First published 2015. On a sunny but cool day in December, Ms. Rosemary and I were invited by the Tourism & Marketing Manager for Marana, to join her on an exploratory hike through the Tortolita Mountains just north of Tucson. This was to be an introductory hike of 3-4 miles in an area where there 29-miles of trails through pristine desert.
Marana Parks and Recreation has been working to improve these trails since 2004. The trails are well marked, but a trail map is helpful. You may download a trail map here or pick one up at the entrance gate to Dove Mountain. Marana Parks and Recreation offers monthly guided hikes for all levels, familiarizing hikers with the trail system as well as the ecology of the desert.
Now about that hike. We met our guides and friends at the trailhead parking lot which is just below the Ritz Carlton Resort. Tom, Neil and Cindy work with the Town of Marana Parks and Rec division. Ms. Rosemary and I were joined by Marcia Ring, newly retired as Tohono Chul Park's Director of Marketing.
The trail begins in a wash, known as Wild Burro Canyon and heads Northeast up the wash where it meets up with other trails. From here you may choose your path. Dogs, horses, mountain bikes and other critters are allowed on the trails. Some trails are suitable for all of the above, some less so. Others are fairly rocky, but more scenic. The Town of Marana Website has a great page detailing various hikes you may take on the trails beginning at Dove Mountain and Wild Burro Trailhead.
As we headed up the wash, Tom regaled us with his stories about the geology, history and environment of our surroundings. He pointed out several petroglyphs among the boulders that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Apparently the hills are full of petroglyphs dating back to the Hohokam. Unfortunately I did not get a good shot of these in the wash. Tom mentioned that this area has been inhabited for over 5000 years.
Looking at the map, we started at the short "purple" line which is the trailhead to Wild Burro Canyon and headed north meeting Upper and Lower Javelina Trails as well as Alamo Springs, a popular route. Since our time allotment was short we opted to take Lower Javelina Trail (BLUE) and met up with the Wild Burro Trail again on the northern end taking it back down the wash instead of continuing to follow Lower Javelina due to our limited available time.
Along the route we encountered several other hikers, (6), some with dogs; no mountain bikers, no horses. Our guides mentioned that it was rather crowded for a Thursday. I did notice, that when we all stopped talking for a minute, the surroundings were decidedly quiet, "one of my favorite sounds".
Tom pointed out a large crested saguaro at the top of the southern ridge too far away to get a good pic.
Other flora of note were the Chuparosa, scientific name, "Justica Californica" in bloom in the wash as well as the occasional petroglyph siting.
Do we recommend the Tortolita Mountains for hiking? You bet we do. It is remote yet accessible; quiet, (no traffic noise), not crowded, although weekends may be somewhat busier due to the proximity to the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain Resort. Tom made a suggestion that he likes to take the Ridgeline Trail to the top where hikers can enjoy solitude. And best of all, you can bring your dog.