This year we had the luxury of a long winter vacation, so we were able to do a lot of hiking in the Tucson, Arizona area.  Although we’ve been to Saguaro National Park several times, I never wrote about it until my post last week about Wasson Peak.  This trip we also did several hikes in Saguaro’s Rincon Mountains section, also called “Saguaro East”.  I’m combining them here.

Lots of Saguaros here

GARWOOD DAM and WILDHORSE TANK: We did this hike wrong on our first attempt, and we missed Wildhorse Tank.  That’s unfortunate, because it was probably the highlight.  We did get to the dam, a significant concrete structure across a mostly dry stream only a few feet wide.  At one time, there must have been more water behind it.  The dam is surprising in the middle of a wilderness.

Garwood Dam

While looking for Wildhorse Tank, we found a rusty steel tank erected by miners in the pre-park days, and believed we had found it.  Actually, the real Wildhorse Tank is a natural pool with year-round water, and it’s supposedly a good place to see the local wildlife.  The Garwood / Wildhorse hike is about 5 or 6 miles and fairly scenic.  The NPS website describes the directions, but try to get a detailed hiking map from the visitor center.

Not Wildhorse Tank

EDIT, 1/30/2023: From the Carillo Trail, the path to Wildhorse Tank goes off to the right shortly after Wildhorse Trail enters from the left. It goes through a fence with a sign that says “Hikers Only / No Stock Beyond this Point”.

Actual Wildhorse Tank. Try to go after a rain.

TANQUE VERDE RIDGE: In Spanish, “Tanque Verde” means “green tank” (and not a man-made one).  Besides the Ridge, there is a Tanque Verde Peak and a Tanque Verde Creek, which is often dry.  The trail begins near the Javelina Picnic Area.  (Javelinas are native wild boars.  We didn’t see any.)  The trail winds for about a mile and a half before reaching the ridge, and then continues for about 15 miles, gaining elevation.  It’s not practical to do the whole trail as a dayhike.  Most visitors walk up as far as they want to, and then turn around.

Near the start of Tanque Verde Ridge. The views just get better the higher you go.

We went to “the Dome”, which requires a round-trip of 6 miles.  The Dome has truly spectacular views in all directions, and I recommend it as a destination.  However, it’s a demanding hike despite its moderate distance.  If you just get to the Ridge and walk along it for a bit, you get views that are still pretty good.  The summit of “the Dome” is slightly off the trail, and involves some light scrambling.

Lunch break on The Dome

DOUGLAS SPRING TRAIL to BRIDAL WREATH FALLS: This hike is probably the most popular one from the “Speedway” park entrance, also about 6 miles.  It winds through low hills in a cactus forest, with the more imposing mountains of Tanque Verde Ridge on one side.  The Falls are in a shady alcove in a narrow canyon, and to our surprise we had the alcove pretty much to ourselves during our visit.  Because it had recently rained, there was a pretty good flow in the Falls.  Optional: We took the “Three Tanks Trail” on the return trip instead of doing an out and back.  The detour adds about 1.5 miles on a single-file, less-traveled track through mostly grasslands.  From this trail, you can see over the hills to the Santa Catalina Mountains in the north.

Three Tanks Trail. Hardly any Saguaros, but lovely and private.

The rain that fell on the Tucson valley was snow in the higher elevations.  The snowcaps in the distance with warm desert below made a fascinating contrast.

Stream just below Bridal Wreath Falls. Note the snow in the distance.