This is a multi-part trip report… if you haven’t already, you should start with Day 1.
Start: Tucson, AZ
End: Saguaro National Park (Douglas Spring)
Daily Mileage: 14
Total Mileage: 1405
Miles Hiked Today: 11
Miles Hiked Total: 11
Finally, we’re walking! It’s in the mid-seventies today and the weather is beautiful. It’s lovely, though not at all what we packed for. SmartWool socks are wonderful: my feet are dry but my legs are wet from the moisture that’s wicking up through the fabric. We’ve brought our cold weather gear, which makes our packs comically overstuffed, but we’ll probably need coats and gloves up on the ridge.
Bryan hikes into the desert
The desert is strange, with the saguaros standing tall amid the spiky alien ocotillos, and the cloud shapes on the mountains and desert add another layer to the weird geometry of this place. I put a hole in my boot when I accidentally wander into an Engelmann’s prickly pear. We disturb a jackrabbit, a surprisingly tall and gangly creature with a rabbit body and long, long legs that make it walk more than it hops.
Mister Jackrabbit, with his amazing legs.
It’s a beautiful day. We take a break near a stock tank by a spring, sitting barefoot on the trail with our opened packs beside us, amidst an odd assortment of drying socks, maps, doodads, and platypus bottles. It’s chilly in the shade. We hear a noise on the other side of a palo verde; Bryan grabs the camera hoping for another jackrabbit. I’m hoping it isn’t a lion or bear, since I have no shoes on. We’re both wrong: it’s an old man, coming down a side trail. He doesn’t hear well enough to understand the joke, and we watch him quietly feed the fish in the tank before moving on.
Lunchtime at the Rock Spring stock tank.
We can sometimes see Tucson below us, a flat grid of streets with tiny mica sparkles of windshields, ringed by the rugged Rincons. The closer mountains are dark purple-brown, the higher peaks sharper and snow-covered. We see lechuguilla for the first time today, and think about how proud Carter would be to see us faithfully consulting our new plastic-covered plant and animal identification book.
Santa Bryan stops to enjoy the golden hour and the view of Tucson
A desert oasis: Bridal Wreath Falls are running, and the excited tanktopped dayhikers tell us we must take the spur trail to see them. Grateful for a break from the weight, we drop our packs near the trail intersection and hike up to see a pretty double waterfall behind the saguaros. The stream crossing below the falls is home to an ancient, gnarled oak overgrown in an enormous cholla, with tiny baby shoots of green grass around its base.
Bridal Wreath Falls, running the day after an inch of rain
Finally, after dark, we arrive at the Douglas Spring backcountry campsite. We join a group of about a dozen teenagers; their leader describes their group as “youth in a program for those with family issues.” We had expected a group of inner city thugs but what we find seem to be spoiled rich kids in Marmot jackets, discussing their addictions, their snowboards, and their architect fathers. There are alarms on their tents and they don’t seem very comfortable in the woods or with us.
Near Douglas Spring: The bleach blond desert grass glows at sunset
It’s Christmas eve, and after we set up our tent, eat our beef stew, and stash our things in a bear box, Bryan takes off the Santa hat he’s been wearing all day. I string up a spare bootlace inside the tent and decorate it with some miniature ornaments I’ve brought along. We exchange small presents and lie awake for awhile, listening to podcasts in our tiny room. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Christmas Eve in a backpacking tent
A selection of additional photos appears below, for more photos from the trip checkout our Flickr page.
We hope we don’t run into one of these!
Saguaros are much taller than we’d imagined
Internal ribs support the saguaro’s height and bulk
A cholla cactus
Aly’s favorite desert plant, the teddy bear cholla
Young saguaros; they don’t typically start growing arms until about 75 years old.
An ancient sun-worshipper.
The only down side to trekking poles: it’s hard to eat and walk
Englemann’s Prickly Pear grows up and out; Spreading Prickly Pear grows along the ground
A “grandfather” saguaro
On a warm day, Aly is grateful for a tshirt but more than willing to carry fleece in her pack
Santa Bryan checks a confusing trail marker
Palo verde trees have photosynthetic bark and tiny leaves
The nearby ranch keeps the tank stocked with goldfish, and the park pretends not to notice
We startled a deer in the higher country, near sunset
Aly on the trail just before sunset
One of the Rincons at sunset