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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hiking the Sweetwater Trail

Our RV park has a hiking group, led this year by Bryan.  Today was the weekly hike, and it was our first opportunity to join the group, which was a small group - only six of us.  Bryan had selected the Sweetwater Trail, a 7-mile out-and-back hike starting from a trailhead in the West Section of Saguaro National Park that is set in a suburban neighborhood.

Saguaro National Monument was created on March 1, 1933 by President Herbert Hoover. On October 14, 1994, Congress elevated Saguaro to National Park status.  Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District, to the east of Tucson, and the Tucson Mountain District, to the west. Both districts were formed to protect and exhibit forests of their namesake plant: the Saguaro Cactus.  Our trail lies in the western district.

From the trailhead parking lot, the trail quickly left the residential area and became wild.  Here is a look down the trail as we set out:

We started quickly to climb up into the Tucson Mountains.  A friendly saguaro cactus gives scale to Bryan as he leads us up on the ascent:

Within a mile, we started winding our way through the foothills of the Tucson Mountains, down into washes and up again.  Kathy poses below with the ridge that was our destination behind her:

One of the members of our hiking group, Chris, is an interesting woman from the Ottawa area.  She knows the desert and helped us identify many local plant and bird species:

Kathy's favorite plant was this saguaro skeleton Kathy nicknamed, "Wilson," after the volleyball that accompanied Tom Hanks in his epic journey across the sea in the movie, "Cast Away":

We saw a number of sotol plants, of which this was the most prominent:

This specimen stood out by the trail along a ridge we hiked:

Kathy found a convenient place to rest on stones placed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as part of their extensive work on the Sweetwater Trail:

The trail crossed two large drainages, including this one, the erosion of which exposed large swaths of rhyolite, fused volcanic ash laid down 70 million years ago when this area was filled with volcanic activity:

Kathy's research revealed that the National Park Service reports 25 crested saguaros in Saguaro National Park.  Imagine her excitement when we spotted a crested saguaro to one side of the trail:

Sometimes saguaro cacti produce a fan-shaped form of uncontrolled growth at the tip. These odd growths are referred to as cresting (or cristate), and are very rare occurrences. It is estimated that this condition affects approximately one out of every 200,000 saguaros. Originally, less than 200 of these abnormalities were thought to be in existence. However, more than 2,000 have been discovered so far, and biologists believe that there may be many more.  The cause of cresting, also know as fasciation, in saguaro is not fully understood. Some speculate that it is a genetic mutation, or caused by micro-organisms, or physical damage such as lightning strike or freezing.

So far, we have discovered only three crested saguaros in this area:  one in the eastern district of Saguaro National Park when we visited Tucson two years ago, this one, and a lone crested saguaro in Tucson Mountain Park just outside our RV park.  Kathy only has another 23 to locate before we leave here in January!

Our hiking companion Chris also was good at locating birds nests in the crooks of the arms of saguaro cactus.  Here, she pointed out the nest of a cactus wren, with the entrance holes still intact:

Due to the extensive volcanism of this area in eons past, our trail took us past numerous igneous rock formations, including this one:

At the far point of our hike, we lunched on a saddle or col southeast of Wasson Peak.  The site is spectacular, with views southwest toward the desert floor where our RV park is located, and to the City of Tucson to the northeast.

After a convivial rest and snack, we worked our way back down the trail to our vehicles.  On the way home, we made our plans to rejoin the group when we're back in January from our holiday trip to the East Coast.

1 comment:

  1. It's wonderful that a RV park has a group that hikes together. You found a great one.


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