Thursday, February 26, 2015

Saguaro National Park

Work recently took me on a trip down to Tucson, Arizona. I had only been once before and this time I was able to take an extra couple of days to explore the Saguaro National Park. 

There are two halves to the park, the western half does not allow camping and is smaller and more crowded, but has a cool visitor center. The eastern half is larger, less crowded and allows camping. I went to the eastern half and decided to start at the Javelina trailhead, going up the Tanque Verde Ridge. It was the more challenging way up but promised better views.

I wasn't sure what the water situation would be so I decided to carry most of what I would need, about 6 liters to start. It turns out that I really didn't need to carry nearly as much as there was water at every campsite and I crossed a number of decent streams as well.

Day 1: Javelina trailhead to Juniper Basin campsite (7 miles)

Obligatory start of trip photo

I ended up leaving the trailhead around noon, it took me a couple of hours to find a grocery store, shop and get to the park. The trail is not very steep but it was a steady uphill walk, very similar in grade to the PCT and reminded me a lot of the desert portion with the exception of the cool Saguaro cactus which do not grow on the PCT.

The cactus are replaced by grasses and shrubs within the first few miles and couple thousand feet of elevation gain. I made it to the campsite by 3 and just relaxed, read a book, and enjoyed the nice weather. Around dusk, another backpacker rolled in and set up camp near me. We had a great conversation, he is a fellow thru hiker and we fell into the easy familiarity found among hikers.

"Bailer" AT class of 2013

Day 2: Juniper Basin to Grass Shack (13 miles)

The next day was more climbing, apparently this section of trail is popular with trail runners and I passed quite a few. It was mostly uphill for the first 8 miles until I reached Manning Camp at 8,000 feet. Made lunch there and then it was pretty much downhill for the next 5 miles to Grass Shack campsite. I had the place to myself for the night and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.


I came across some abandoned gear and I have seen this before. I always wonder what happened that people would leave their stuff behind. I figure they either came to a tragic end or realized their gear sucked and decided they couldn't be bothered to carry it any further.

Abandoned Gear

Day 3: Grass Shack to Javelina trailhead (13 miles)

I hiked the final 13 miles in about 5 hours. As I had a plane to catch out of Phoenix, I needed to get an early start and was on the trail by 6 am.

Sun rising over the mountains

It was a beautiful walk and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did find my feet getting some hotspots and as I didn't have any tape, it was a good thing I didn't have to hike much further. My feet have definitely softened up over the last few months. Of course my socks were not in the best of shape either, which probably didn't help.

time for a new pair?

I made it to the airport with plenty of time and really enjoyed the trip. I hope to get back there soon!