Some US “Federal Land” is maintained by the National Park Service (NPS), while other parts belong to the Forest Service (FS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or other agencies. Our National Parks pass gives us free admission to National Parks, and it also works in several Forest Service properties such as Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area.
The NPS website features a state-by-state map view showing its National Parks and Monuments, and I’ve found it valuable when planning road trips. However, the NPS site only shows the units under NPS governance. For example, their Utah map has the relatively obscure “Timpanogos Cave National Monument” but it does not show the gigantic “Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument” or “Bear’s Ears National Monument” which are run by the BLM. The site could show their boundaries at least, even if it skips the fine details.
Closer to home, I can find an online NPS trail map for Saguaro NP East and (with a little more difficulty) a Forest Service map of trails in the adjacent Coronado National Forest, but no federal agency publishes a combined map. The only place that I’ve found featuring such a mash-up is AllTrails. While AllTrails is convenient and works well as a phone app, it bothers me to need a third party to find this information. Public land ought to be accessible, and the public shouldn’t have to care which agency runs it. Our Parks pass spans all of them, why not their websites?
Today I attempted a hike that AllTrails says is possible: a loop from Saguaro’s Douglas Spring Trailhead to Ernie’s Falls (NPS), passing into Coronado National Forest (FS), and returning via a road that passes through a resort property. I didn’t find any discussion of my intended route, which in retrospect should have been a hint. I have previously been to the park boundary near Ernie’s Falls, and it’s clearly marked by a gated fence and a sign indicating the change in jurisdiction. Walking from one to the other is easy; you just open the unlocked gate. The trail continues on the other side.
I like Ernie’s Falls a lot. I’ve written a bit about the more popular Bridal Wreath Falls that is nearby. The hike to Ernie’s is slightly longer with more elevation, and it requires a bit more scrambling to get close to the actual falls. The reward for this additional work is a more private experience.
For those of you interested in visiting Ernie’s, continue to the boundary, pass through the gate, cross a stream (may be difficult after a rain), and work your way to the right, back up the canyon and back into Saguaro NP. There is also an unofficial social trail off of main trail on the Saguaro side that shortcuts this approach. It’s pretty steep, and I prefer to use it only in the “up” direction.
I walked into the National Forest without any trouble. The trail was easy to follow, and the orientation of the nearby mountains made it easy to see what direction should return me to my car. I also had the advantage of horseshoe prints (and um, other horse “evidence”) to guide me if my other skills failed. It was a pretty hike, and a bit more solitary than the National Park. I expected it would let me out on a road, but instead I ended up on the resort property where a very polite employee informed me that I was trespassing. Fortunately he pointed me to the road instead of making me go back several miles the way I came.
The resort was beautiful, with extensive grounds made effectively much larger by backing up on the National Forest. It bothers me slightly that they have effectively annexed this public land, and made it harder for non-guests to get to it.
There is plenty of available hiking in Saguaro National Park, and some in this part of Coronado Forest that I can do without going through the resort. The resort route just makes a nice complete loop instead of forcing an “out and back” hike. If you don’t happen to live here, you probably won’t exhaust the good dayhike routes. Well, I do live here…