the preserve bumps up against one of Arizona’s most luxurious resorts, the Five-Star, Five-Diamond Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. 
Twin Peaks (c: horizon) seen from the preserve

Hiking in the 2,400-acre preserve is more like a stroll through a botanical garden than a backcountry hike.  Established in 2009, the desert expanse is outfitted with a 9.2-mile ,non-motorized trail that traces the preserve’s perimeter for a tour of rich desert plant life and gorgeous mountain vistas. 

The "Old-Timer" ironwood

Flat, easy and maintained to resort-class standards, the trail passes among dozens of impressive “candelabras” as well as palo verde “tunnels”, acres of chain fruit cholla and several ancient, gnarled ironwood trees (including the famous "Old-Timer") known for their frothy, pea-like pink blooms that color the desert in springtime.
Tortolito Mountain views

The 9.2-mile perimeter trail is well-signed

Mountain views are a hallmark of the preserve’s appeal.  To the north, the Tortolita Mountains that rise to 4,300 feet, are home to more than 30 miles of more difficult trails can be accessed by way of the Wild Burro trailhead near the resort. 

Cholla ribs display a honeycomb pattern

Gnarly, ancient ironwoods are common on the trail

To the west, the distinctive form of Twin Peaks is a dominant presence.
A palo verde "tunnel" along the route

While the mountain routes might be beyond the skill sets of casual visitors, the preserve trail offers an alternative way to appreciate the desert-mountain natural space in a tamer, leisurely fashion.

Tortolito Preserve trailhead

Post hike, treat yourself to some of the area’s top-shelf dining, shopping and hotel accommodations. Or, for the full star treatment, splurge with a weekend at the Ritz with a gemstone healing massage, poolside cocktails and a candelabra-lit gourmet meal. 

Signs mark points-of-interest along the way

LENGTH: 9.2 miles total

RATING: easy

ELEVATION: 2,300 – 2775 feet


State Land /Moore Road Trailhead

6250 W. Moore Road, Marana.

From Interstate 10 in Marana, take the Tangerine Road exit 240. At the bottom of the off ramp, go 5 miles east on Tangerine Road to Dove Mountain Blvd.  Turn left, go 1 mile to Moore Road, turn left and continue 1 mile to the trailhead.  Pass the state land gate (close it behind you) and park in the large dirt lot.  The hike begins at the map kiosk.  There are no restrooms or water at this trailhead.

The preserve is on State Trust land, but a permit is not required.

No facilities

INFO:  Town of Marana

1 comment:

Laura Cortelyou said...

Many thanks for your excellent overview of the stunning Tortolita Preserve. It's a hidden gem and we're so glad that you found it.