I began my journey at the Red Hills Visitor Center (due, in part, to my small bladder and the fact that NPS keeps their restrooms clean). Visitor centers are usually my first stop on a trip since the rangers give great information and tips, and I always enjoy browsing gift shops. I seized the opportunity to purchase some unique birthday presents for my nieces: a North American Desert Life coloring book, Saguaro National Park stickers, and other goodies (for myself).
Ranger Anna was extremely helpful. She provided a park map and made excellent suggestions about the activities I could do that day. I mentioned I was interested in hiking and she recommended the three shortest hikes on the Bajada Loop Drive (see map below). It was great hiking weather – slightly overcast, yet warm enough to enjoy my outdoor adventures.
My first physical exertion was at the Desert Discovery Nature Trail. This trail is a self-guided walk, or stroll (it is wheelchair accessible), which contains several benches and ramadas for rest and shade. I love the desert flora, and I saw lots of my favorite Arizonan plants: saguaro, palo verde, teddy bear cholla, and ocotillo. Many red-colored tunas were beginning to ripen on the prickly pear cacti.
The next stop was the Valley View Overlook Trail. As I walked along the trail, at least four zebra-tailed lizards crossed my path and I spotted two Gila Woodpeckers flying from cactus to cactus. This trail climbs to a ridge that overlooks the Avra Valley where Picacho Peak could be seen in the not-too-far distance.
On my final stop, I nearly drove past the turn to get to Signal Hill because I was so mesmerized by the scenery (be sure to follow the Signal Hill Picnic Area sign). Was I ever happy that I didn’t miss Signal Hill! The petroglyphs are phenomenal and located in an adorable picnic setting. I wish I had saved my PB&J lunch for this! The beautiful picnic grounds include a handful of individual picnic tables (I spotted an enclosed one, an uncovered one with a fireplace, a shaded one near the rock art, and one with a ramada) all located near the base of Signal Hill with a well-maintained pit toilet (yes, I had to use this one too).
After spending about four hours at Saguaro National Park, I was rejuvenated by my hikes and intoxicated by the beauty of the wildlife. It was a perfect way to spend a Saturday. I’ll be back, but next time, I’ll pack a real picnic.
Saguaro National Park West, Tucson Mountain District
• Nearest roadway: Interstate 10
• Miles from Phoenix to the park: 110
Points of Interest:
• Red Hills Visitor Center
• Desert Discovery Nature Trail
• Valley View Overlook Trail
• Signal Hill and Signal Hill Picnic Area
Cynthia Blankenship is an ACERT (Arizona Council for Enhancing Recreation & Tourism) intern at the Arizona Office of Tourism and an Arizona State University graduate student in the Recreation & Tourism Studies master’s program.