Hush Among the Saguaro

Sweetwater Trail
By Betty Leavengood
Page 3 of 3   |  

Trail at a Glance

General Description: An enjoyable climb through one of the most varied stands of saguaro in the Tucson Mountains.

Difficulty: Moderate
Best Time of Year to Hike: Spring, Fall, Winter
Length: 6.4 miles, round-trip
Miles to Trailhead from Speedway/Campbell Intersection: 15 miles
Directions to Trailhead from Speedway/Campbell Intersection: Drive north on Campbell Avenue to Fort Lowell Road. Turn left on Fort Lowell Road to Stone Avenue. Turn right on Stone Avenue to Wetmore Road. Turn left on Wetmore Road. Continue on Wetmore to Romero Road. Turn right on Romero. Romero becomes Ruthrauff at the curve, which becomes El Camino del Cerro after passing under Interstate 10. Continue on El Camino del Cerro until it dead-ends at the trailhead. A paved trailhead parking area has room for fifteen cars and two horsetrailers.

Find a guide to plants of the Sonoran Desert and head for the Sweetwater Trail. It's a virtual botanical classroom, with emphasis on saguaro in various stages of growth.

This trail was for a long time inaccessible because it required crossing private land to reach the trailhead. A new trailhead parking area and connecting link, constructed as a joint effort between Pima County and the Saguaro National Park, now makes the Sweetwater Trail accessible to hikers and horseback riders. A sign at the trailhead indicates that the Sweetwater Trail meets the King Canyon Trail in 3.2 miles. From this intersection, it is only 1.2 miles to Wasson Peak, the high point of the Tucson Mountains.

The trail begins as a level walk along a low ridge. In about 0. 2 mile a sign indicates that the Sweetwater Trail turns left and drops into a deep wash. You'll see the first of several large pack rat nests in this section. In his excellent treatise on the Sonoran Desert, House in the Sun, George Olin says that pack rats are often called"trade" rats because while they are in the process of carrying a prized item to their nest, they may find something they like better and trade the original item for the newer prize, often leaving a trail of watches, pocket knives, and other treasures in the vicinity of their nests. Pack rat nests are built of wood, sticks, and branches, and covered with the spines of a teddy bear cholla to protect them from predators. As you will note along this trail, their nests can be quite substantial.

After crossing the wash, the trail climbs the ridge and provides excellent views of the city to the east and Wasson Peak to the west. It is easy to follow and in one section it includes a series of switchbacks and steps. Side trails have been disguised by extensive plantings of prickly pear and cholla.

A little over half way into the hike, the new section of the trail joins the original trail and becomes more difficult to hike. The older trail is narrow and rocky in comparison with the wider and smoother new section. Still, it is relatively easy and, as the trail climbs toward the saddle, provides ever more dramatic views of the Tucson valley to the east and Wasson Peak to the northwest.

Of particular interest is the large number of saguaro in all stages of growth. The saguaro thrives on southern exposures and near the washes. Younger plants from one to three feet tall are abundant, as are several giants, which must be over one hundred years old.

The Sweetwater Trail ends in a small saddle. From here it is possible to continue on to Wasson Peak via the King Canyon and Hugh Norris Trails, or to go down the mountain on the King Canyon Trail to the parking area across the road from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The trail network in the Saguaro National Park provides numerous possibilities for key exchanges. Wasson Peak can reached from the King Canyon, Hugh Norris, Sendero Esperanza an Sweetwater trailheads.

© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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