Tucson, AZ: Desert Beauty in a County Park, State Park, AND National Park!

It’s not often you can be in a County Park, State Park, and National Park all within the same 24 hours … but we did it, on a recent trip to Tucson, Arizona!   With breathtaking sunsets and outdoor recreation galore, we marveled that we had not visited this area before!

We had multiple reasons for this trip.  One is that we got a new (to us) little Jeep and wanted to break her in to the Lucky Charm lifestyle, namely dust and dog hair!

Secondly, Philip just got cleared for exercise again, after another back surgery on January 30.  

It was time for a little hiking ….

and a little biking, too!

First stop was Pima County’s Gilbert Ray campground, which we chose for its proximity to Saguaro National Park, which doesn’t have any vehicle-accessible campgrounds.  What Gilbert Ray DID have, was magnificent desert sunsets!

Nearby Saguaro National Park was established to protect its namesake – the giant saguaro cactus, known by nerds around the world as “Carnegiea gigantea.”  It is estimated that there are 1.8 million saguaros in this park.

The 8-mile, dirt-road, scenic Bajada Loop gave us lots of opportunities for fun in the new toy.

The desert was far from full spring bloom, but the beauty was all around.

Saguaros grow realllllllly, reallllllly slow.  In fact, the first arm typically won’t even start growing until the cactus is between 50-70 years of age (though sometimes even closer to 100 years, if it’s an extremely dry locale.  Ahem, Arizona.)  So you can imagine how old these guys are! And, they live up to 250 years.  Makes us feel young!

A small but very distinct rocky hill in Saguaro National Park is site of over 200 prehistoric Native American petroglyphs, which were created by members of the Hohokam Tribe from between about 550 to 1,550 years ago!  Again, we are feeling younger by the minute in this place!

Alas, time to leave the National Park and County Park — onward to the State Park, namely Catalina State Park, which is on the western slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains, near Oro Valley, north of downtown Tucson.  

They have extraordinary hiking trails, with one bonus feature: WATER! Okay, maybe not a lot of water, but it sure feels good on a hot desert afternoon!  The Canyon Loop Trail was “just right” for us, with a quick detour to the Montrose Pools.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the area … small children, horses, and people of all ages were out and about.  The horseback rider is from Calgary, Canada, and we had such fun talking to her about her hometown, having just been there last July for the famous Calgary Stampede rodeo.

And for those of us who aren’t QUITE full retired yet, what better place to answer emails on your phone, than under a shady tree?

Much like Saguaro NP, Catalina SP was no slouch in the desert sunset department.  Oooooh, Eeeeeee!

The Lucky Charm loved her campsite amongst the mesquite trees, surrounded by the beautiful pink mountains of this 5,493-acre state park.

Philip and I were not really interested in downtown Tucson (this trip, anyway!), but we were eager to try “The Loop” (formal name: Rillito River Park Multi-Use Recreational Trail, whew I’m tired just saying it).  

When completed, The Loop will encompass 131 glorious, uninterrupted miles of smooth asphalt.  This is in stark contrast to the majority of Tucson, which is bone-jarringly rutted and a death-defying effort in avoiding traffic!  So far it’s about 25 miles complete.  We spotted this fun vehicle in a parking lot nearby.

We also stumbled into a Farmers Market just off the path.  Score!  Fresh strawberries, chewy dense sourdough, just-ground coffee beans, and a break from pedaling.  Yesss!

As always, every good adventure with this handsome devil must come to an end.  The Lucky Charm is going for a long spring nap until late May, when we’ll journey to Parker, on the far western boundary of Arizona along the Colorado River.  

Then, we will take our customary 6-week Summer Adventure, this year through Idaho, Washington and Oregon during June 18 through July 30.  Thanks for following along here with the Lucky Charm!

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