I woke up to another brisk 15 degree morning in the NoVa/DC area. It seems like just yesterday I was laying in my bed during the middle of an August night, sweating, and thinking “can it please be cold already?! I’d seriously take icicles hanging out of my nose than another night drenched in sweat at midnight!”…Now when I look down at my ghostly pale skin and shivering while I walk around my apartment it is a reminder that I should be a little bit more careful about what I wish for. Okay I’m totally exaggerating but for all you guys that went through the recent Bomb Cyclone you totally had similar thoughts. This is definitely a change from my last winter in California!
Another thing that’s changed since moving back East is my free time. I haven’t had much time to travel or explore because of work commitments and learning Vietnamese. My day-to-day looks like this: wake up – coffee – school – coffee – school – work out – eat – study – sleep – repeat. But when the opportunities arrives that I have a long weekend or a few hours to get outside, I’ve tried to document these lucky moments as best as I could. So without further ado, I present to you my first post of 2018! Let’s explore Saguaro National Park and Tuscon, AZ…
SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK/TUSCON, AZ
I decided to go camping in Saguaro National Park for a long weekend in November. The plan was to drive from Phoenix to Saguaro and camp two nights on the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail. The plan seemed ambitious but I figured I had enough food/water packed and will be enough time to get to our first campsite without any issues. As is life, plans changed.
Lesson 1: When you travel to Saguaro National Park make sure you know exactly which district you want to get to for your expedition!
Saguaro National Park is divided into two districts (East/West). Although this is obviously depicted on the map do not be deceived because it takes about an hour to get from the Western district to the Eastern district – and you have to drive through the city of Tuscon. I plugged into the GPS “Saguaro National Park,” which brought me to the Western district. To get to Tanque Verde Ridge Trail I had to start at the Eastern district. This delayed the start by about an hour. So if you want to go the more “advanced” part of Saguaro National Park I’d suggest plugging in the crossroads of Escalante Road and Freeman Road in Tuscon, AZ to head to the main location.
Lesson 2: Always stop in at the Ranger Center, even if you’ve thoroughly read through the website, local warnings, and weather forecasts. These guys know best – don’t think you know better.
Once I got to the Eastern district we headed straight to the Javelina rest area which is the starting point of Tanque Verde Ridge Trail. I decided to head left at the entrance fork which took me on a 45 minute detour around Cactus Loop to Javelina rest area. This delayed my start time even longer. So if you want to head to Javelina ASAP go right at the fork – it’s a two-way street! Once we got our gear prepped and had one last snack we started on the trail. Now I’m rule follower 100% call it “sin’s guilt” or being “square” but if I know there is a certain restriction or regulation I can’t break it…it seriously pains me to break a rule. So when I logged into the trail head I read that I had to get a pass for overnight camping along the trail. I got the the ranger’s station almost 2 hours later than expected (it was about 2:30 PM at this time). The ranger informed me that it was too late in the day and the he could not authorize us on the trail due to heat warnings and due to the late start – so I wouldn’t be able to get to my first over-night location. Instead he suggested that I could go to Agua Caliente Park to camp for the night.
Lesson 3: Agua Caliente Park – A free, scenic, noisy, and rocky camping alternative
In the little rental car I headed up E Redington Rd to find a place to camp for the night. I only made it about a mile up the road because it was full of major dips and is seriously an off-road only dirt road. I found a site that faced down into the valley overlooking Tuscon that was off the road about 100′. The camp site had quite a bit of litter. I cleaned up the left-over beer cans and then settled in for the night. The sunset was gorgeous and the wine that I brought along made the last colors of the night sky magical. But please do not come here if you are trying to get a good night sleep. Many people ripped their quads and off-road vehicles until 2 AM up and down the road. I’m all about having a good time but honestly it was pretty unsafe with people partying and then speeding up/down the road until the wee hours of the morning.
The hike the next day was beautiful! I hiked the Douglas Spring Trail for about 10 miles. But not feeling up to having another sleepless night we decided to head back to Phoenix that night.
Lesson 4: Tuscon is an amazing up-and-coming city. Old school southwestern charm mixed up with urban art and unique restaurants. It is a must visit!
I arrived into Tuscon as it was turning to dusk. The shadows the of the stucco and brick buildings cast beautifully over freshly painted murals that were scattered throughout the city. I drove to Tuscon’s historic 4th Avenue and stumbled upon an incredible hole-in-the-wall restaurant. If you love chicken and waffles you have to go to The Drunken Chicken. With a great selection of beer and perfectly battered fried chicken the lack of sleep from the night before didn’t matter anymore because I had an amazing hike and now could eat some fantastic food. I also stopped into a local art store called Pop Cycle Tuscon – if you love local art and unique pieces stop by here! I wish we had more time in Tuscon because the historic district had such unique places like the pinball arcade and a great comedy club. But that just means more to discover the next time I’m in town!