When I set out from the Grand Canyon I had lots of photos and a need for an internet connection that I hadn't had a while. Flagstaff was on the way and I'd never been so I decided I would check it out. As I drove in I was very impressed. Cool mountain town with a good vibe (or as much as you can tell from an afternoon). With Yelp's assistance I found a coffee shop in the main part of town called the Flag Buzz. Strong coffee and internet connection, the two things that I needed.
Once my photos were backed up to the cloud, I headed down I-17 to catch I-10 into Tucson. I got through Phoenix and it was smooth sailing in. About two hours out, I entered Saguaro National Park into Google Maps and by sheer luck it pointed me towards the Western side (Tucson Mountain District). Basically the park lays on both sides of Tucson and most of the visitors go to the Eastern side (Rincon Mountain District). So as I rolled into town around just before dusk, I was amazed. It was sprinkling a little but that didn't phase me at all from stopping and taking pictures of the giant Saguaro Cactus. Honestly I hadn't really expected too much from this park, but I was already blown away. It was different than anything I'd seen before. And there would be so much more to come.
As the sun was starting to set, the clouds were forming like it might be a good one. So I headed down the first trail I saw. If you are hiking alone in the desert and you stop and listen, you can hear all kinds of things. As I was just standing there, I saw what looked like two small dogs walk out from behind some bushes. I stood very still and watched as they were just walking, completely unaware of me. When I brought my camera up to my eye and snapped a photo, they both stopped, turned and looked at me. I saw they were small coyotes no bigger than fifty pounds. We stared at each for about 10 seconds then they became bored and started walking off in the same direction they were before I disturbed them (unfortunately the pics were no good of these little fellas).
I went back to hiking the desert trail and I noticed the sky was turning all kinds of brilliant colors, so much that I ran back to my car to get my tripod. I didn't want to miss this one. I stuck around until well after dark and watched the sky change.
The next morning about an hour before sunrise, I started in on Loop Drive looking for an overlook where I could get the mountains and the sunrise. I stopped at a place called Loma Verde, set up my tripod...and waited. It was so peaceful sitting in the quietness of the park. For the first time since I'd left, I stopped and was really able to appreciate the journey I was on. As the sun rose over one set of mountains casting light on another range, two park workers showed up at my overlook and were trying to spot deer. After a little while of talking with them, I offered to help with my telephoto lens. We looked for deer for around a half an hour before they set off to hike into the park to see what they could find in there. Sunrise being finished, I packed my gear up and drove the rest of Loop Drive.
After some coffee and a granola bar, I headed to the Tanque Verde trailhead. This particular trail runs nearly half of the the eastern park and starts by going up to the ridge line. A beautiful hike through all the giant saguaros and other desert life I started out with my camera in a backpack but soon realized I would just be carrying it, there was too much to photograph.
Once finished with that hike, and the rest of my water, I headed to Mt Lemmon on a suggestion from one of the park workers. It was about an 1:15 minute drive from where I was and I wanted to be there before sunset to check it out. The drive up was impressive in itself. I started at around 2500 ft and when I got to Ski Valley (yes, there's a ski resort at the top) I was above 8000 ft. I arrived in a short sleeve shirt and when I got out of the car I was grabbing my coat and stocking cap. It was cold up there. I checked it out for a while but noticed a few spots on my way up that I wanted to see the sunset from so I started down, stopping along the way. I had great luck with the clouds. They were nearly perfect for a sunset and as I was going down, it seemed to just keep getting better.
Saguaro National Park was so much more than I expected. The life in the desert is something to see. The people that live there know the good thing they have. I saw lots of people biking, running and hiking on these trails at all times. I expect when I'm back in the area I will be hiking into that park again. But now I'm off to California and Joshua Tree.