Wild Burro Loop (Tortolita Mountains) 19-Feb-2020

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The Tortolita Mountains lie only about seven miles from the outer suburbs of ever expanding (assuming the water lasts) Tucson, Arizona. Fortunately, a good chunk of this range has been protected within the 5,000+ acre Tortalita Mountain Park administered by the Town of Marana (Tucson’s neighbor to the north). There are a number of trails in this park but we opted to do the Wild Burro-Alamo Springs Loop for an easy visit to the varied flora of the Sonoran Desert – including the iconic Saguaro cactus.

Access to the Wild Burro Trailhead is all on paved roads. The only slightly weird thing is that you have to pass through the gatehouse of the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain Resort in order to reach the hiker trailhead. By feigning prosperity we were able to pass the gate with no problems. We could see the resort from the trailhead, which may be as close as we ever get to a Ritz-Carlton property. 🙄

The day started out somewhat overcast and gloomy. We did a short stint on the Wild Burro Trail and then started up the Alamo Springs Trail. We hadn’t quite reached the ridge on that trail when the clouds began to evaporate and sunshine engulfed us. 😎

Starting up the Alamo Springs Trail under gloomy (but clearing) skies
Hello clear skies, wispy clouds, and sunshine!
Cholla cactus skeleton

The clouds never left entirely. They just thinned and morphed into ethereal wisps that assumed some fascinating shapes.

Clouds, ocatillo, and agave
View to the west from a rise along the trail

Despite a clutch of cars at the trailhead, we had these particular trails mostly to ourselves. Except for two hikers who were pacing us but seemed unable to stop talking even for one moment. Yada, yada, yada… We were trying to listen for bird calls, so we’d stop to let them pass. Then they’d stop to rest. So we’d pass them. Then they’d start walking and talking again. And so on… Sigh :/

Saguaro and wispy clouds

The Alamo Springs Trail does a rolling climb along the ridge through groves of saguaro cactus and past a rock formation that’s been dubbed Machu Picchu. There’s a bench here for resting and gazing. One of the fun things about this particular trail are all the various cactus and plant communities it passes through. If we couldn’t always hear the birds we could at least enjoy the flora. 🙂

“Machu Picchu”
Along the ridge through the saguros
Ocatillo
Rolling along below the ridge line
Cactus and wispy clouds
To the ridge top
A cactus garden near the crest of the ridge

After about 2.5 miles of weaving along the ridge, we climbed over it and descended to a junction with the Alamo Springs Spur Trail. Our options for reaching the Wild Burro Trail from here were to either continue on the main trail for a short distance or descend on the even shorter spur trail. We went with the spur trail in hopes of escaping the ever talking hikers who were catching-up with us yet again. We didn’t – they too took the spur.

On the ridge
It had been a good year for cactus blossoms
Descending the spur trail to the Wild Burro Trail

The spur trail brought us to the Wild Burro near an old stone house and two water tanks – tough place for a homestead. Or maybe just a line cabin? We stopped for a snack here, fended off a suspiciously fat squirrel, and watched other hikers going on up the Wild Burro. We stalled long enough for the talking hikers to pass us and get out of sight (and sound) on the Wild Burro.

The old stone house along the Wild Burro Trail
Old stones
A swimming pool sized water tank rests just downhill from the old house
Clouds over the trail

After snacking, waiting, and exploring the old house, we ambled back to the trailhead on the Wild Burro Trail, which is basically the bottom of a wash at this point. Despite the chattering hikers, this was a great loop (6 miles; 1,000 feet of gain) on good (but rocky in spots) trails with expansive views and interesting flora. We even managed to identify a bird or two along the way. 🙂

Going back on the Wild Burro
Farewell the Tortolitas!
Our loop through the Tortolitas
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