I have a tendency to pack a lot into our vacations. Some might refer to them as "death marches," but I like to think of them more as "high-intensity adventures." Who knows when I'll be back with time to go for a hike? So after the morning north of Phoenix on Elephant Mountain we zipped down to Tucson a couple of hours south so we could visit Saguaro National Park.
Saguaro is divided into two areas. One, the Tucson Mountain District, is to the west of town and the other, the Rincon Mountain District, is to the east. One of our main goals was to see the thick forest of cacti so we decided on the west and stayed the night closer to our destination.
I started the morning with an early alarm and a ride from my father-in-law to the trailhead. I can still get a hike in and minimize my impact on the rest of the family by starting early. My destination was Wasson Peak, the highest point in the Tucson Mountains.
Starting just before dawn let me make good time up the King Canyon Trail. The first mile to the Mam-A-Gah picnic area was along an old road and easy walking. After the picnic area the route followed the dry creek bed before finally getting to a single-track trail. As the sun rose the coyotes called to one another and it started warming up. A turn uphill to the northwest at the junction with the Sweetwater Trail led me to the deserted summit.
The views were epic, as you might imagine for a high point in a National Park. What really struck me, though, was that this piece of Wilderness had been preserved literally right next door to the growing city of Tucson.
There's a clear delineation between Park and non-Park. Houses butt up against boundary roads on all sides and there are quarries and open pit mines giving up their commodities all around. Take a gander:
There's a place for housing and resource extraction, but it's not in our National Parks. Places like Saguaro, Mount Rainier, the Grand Canyon, and the many sites in Boston are meant to be protected so our grandchildren can see what we see. It's clear to me Saguaro would have long ago had houses built and more mines dug. I came across a couple of shafts on my hike so there's likely money to be made there and the views would make for extremely pricey real estate.
I've never seen a better example of how the National Park Service has protected our public lands. Although Saguaro National Park was only created in 1994, the Wilderness areas were designated in 1975 and way back in 1933 it was made a National Monument. Kudos to the generations that came before us that recognized the intrinsic value of the land and set it aside for us and the future.
Of course, my hike didn't end on top of Wasson Peak. I followed the loop past Amole Peak and along the Hugh Norris Trail all the way to Hohokam Road where I met up with the family. This section of the hike felt like I was in the fake Southwest, waiting for the Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disneyland. Big red rocks and cacti everywhere.
The whole day was surreal and a prime example of why our public lands need protection.
(When you go, don't miss the Red Hills Visitor Center and the Junior Ranger Program for the littles. And if you're not so little, definitely check out the Not So Junior Ranger Program. It's not common to find these opportunities, but when you do you should take advantage of them.)