Beauty of Seven Falls

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Garwood Dam Loop

Miles and miles of saguaro cactus
Our excursion this week took our merry group to the Saguaro National Park East in the Rincon Mountains.  Saguaro National Monument was created on March 1, 1933 by President Herbert Hoover.  On October 14, 1994, Congress elevated Saguaro to National Park status.

If you want to see cacti of every size, shape and age – this is the hike for you.  We saw thousands upon thousands of saguaro, prickly pear, barrel, and yes, even the dreaded jumping cholla cacti. 

One endangered animal, the Lesser Long-nosed Bat, lives in the park part of the year during its migration, together with one threatened species, the Mexican Spotted Owl. 

Safe distances from cactus.  lol
We started at the Broadway Trailhead and traveled several trails that made up the Garwood Dam Loop.  Many of the trails seem to intersect, more than once and can be very confusing to a novice hiker such as myself.  This is definitely one hike I would never attempt alone.  Thank goodness for our leader JoAnn and her ever-ready map.  She was always comparing her map to the markers along the trails and kept us on the straight and narrow.  The phrase straight and narrow is not being bandied about lightly.  Most of the trail was extremely narrow and was very rutted because of the horses that are ridden through the area.  We really got a workout because of the loose sand and gravel underfoot.  
Mountain views
Anyway, the day was beautiful; the blue skies and mountain views were breathtaking.  I am sure my photos never do the justice to the hikes.  I always try to imagine myself back in time, when Native Americans, or cowboys, or miners frequented the area.  When someone mentioned gold mining my imagination ran wild (as usual). 
Our group of 9 hikers made very good time considering the loose footing being so challenging.  We met several other groups along the way and got a chance to even chat with some volunteer rangers on horseback.  I realized that since I joined the group last winter,  this was the first time I had the pleasure to actually see rangers – volunteer or otherwise. 
I named the horse on the right below Sweetface, after the horse in the John Wayne movie The Searchers. I know, I know it was filmed in Monument Valley in the Chiricahuas, but it's what came to me when I saw her.  Doesn't she have a sweet face?

We made it to the Garwood Dam in just about 2 hours from the trailhead.  We rested and had our lunch (always one of my favorite times) at the dam.  This is where the history buff in me took over.  The area is dotted natural tanks that fill with water at different times of the year, but I still wasn’t aware of the history of the area we were hiking…but I was going to find out. 
Gordy at the dam
A little history of the area:
The Dam provided a steady supply of water for Nelson Garwood and his ranch in the 1950's before the area was part of the National Park system.  One of the trails used was named for natural tanks in the area – Wild Horse Trail.  We also traveled the Carrillo Trail so I did a little research on this name and discovered quite a bit of additional interesting history. 
In 1868, Don Emilio Carrillo built his Buena Vista Ranch.  He would later change the name to La Cebadilla, after the wild barley growing along the ranch’s creek. Carrillo had been living in the Tucson area since the age of 12, and, with some hard work, he built his ranch into a successful cattle operation.  Carrillo and other ranchers ran so many cattle in the foothills of the Rincons that vegetation was destroyed for generations to come. Lime kilns, operating in the 1880s, also seriously deforested the area. The remains of these kilns can be seen along the Cactus forest Trail.  We didn’t see any this trip, but I will be going back to the area to look for several of the things I now know about.  The kilns, the natural tanks, the airstrip used by the Garwood family, and the little room at the base of the dam that was used to store tools.
As with most history - there is good and bad.  In 1904, bandits seeking to cash in on some of Carrillo’s wealth ransacked the ranch in search of gold that they believed was buried on the property. The robbers hanged Carrillo by the neck from the rafters and tortured him—almost to death. Carrillo lasted another few years before passing away from complications from the attack.  Carrillo’s ranch changed hands several times eventually coming to be named the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch and is family owned and operated today and you can hang out by those deadly rafters in the ranch’s present-day card room.
The bits of history that I glean from the internet about the areas that we hike is what makes these weekly outings much more than just a hike in the desert for me.  We are walking trails where ranchers and miners eked out a living and maybe even a few hardened, desperate cowboy and bandito criminals hid out from the lawmen.  Take my word for it, not only does our hiking get my heart rate up, and my muscles stretched out, but it also captivates my imagination. 
Jim and Gordy checking out one of the natural tanks
As far as scenic views on our hikes, I would have to say this one doesn’t rate as highly as some of the others, but there is so much more to see – if you open your mind’s eye – besides cacti and sand and Arizona blue skies. 
We took a different trail on the trip back to the trailhead and it only took us about 1 ½ hours to return to the parking lot.  Total mileage for this hike was somewhere between 6 ½ to 7 miles.
One of the many saguaro along the trail
See you on the trails!


  1. I really want to go on one of these hikes when I make it to Tucson. Nothing like a lil walk in the desert.

  2. I got one all picked out for whenever you get here. Honeybee Canyon. It was great!

    1. I shall enjoy it. Is that the one with the big lake?

    2. No lakes at Honeybee Canyon. Sorry....

    3. Yeah, I looked it up on the web. Still looks like a nice outing. :-)

  3. Still a very nice hike for a "novice hiker". lol