For this edition of the Trail Hound we head north, to the outermost boundary of Saguaro National Park, to small but densely packed series of trails on the edge of Marana.
Featured Trails: the Scenic, Packrat and Passey Loop trails
Approximate drive from downtown to trailhead: 25-30 mins.
Approximate length of trail (roundtrip): 1 1/2 miles or more, depending on how far you go
Difficulty: easy. There are a couple of short upgrades, and the trail is quite rocky at times
Highlights: easily accessible and easily walkable trail, with spectacular views of Safford Peak and a garden-like desert ambience; terrific wildflower viewing
To get to this trail system, you can either take I-10 north and take the Ina Road exit, loop under the freeway and then take a left onto Silverbell Road; or take whatever street of your choice to Silverbell, head north past Ina and Wade Road into Marana to the second Continental Reserve Loop entry road (there are indeed two), drive several blocks and take a right on Pima Farms Road. Pima Farms Rd. heads west for a few blocks, then takes a sharp L turn left/south, onto Scenic Drive; it quickly becomes a dirt road, and there’s a good sized parking area on your right. The trail is dead ahead a hundred yards or so, just past the entrance to the Sanctuary Cove retreat center on your right and the Stardance wedding and event structure on your left.
Note: there are two other trail heads that lead into the same trail system in the immediate area; one off of Sand Dunes Place, and another at the Thelon Court cul de sac off of Iron Ridge Road. I’ve never been to either of these, but my guess is that for the best hiking experience you’d be best off using the Scenic Drive entry point.
As soon as you pass through the break in the fence here, you leave the subdivisions behind and enter an incredibly beautiful and rich corner of the desert. A very short walk up a modest hill brings you to a split in the trail; straight ahead takes you on the Scenic Trail, left onto the Packrat Trail, but it’s all more or less the same as you’ll loop back around whichever way you go. Moving straight ahead (south) on the Scenic Trail, the spectacular visage of Safford Peak towers above on the left; it will be the constant bellwether no matter where you go on this loop. The trail crests the hill and wanders down into a Sonoran Desert meadow below, densely populated with chain fruit and buckhorn cholla, creosote and palo verde trees, with a goodly number of saguaros spread around. It wanders south, then east before connecting with the Passey Loop Trail; bearing to the left for 1/4 mile you run into the Packrat Trail (they are all marked); take a left here, head back over the little ridge line and you’re back where you started from in no time at all. You can also wander further around the Passey Loop and back, but it’s all in a fairly self contained area with Safford Peak and some canyons to the west, a large, dun colored housing development to the east and some homes to the south. This is obviously a short, easy trail, ideal for a quick dip into the desert.
When I was out there last weekend, the wildflowers were blooming like mad, spread out in waves across the hills and up the side of the mountain. There was an abundance of birds, and I saw several jackrabbits cutting around, as well as a goodly amount of deer poop. I also saw what appears to be a crested barrel cactus, a first for me. This area is very picturesque and eye-catching, the nagging waves of rooftops of the subdivision off to the east notwithstanding.
As always, please always stay on the trails and don’t freelance around in the delicate desert ecosystem, and of course leave no trace other than the usual foot-prints on the trails that you were there. In short: respect.
The Trail Hound