On Monday morning, we woke up early to visit somewhere very special: Kartchner Caverns State Park! Phones and cameras weren’t allowed on the cave tour so I won’t go into great detail about it, BUT I just want to say that if you find yourself in Tucson, go do a cave tour at Kartchner Caverns! The caverns are amazing and the tour is totally worth the $23 per person.
After a morning at the caverns, we headed for the east side of Saguaro National Park. Just like the west side, we had way too little time to see the park but we did get to sneak in a few hikes and a ton of overlooks. As always, the visitor center was our first stop. The Rincon Mountain Visitor Center has a number of exhibits as well as a short trail around the building. Once we were done there, we set out on the Cactus Forest Loop, a scenic drive with numerous trailheads and overlooks along the way.
Desert Ecology Trail | Saguaro National Park
Tucson, AZ | 02/17/20| 0.29 miles | 10′ gain
We stopped to do a quick nature trail along the Cactus Forest Loop. The Desert Ecology Trail is a short interpretive loop that visits a number of different plant species. I found the interpretive signage and views from this trail to be lacking, and I wouldn’t recommend this trail unless you only have time for something very short.
Loma Verde Loop | Saguaro National Park
Tucson, AZ | 02/17/20| 4.71 miles | 210′ gain
After a not so exciting trek on the Desert Ecology Trail, we were hoping for better luck along the Loma Verde Loop. This is a loop that the NPS website recommended. It creates a loop from the Loma Verde (west), Pink Hill (north), and Squeeze Pen (east) trails. If you look closely at my map, you can probably see we missed our turn off and went too far north (oops).
The Loma Verde Trail heads north from the trailhead into the cactus forest. The surrounding landscape was full of gorgeous cacti and we had views of the neighboring mountains most of the time.
The trail was easy to follow and mostly flat but we found ourselves taking our time to look at each individual cactus. We’d seen a picture of a seedling saguaro at the visitor center and really wanted to find one, but the smallest saguaro we found was about 12″ tall.
A sign on the trail leads to a short detour to the Loma Verde Mine. The 350′ mine shaft was dug by the Loma Verde Copper Company in 1901. Although they found 16% copper ore, the mine soon closed. Copper ore can be found scattered around the site.
After an extended stop to hunt for copper ore, we continued along the Loma Verde Trail only to miss our turn on the Pink Hill Trail. This area is covered in a network of criss-crossing trails, and while all of the intersections are marked, some of the signs don’t make any sense or don’t match up with the park map. Eventually we figured out that we were going the wrong way, and some trail riders gave us better directions than what we had. Soon enough, we found the Pink Hill Trail and were back on track.
The Squeeze Pen Trail was easier to find and that took us all the way back to the trailhead. It was pretty warm out so our hike felt like it was taking forever, but in reality we were only on trail for two hours.
I was so happy to see flowers blooming (although I didn’t know what they were at the time) and we were very excited to find a Cristate Saguaro. We’d read about this unusual growth habit at the Visitor Center and hoped to see one for ourselves. They are supposed to be pretty rare! After finishing up the loop, we continued our drive through the Cactus Forest. A few more overlooks and we were too exhausted from our long trip to do anything else.
Such a fun trip to visit two states, two national parks, one state park, and a national monument. A busy trip jam packed with hikes and adventures. I can’t wait for the next one!