Saguaro National Park is broken up into two different sections, the east side (east of Tucson) and the west side (west of Tucson). It’s about an hour drive between the two, so it made sense for us to treat them like separate parks and visit each on different days. Our plan was to drive down from Phoenix early Sunday morning, visit Casa Grande Ruins along the way, and then spend the afternoon in the west side of Saguaro. But we got a very late start and we didn’t reach the west side of Saguaro until late afternoon. Instead of our intended 4-5 hours to explore (which still is not nearly enough), we only had 1-2 hours before sunset. Crap.
What are the things we want to do most? We rushed through the Visitor Center exhibits and gardens, stressed over the map for way too long, and then we eventually set out on the Bajada Scenic Loop, a short drive with tons of overlooks and a few trailheads. The road isn’t paved and there is a ton to look at so it is slow going. Even though we were “rushing”, we wanted to take our time and enjoy the few moments we had. We only had time for one short hike and I had my fingers crossed we’d be able to find parking at Signal Hill because I was dying to see the petroglyphs.
Signal Hill | Saguaro National Park
Tucson, AZ | 02/16/20| 0.48 miles | 65′ gain
The parking lot was mostly empty so we easily found a spot and then proceeded to wander around the Signal Hill Picnic Area trying to find the trail. Eventually we found the sign…oops. Someone had parked their van directly in front of the trail. Okay, NOW we’re off!
We visit our friends in Phoenix every year so we’re no stranger to the Saguaro cactus, but a Saguaro forest is always a sight to see and we enjoyed the views from this short trail. The trail gradually winds around Signal Hill, soon reaching the summit. At the Visitor Center, we’d learned the names of some new cacti and were on the hunt! We found our favorite along the Signal Hill Trail.
When we reached the summit, it took me a minute to find the petroglyphs. I almost screamed when I saw the spiral. And then I saw another, and another!
I haven’t seen all that many petroglyphs, but these were easily the coolest I’d ever seen. These petroglyphs were carved somewhere between 200-1450 AD. It’s unknown what the symbols represent or why they were carved, but maybe one day someone will discover a clue that answers that question.
Once I was able to pry my eyes away from the rocks, I turned around and saw the views behind me. Saguaros and mountains as far as the eyes could see.
We didn’t stay long at the top as there were a number of other people trying to view the petroglyphs. The trail was so short, we made it back to the car in only a few minutes.
Unfortunately, we were running out of daylight and didn’t have time to start (and finish) another short trail before sunset. But we decided to take the scenic route to Tucson over Gates Pass. Gates Pass is a popular place at sunset so we weren’t able to find parking, but the views from the car were enough to make me want to return to get pictures. We had such a short time to spend in the west side of Saguaro National Park, I can’t wait to go back and explore more!
Next up: Saguaro National Park (East)