Tuesday 29 October 2019

Tucson Saguaro Cactus Desert Running Route

Click here for route map

Length 8.4 km (5.2 mi), terrain: gradual rise, gain 127 meters

NOTE: The Sonora is a real desert: avoid the summer heat, and try to run in the early mornings. Bring water and a hat! The loop drive is open daily from 7 a.m. till sunset. It's also perfect country for a mountain bike!

When in Tucson, make sure you experience some of the amazing Sonoran Desert awaiting you outside town (assuming you're not there in the summer months!). And one of the great places to do that is in one of America's youngest national parks: Saguaro National Park. The park protects some of the densest portions of the saguaro cactus forests surrounding Tucson.
An impressive saguaro cactus
Saguaro are giants of the cactus world, rising massively like silent titans out of the sand and rock. They are pretty special beings, and are worth getting closer to. The white Saguaro flowers are Arizona's state flower, and the red fruit is a traditional food of the local Native Americans.

The park's loop drive also takes you by lots of other desert plants, like red-flowering ocotillos, mesquite trees, and other cacti like barrel-cactus, prickly-pear and cholla. It's a whole different world out in those national park hills!

There are actually two separate sections of the park, one east of town, one to the west. And each unit has a low-traffic loop drive that makes a great running trail in this little-visited park. The eastern Rincon unit loop is called the Cactus Forest Drive, and is a paved 8-mile loop (That one has the advantage of being smooth, starts at the visitor center, has more people on foot and bicycles and passes an ecology trail and some scenic rocks).

This particular run follows the shorter, unpaved loop in the west unit, the Bahada Loop. It has the advantage of having less traffic, and it's more natural, with few man-made intrusions.
Bahada Loop along Hohokam Road
The Bahada Loop is a rather rough dirt road with lots of dips and rises, circling a few small hills. It's just off Sandario Road, south of the town of Picture Rocks. The loop combines Hohokam Road on the south half of the loop, and Golden Gate Road on the north half.

The loop follows dusty Hohokam Road eastwards, heading lightly uphill for the first three kilometers. When Hohokam joins Golden Gate Road, you turn westwards and follow it downhill all the way back.

How to get there: follow Sandario Road either northwards or southwards until you hit Kinney Road, with the sign pointing to the Red Hills Visitor Center. Just 200 meters southeast of the junction, Hohokam Road heads off to the east. There's a little parking spot right at the speed-limit sign. You can also park at the Sus picnic area just a few hundred meters ahead, on the left side.

OK, ready for a desert run to remember? Turn eastwards on Hohokam Road and start moving.

You'll quickly pass the Sus picnic area on the left side, with its trail head for the Bahada Wash Trail, which parallels the road to Valley View. At just over a mile along the loop road, you'll pass the Hugh Norris Trail heading off to the right, rising into the Tucson Mountains to the southeast.
The saguaro forest
And just past the 2-kilometer mark, you'll come to Valley View, with more trailheads. There are a series of small rises to the left (north) that we will keep circling for the whole run.

During the next kilometer, the loop drive is just one-way for cars.

Enjoy the scenery. Some of the saguaros have holes in them, where birds nest. Keep your eyes open for lizards of various sizes and shapes.

At about the 3.5-kilometer mark, Hohokam runs into Golden Gate Road, where you turn left to head back west along the north side of those hills we have been rounding the whole time. The road is two-way for the rest of the loop.

After five kilometers, you'll pass the side-road for the Signal Hill picnic area to the right.

At the 7.5-kilometer mark, Golden Gate Road runs into Sandario Road, where you turn left to run 200 meters to where Kinney Road turns to the left. Now follow Kinney for 200 meters more to the start of the run, where Hohokam Road begins on the left side.

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