We took our first winter trip in 2013 over Martin Luther King day weekend. We decided on Saguaro National Park. It seemed a little random at the time, but that is the one that my mom had decided on. Truthfully, it’s a great place for January. I’ve never been so hot in the winter and I can’t imagine how it gets past March.
We invited our cousin Haley to join the fun. She had moved to the desert and wasn’t too far from the park. The first day of course, was just getting to Tucson. We flew into Phoenix and drove down the rest of the way in the dark. For such a short trip, we decided not to tent camp in the park. The backcountry sites required a more ambitious itinerary anyway.
We found a lovely place just outside of the park called Tanque Verde Ranch. For a Wagers’ outing, this was probably the most pampered we’d been. We had a little suite that was big enough for the 6 of us to crowd into. We wasted very little time in the room anyway.
On Saturday morning I got up early with my mom and sister, Megan. We set out to hike a short bit around the ranch and see the sunrise. There were some good points indicated on the map, but truthfully, the map was poorly drawn and we got turned around. It didn’t turn out as spectacular as we had hoped, but it was fun none-the-less.
Once the others managed to get out of bed, we headed down to the eastern half of the park, the Rincon Mountain District. The park is divided into two districts, with the city of Tucson sitting squarely between them. Haley’s additional vehicle made the logistics much easier. We dropped hers off at the north end of the Cactus Forest Trail (along Cactus Forest Drive). We all rode down together to the southern trailhead.
We hiked back along the 2.5 mile trail. The sun was quite intense, even in the morning. The area is dominated by the namesake cacti, the Saguaro. I took the group’s picture next to a rather large one.
After getting back to our car, we stopped to eat lunch at the Javelina picnic area in the southern end of the park. We checked out the small loop of the Freeman Homestead trail right next to it and then made our way back to the visitors’ center we passed on our way in. We took time to watch a short film and get our NPS Passport books stamped, a tradition we started in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My mom has always opted to get a stamp on the Trails Illustrated map instead (where available). It works out because that is typically included in our planning and goes on the trail with us. While at the visitor’s center I also bought a wide brimmed hat. I didn’t anticipate that much sun in January.
For the early afternoon we went back to the ranch to relax for a couple hours. Up next, we met Pantano Riding Stables at the northern network of trails. We all mounted up and got to relax for a couple hours of horseback riding.
Quite tired from our day, we again headed back to the ranch. They offered a large, outdoor all you can eat buffet. The food was a bit expensive, but it was really good. It drew quite a crowd of other ranch dwellers. Afterwards a few people ventured off to the pools.
Sunday marked the day of our first ever summit attempt, though it was completely non-technical. We set out to tackle Wasson Peak in the Tucson Mountain District. The route up was about 1700 feet over 3.9 miles, followed by an 1800 foot descent over 3.5 miles.
We parked our cousin’s car at the King Canyon trailhead. We continued in the rental car along Kinney Road and then around Golden Gate Road to the Sendero Esperanza trailhead. We gathered our things and prepped for our hike up. Water is crucial in any desert environment, and we were sure to have plenty. The beginning of the hike was quite easy along the open, flat desert. I recall it being quite cool still in the morning. After the first mile, there was a marked amount of ‘up’.
On our first stretch up to the ridgeline we enjoyed the morning shade and we went up endless switchbacks. Once we hit the Hugh Norris trail that runs the spine of the mountains, relief from the sun was not to be had. I was quite glad I had the wide brimmed hat and plenty of sunscreen on. We took a nice rest here before moving on. The trail teased us as we crested several small peaks, only to reveal that Wasson must be the next. We knew we found it for certain when the King Canyon trail passed to the right. This was our way down. We went up the last hook of the trail and were met with spectacular views of the desert.
Several other day hikers were lounging at the top. One fun group had packed up wine to celebrate the summit, their group tradition on their adventures together. We all chatted for a while and enjoyed our well earned snacks. Another hiker assisted in taking our group photo at the top.
Of course, being at the top, and our cars at the bottom, we had only covered about half the distance. Once moving, we made very good time going down.I think we only made one short break. The sun was intense and we all wanted a little bit of shade. Our trek back down was rapid, but we suffered our first and only casualty. My brother Alex happened to brush his forearm against a cactus. The limb, near 6 inches long with about 2 inch spikes, instantly fell off the cactus and was firmly attached to his arm. Megan quickly rushed to his aid to remove it. While he was in a fair amount of pain, the sight was actually quite funny.
Near the bottom we accidentally diverted from the trail. It coincides with a wash for a short distance and we missed where the trail split back off. We didn’t really worry since other hikers told us that it goes right back to the trailhead like the main trail. In fact, it was the easier, flatter route and many others were taking advantage of it.
Once back to Haley’s truck was all piled in (a few in the bed) and drove to the visitor’s center. Haley and I went off to get the rental car while the others enjoyed the airconditioning. We regrouped and drove off to see some petroglyphs in the Signal Hill Picnic Area left by the native people a thousand or more years ago.
Much to my personal disappointment, we went to a rather well known Mexican restaurant in the area called Mi Nidito. Everyone ate a hardy meal before we headed back to the ranch for the final night. Again we went to the pool and hot tub. If I recall, we were all in at one point or another that evening. It felt great.
On our last day we all headed out back to the airport. The travel was rather uneventful, which to be honest, is usually the best way. This was a great start to 2013.