If you follow my suggestion and stay in one of the motels off I-10 on the north side of Tucson, you’ll be right at the edge of Saguaro National Park’s western division, known as Tucson Mountain. Take Ina Rd. to Wade Rd. to Picture Rocks Rd. to cut across the northern end of the park. Watch for Golden Gate Road to turn off to the left. It’s the only intersection you’ll pass, before leaving the park, but it’s easy to miss.
Golden Gate Road will take you into the heart of the park, but I was anxious to start hiking. So, I ventured down the Esparanza Trail, which begins at a trailhead along Golden Gate Road.
The Esparanza Trail runs for about a mile before intersecting with a couple of other trails. I hiked to the intersection, then turned around.
Along the path, you’ll see enough saguaro to satisfy all your desert desires. Also look for prickly pear and other type of cacti, as well as hundreds of lizards, birds, and other desert natives.
Here’s one great example of a mature saguaro.
I’m fairly certain this is a barrel cactus, however, it’s easy to confuse barrels with young saguaros.
If you travel the Esparanza Trail, I guarantee you’ll take a picture of this saguaro. Its twisted arms give it a lot of character.
Speaking of character, is there something, um, interesting about this one?
After finishing your jaunt up the Esparanza Trail, continue into the heart of the park, where you’ll find the next stop, Signal Hill.
Note: This trip was first published in 2005.