The saguaro cactus is one of the most iconic plants of the Sonoran Desert.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Signs mark points-of-interest along the way
LENGTH: 9.2 miles total
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.
INFO: Town of Marana