Wow! Most everyone knows what a Saguaro Cactus is. It is such an iconic image of the southwest! We have all seen images of one lone saguaro with the sun behind it, and so we picture the desert with very sparsely spaced cacti and virtually nothing else around. That is not at all what the desert looks like in person. At least not in Saguaro National Park. Sure, you can angle yourself just right and get the lone cactus photo if you wish, but in most areas there are saguaros, along with many other forms of cacti and plant life, that stretch as far as the eye can see. For us Kentucky folks, it was totally unusual and unexpected!
We were in the area for two days and hiked our behinds off to see as much of the west section of the park as we could. Unfortunately, we never made it to the east section. We will have to save that for our next visit!
On our first day, we realized that this park is busier than we expected. We had planned to do the Hugh Norris trail, but on arrival, the parking area for the trailhead was full. We continued around the scenic loop and when we stopped at Signal Hill for lunch, we did a little research and realized there was a loop hike that left from there. Since our first plans had fallen through, we figured why not? It actually turned out to be our favorite hike of the trip! On this hike, we started out seeing petroglyphs, which are always interesting to see, and then we continued on to a very easy, but lengthy, hike through the desert with giant saguaros and other desert life all along the way. One fun thing about most national parks – even the busy ones – is that if you are willing to hike a half mile to a mile away from the road, you will leave most of the people behind. This proved true, here, too! We did not run into ANY people after about a half mile, until we were within a half mile again on the return. It felt like we had the place to ourselves! One other interesting note about this hike…it had rained the night before, so most footprints and tracks had been washed away, but when we got almost as far from the truck as we were going to get on the trail, we saw very fresh tracks that could only be explained by mountain lion. And I don’t just mean a couple of tracks. I mean a TON of them! Now, while we would love to see a mountain lion, two miles from the truck and alone on a trail is not exactly how we would prefer for it to happen. We were both on high alert for a while. We never saw the lion, though.
On our second day, we ventured up to the Picture Rocks area of the park on the suggestion of a ranger. He said that was the area to go if we wanted to get rid of the crowds, and boy was he right! The road up that way was super busy, so we were skeptical, but once we stopped at the trailhead and got started on the hike, we saw a total of three people the entire time. This hike was different from the one from Signal Hill. While the hike at Signal Hill was mostly flat, this one was somewhat hilly and even a bit mountainous. It was a totally different experience seeing all the saguaros spread across the mountains. This hike also traveled through a wash (dry creek bed) for a distance and through a small canyon, so there was a variety of terrain to traverse.
On the way back to the Bigfoot from Picture Rocks, we made a very last minute decision to do one last trail. This was the King Canyon/Gould Mine Loop, and it was the shortest, but probably the most strenuous hike we did. The trailhead said the elevation gain was less than 400 feet, but it went up pretty quickly, so it felt like more. The first half of the trail was pretty rocky and steep, but it was through a mountainous area full of saguaros and took you to an old mining area before turning back toward the parking area. We were a bit tired by the time we got to this hike so we decided it would be one we would see “with our eyes,” meaning just for us, no photos or video.
One other detail from our time in this area…We had really hoped to get a first come first serve camping spot at the campground nearest to the entrance of Saguaro National Park, but we were unable to make that happen. The BLM camping nearby didn’t have the greatest reviews, and we weren’t comfortable staying there, so we ended up at an RV park. This is typically our last resort when looking for camping. RV parks are usually really crowded with a parking lot feel and are also the more expensive option for camping. We were able to find one that was still quite close to the park, though, and that would allow us to dry camp (no hook-ups) for a reasonable fee. They also had some trails through a desert area right from the property where we enjoyed watching the sunset. And the laundry room came in handy for getting some chores done while there. It just goes to show that even when things don’t work out exactly as you hope, they can still be good!
Travel to Saguaro with us in the video below!
Until next time!