After an incredible morning hiking to Seven Falls in the Sabino Canyon area, we made our way toward the west side / Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. I had originally thought we’d spend the afternoon hiking in this area, but our long morning hike and a transition to cloudy skies had us altering our plans.
Given the limited hours of remaining daylight, we opted to spend our time driving the Bajada Loop, checking out a few shorter trails, and then picking an ideal spot to (hopefully) witness the park’s acclaimed sunsets!
We made a brief stop at the visitor center as we entered the park to refill our water bottles and see what information was accessible. We typically enjoy learning more about each national park and its unique flora and fauna prior to experiencing it for ourselves and have been bummed with the continued COVID-19 visitor center closures.
I appreciated the amount of information they had on display outdoors at this park’s visitor center, which allowed us to validate our immediate plans and think ahead to how we wanted to spend our time in the park’s east side / Rincon Mountain District the following day.
The Bajada Scenic Loop is a graded, 5-mile drive through a section of the western side of the park with access to several nature trails and picnic areas as well as the petroglyphs, which were on my list. Sections of the road are one-way with limited parking at the trailheads.
We lucked into a parking spot at the Valley View Overlook trail, an easy .8-mile roundtrip walk through various kinds of cacti with awesome views of the surrounding mountains and desert. Not far into our walk, Brian found a great spot for me to serve as a scale point for the towering saguaro!
On our way back to the car, we spotted a bright red head through the trees – a Gila Woodpecker! – and I managed to snap one picture from far away just before it flew off.
Our second stop was at Signal Hill to see the petroglyphs, and this is where we ended up staying for sunset. I had read that King Canyon Trail was an ideal spot, but there was no way we were going to make it back there given how quickly we were losing sunlight.
The Signal Hill trail is only .3-miles roundtrip – an easy climb around the hill to the top – and along the way we spotted MANY amazing petroglyphs. We’ve seen these in other parks but agreed these were some of the clearest and best examples we’ve experienced.
According to our park brochure, these rock etchings date from the Hohokam period (450-1450 CE) when people of the Hohokam culture gathered, hunted food, and devised irrigation systems for farming in this area. Brian was convinced the spiraling circles were meant to serve as warnings about snakes (thankfully, we didn’t encounter any rattlesnakes this trip)!
We ended up witnessing a fantastic sunset – bright reds, oranges and golds that smeared across the sky in every direction, including behind us. A few other people joined us on Signal Hill for the show, but Brian really wanted to see if he could find a saguaro to profile in the setting sun so we set off along the Desert Winds Trail.
A few yards in, he shouted back to me that a fox had crossed the trail! I was sorry to miss it but thrilled he was able to spot some additional wildlife!
We didn’t have to go far along the trail to find some amazing saguaro and private views of the setting sun. It was an incredible way to end our first day in the park.