Tucson, AZ, Part I: Saguaro National Park
We had quite a long drive from the Texas Hill Country to our next destination of Tucson, AZ. It took us three days driving five or more hours a day to get there. We usually don't drive more than 4 hours a day or for more than two days in a row, but somehow, that's the way things worked out for this leg of our travels.
Our first overnight stop was at Hilltop RV Park in Fort Stockton, TX. Hilltop RV is all gravel, and somewhat dusty gravel at that. They have full hook-ups with 30/50 amp electric and Wi-Fi. All the sites, which are fairly narrow, are pull-throughs. There is some traffic noise from I-10 but there is a nice view from the hilltop toward the west. The photo below shows our site at Hilltop RV.
The next photo shows some of the other sites along our row.
The pull-through site helped us get an early start since we left the toad hooked up. That was good because we had another drive of over five-hours. However, we gained an hour going from Central Time Zone to Mountain Time, and we got to our next stop at American RV in Anthony, TX, by early afternoon.
Anthony, TX, is a short distance past El Paso and right before the Texas - New Mexico border. American RV is located behind and is apparently owned by Camping World. In fact, there is a 200-300 rig rally park there, too. The campground is all fine gravel, but it's not too dusty. The fine gravel, however, gets stuck in the tread of your tennis shoes and gets dragged into the rig quite easily. There are full hook-ups with 30/50 amp electric and Wi-Fi. All the sites are extra-long pull-throughs, and site width isn't too bad. There is a little noise from I-10.
The next morning we were off to another fairly early start for another five-hour drive to Tuscon. This time, we would gain an additional hour because we were going into Arizona, and Arizona doesn't observe daylight savings time. Our home during our stay in Tuscon was Desert Trails RV Park.
In addition to
getting good reviews on rvparkreviews.com, Desert
Trails also has a 50% Passport America discount
from May to September. The discount is good for up to four days.
Like a lot of campgrounds in the southwest, Desert Trails is all gravel (except for the main road around the campground which is paved), but the layer of gravel was very generous and it wasn't dusty at all. Desert Trails has some sites with 30 amp electric and some with 50. If you need 30 amps, be aware that Desert Trails is another of those fairly rare campgrounds where the the 50 amp sites don't have a 30 amp plug in the box. We wanted 50 amp because temperatures were predicted to be in the 90s most of the time we were going to be there, and we figured we'd need both air conditioners during the day. With 50 amp, not only could we run both air conditioners, but we also could run the washer/dryer and microwave at the same time if necessary. The nice thing is about the desert, however, is it cooled off at night and we could turn off the air conditioning and open the windows.
Overall, the campground is very quiet except for the incessant cooing of the white winged doves and mourning doves that starts before dawn. And someone living near the campground also has a rooster who can't tell time. He crows at random times during the night. The birds start to coo and crow in earnest quite early because with no daylight savings time, it starts getting light at 5:00 AM this time of year.
There are a couple of pull-through sites, but most are back-ins. The sites aren't very wide; but there weren't many
people there, and we had no one directly on either side. Desert Trails is a winter snowbird park, and it has pretty much emptied out now that the season is over.
We liked the desert landscaping throughout the campground. There is a large cactus garden near the office, and there are small patches of cacti and desert shrubs scattered around the campground. Some sites don't have much landscaping, but we picked a site with a couple of small trees, some other desert plants, and a rather large saguaro (pronounced sah-WAH-roh) cactus in front.
The next photo is a view looking down the road. The sites look a little bigger than they really are because the RVs are parked on every other site. If you can stand the heat, Desert Trails is a really nice RV park in the off season, especially with the cacti blooming in spring; but we're afraid things might be a little too close for comfort when they're full in winter.
In addition to getting good reviews and having a Passport America discount, Desert Trails was located very close to several things we wanted to see in Tucson. One of these was the Saguaro National Park. Sagauro National Park is divided into two units about 30 miles apart separated by the city of Tucson. The two districts are the Tucson Mountain District (Saguaro West) and the Rincon Mountain District (Saguaro East).
Saguaro National Park is named for the saguaro cactus that grows in the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert includes the southwest corner of Arizona, the southeast tip of California, and runs on down into Mexico and the Baja Peninsula.
Saguaros can live to be over 150 years old, and a mature specimen will usually be 30 to 50 feet tall. Saguaros grow mostly on the south-facing slopes because they need the heat of the sun to survive in winter. The cooler air also collects in the valleys, and for that reason, not many saguaros grow naturally on the valley floor either. We'll have more information on the Sonoran Desert and saguaro cactus in our next post.
Saguaro East is a higher elevation that Saguaro West, and the Sonoran Desert in Saguaro East gradually gives way to conifer forests. Mica Peak in Saguaro East rises 8,664 feet above sea level. We were more interested in the desert, and since Saguaro West was only 5 or 6 miles up the road from where we were staying, that's where we headed.
We stopped at the visitor center and watched an excellent slide show on the desert and on saguaro cacti from a Native American perspective. Then we took off to drive the loop trail through saguaro West.
What we didn't know was, although the loop road in Saguaro East is paved, the loop road in Saguaro West is not. Not only isn't it paved, but it's pretty rough in places. Fortunately, the Saturn Vue didn't have any problem even though it doesn't have very high ground clearance.
There was an interesting balanced rock near the beginning of the loop.
In addition to saguaro cactus, the park has other desert plants like the ocotillo (pronounced oak-oh-TEA-oh), prickly pear cactus, cholla (pronounced CHOY-ah) cactus and plenty of creosote bushes.
On the return side of the loop, there seemed to be more branched saguaros.
Botanists aren't sure why some saguaros form branches or arms and others don't. A saguaro may have to be up to 75 years old before it gets arms. The one in the next photo was very impressive in both size and the number of arms.
We completed the Saguaro West loop with a very dusty car. Although the scenery in the park is nice, it isn't anything you can't see on the hillsides along many of the area roads. Tucson Mountain Park is a 20,000 acre county park that you have to drive through to get to Sagauro National Park, and its scenery is every bit as nice as that in the national park with much better roads.
There are several hiking trails in both units of the national park, but at 98 degrees we passed on the hiking. Still, we're glad we visited the park because we got to stop in several places along the loop road and see some of the cacti a lot closer than we would have just driving by in the car.
We have only scratched the surface of things to do in Tucson, so stay tuned for more.