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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

Secrets Of Saguaro National Park

The name doesn't say it all: Arizona's premier cactus preserve conceals a cool mountain escape.

by: David Pidgeon

Saguaro NP is home to 50 species of cacti. (Mark Lisk)
Saguaro NP is home to 50 species of cacti. (Mark Lisk)
Map by International Mapping Associates
Map by International Mapping Associates

The first day's a quad-buster as you hike 11 miles and several thousand feet into the Rincon Mountain forests. Get a mid-morning start at the Douglas Spring trailhead at the east end of Tucson's East Speedway Boulevard. The landscape bristles with prickly pear, teddy bear cholla, and giant saguaro cacti. Saguaros can live to be more than 150 years old–count their arms; it can take 75 years for just one to form. You'll climb from the sandy valley into rocky grasslands with 8,664-foot Mica Mountain rising to the south and the prominent Santa Catalina range to the north. After 5.7 miles, fill up with water from Douglas Spring before following the trail steeply past a series of ravines as you move up Mica's northern flank, shaded by piñon and ponderosa pines. At eight miles, you'll reach Cow Head Saddle, at 6,200 feet on Mica's ridgeline. There's a trail junction: Go straight and descend about 700 feet to your first night's camp, Grass Shack, with its three tent sites and an intermittent stream shaded by gnarly oaks and fragrant junipers.

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