Saguaro National Park is a park within the National Park Service. It is split into two parks that straddle the East and West sides of Tucson. The difference is that the West park is part of the Tucson Mountain District and the East park is part of the Rincon Mountain District, both parks are only a short 30 minute drive from the heart of Tucson. We explored the East park and were not disappointed!
We visited Saguaro National Park – East the day after we hiked 8 miles at elevation in Chiricahua National Monument so we wanted to take it easy and just hike around 5 miles. Luckily, all of the trails at the park are short and on mostly flat terrain.
Now that we have been in the desert for almost two weeks, Alan and I were starting to get familiar with all the flora and fauna we were encountering. We even started naming the saguaros that had “eyeballs”. Meet Bobby, a 110-ish year old saguaro (below). If conditions are right, saguaros start growing arms when they are around 90 years old. Pretty fascinating stuff!
Hiking Cactus Forrest Trails
Remember how I said we were going to take it easy and only hike 5 miles? Well we hiked 10 miles due to an addition error on our part a.k.a. we don’t know how to add. But it was so worth it! We saw the best that Saguaro National Park has to offer. So many incredible saguaros, cholla cactus plants, palo verde trees, blooming cacti, birds, flowing streams and a waterfall!
We originally thought we were getting tired of the desert views but visiting this park reminded us how unique and wonderful every desert landscape can be.
Chiricahua National Monument is a park within the National Park Service located near Hilltop, AZ east of Tucson. We spent one day here and found ourselves wishing we had planned more time to stay there. Ashby and I both agree that it is our favorite stop on our journey so far.
“The Land of Standing Up Rocks”
Upon entering the park, the ecosystem transforms from desert floor to a forest with towering rock formations on all sides. The monument’s main attraction is its thousands of rock towers within the mountain range. Once you are there, it does not take long to understand why the Chiricahua Apaches named this area “The Land of Standing Up Rocks”.
Hiking Echo Canyon and Heart of Rocks
After entering the park we stopped at the visitor center for our stamp and to discuss which hikes were the most scenic. The rangers were very helpful and suggested we hike to an area called “Heart of Rocks” from the Echo Canyon trail head. From the visitor center we drove up into the mountains to the trail head. Shortly after starting our hike we came to a fork in the trail and, without consulting the map, took a right towards Echo Canyon. It turns out this was a wrong turn but in the end, it was a good mistake.
The Echo Canyon trail leads you down into a wooded valley past some natural grottos formed underneath the giant standing rock formations. Eventually, we met up with the trail leading toward the “Heart of Rocks” area. The “Heart of Rocks” loop is one mile and leads you through some of the most interesting rock formations in the park. Giant boulders that are impossibly balanced on one point and a stunning view of what had to be thousands of rock spires are a humbling testament to earth’s natural wonder.
At the end of our time here, we both agreed that we wish we could stay longer and continue to explore the monument. But as we are only in week two of our year long journey across the west, we decided to continue to the next awesome location. Chiricahua National Monument is an awesome stop that may not be so well known but is definitely worth a visit.
For more photos of our visit to Chiricahua National Monument click this link to our photo blog.
On Day 6 of our trip we explored White Sands National Park. White Sands is part of the National Park Service and is located an hour Northeast of Las Cruces, NM. Known as the largest natural deposit of gypsum in the world, White Sands lies in the Tularosa Basis near Lake Lucero lake bed.
Once we entered the park, we stopped in the visitor center which doubles as the nature center and bought our National Parks Passport and got our White Sands stamp so we could begin keeping track of all the awesome public lands we are visiting.
Dunes Drive is the only road that leads to the park and leads you to all the trails and attractions within the park. We stopped at Interdune Boardwalk, which is a short 2000 ft walk with informational boards on the various plants and animals that can survive in this unusual ecosystem.
Alkali Flat Trail
The Alkali Flat Trail is a 5 mile long trail and also the longest trail within the park. In true fashion, Alan quickly decided that he would hike the entire trail barefoot! It was still a chilly morning and the sand was so cold so I hiked in flip flops until the day began to warm up. Most visitors stayed close to the trail head so as we hiked further in, it was quiet, secluded and seemed like we were the only ones there.
The Alkali Flats trail offers amazing views of the gypsum dunes. When we were in middle of the tallest dunes, we felt like we were on a different planet. At its farthest point, the dunes disappear and you are standing at the edge of Alkali Flats and have a great view of the San Andres Mountains.
White Sands is truly like no place else on earth. This is a stop nobody should pass up!
For more photos of our visit to White Sands National Park, click this link to our photo blog.
The first stop on our journey through the west was Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces, NM. This area belongs to the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and offers many outdoor activities such as hiking, climbing, and camping. Dispersed camping is also available at multiple locations just outside the park borders.
During our stay, we parked in an area found via freecampsites.net near the Sierra Vista trail head off Dripping Springs road. This location has about 8 campsites and offers great vistas of the desert peaks. Camping for up to 14 days is allowed at this location.
Hiking Baylor Peak
Baylor peak is a 7,721 ft summit at the north end of the Organ Peaks range. Ashby and I hiked to the summit via the Baylor Pass trail we found using AllTrails. We found the first part of the hike from the trail head to Baylor Pass not too difficult and it is was the portion from Baylor Pass to the Baylor Peak Summit where things got harder. Rapid elevation gain, high winds, and scrambling definitely turned the difficulty level up a few notches but, after a break for lunch near the top, we pushed through and made it to the summit.
With stunning views of mountain peaks & formations, surrounding desert valleys, and outstanding trails, we found Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument to be an awesome piece of the southwestern landscape. We hope to return again someday in the future.
For more photos of our visit to Organ Mountains National Monument click this link to our photo blog.