Become immersed in classic Tucson Sonoran Desert landscape, passing through three life-zones on a long hike to a small, refreshing waterfall, and tour the great DeGrazia Gallery In the Sun Museum.
Desert scrub biome on the lower Esperero Trail.
Common plants in Sonoran desert scrub Biome of the Sonoran Desert include creosote, mesquite, palo verde, barrel cactus, agave, prickly pear and cholla cacti.
Location: Coronado National Forest, Santa Catalina Mountains, Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Tucson, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.
Distance/Elevation gain: 12 miles out and back/2,525'. Trailhead = 2,775', Bridalveil Falls = 5,300'.
Difficulty/Trail # : Class 1 (defined trail) moderate effort - out and back. Overflow Parking Trail to Esperero Canyon Trail #25.
Parking/trailhead: Sabino Canyon R.A. overflow parking.
Map: Santa Catalina Mountains - Green Trails Maps #2886S
Date Hiked: April 20, 2023.
Dogs: Dogs are not allowed in the Sabino Canyon Rec. Area or the Pusch Ridge Wilderness.
Links: Coronado National Forest - Esperero Trail DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun
One of the characteristics I look forward to with Tucson hiking is the wide flora variety and diversity. Along this 2,500-foot gain, Esperero Trail passes through three biomes, or habitats identified by their dominant life forms: Sonoran desert scrub, desert grassland, and Madrean evergreen woodland. The most obvious change happens after the steep climb to Cardiac Gap, at 4,400 feet, when saguaros and creosote have given way to oaks and grass.
We arrived at Esperero Canyon's Bridalveil Falls after six miles of warm hiking and enjoyed the cold water dripping and spraying off the rocks. The falls must look like a veil during run-off after a storm, but at the end of April, they were reduced to small rivulets. The canyon here is wildly picturesque with huge rounded and dike-streaked boulders, pinyon pines and oaks, wildflowers and towering rock formations above. Yuccas are interspersed among junipers. If you keep climbing up-canyon, in another mile, you reach Cathedral Rock Trail, which heads northeast. Esperero Trail continues west toward Window Peak.
We parked at the large overflow parking lot for Sabino Canyon Recreation Area and began walking southeast past trailhead signs. (However, there is a shorter trail from the north end of the overflow lot; it heads north to meet up with Esperero Trail, avoiding the picnic area). The mileage that follows is from the trail that we took.
Google Earth image of our tracks beginning at Sabino Canyon Rec. Area overflow parking (lower left) and traveling up Esperero Canyon to its end at Bridalveil Falls.
Topo map and elevation profile at end of post
Starting from Sabino Canyon Rec. Area overflow parking onto trail that links to Esperero Trail.
Thimble Peak on the far horizon.
Continuing on Overflow Parking Trail toward Cactus Picnic Area, where it meets with Esperero Trail.
Esperero Trail beauty in April.
Brittlebush (yellow), hedgehog (magenta), cholla, ocotillo.
Pink fairyduster along the rocky trail.
Esperero Trail beginning to steepen. This trail stays narrow all the way up into Esperero Canyon.
Heading up toward Cardiac Gap.
Looking back at Cardiac Gap (saddle) that overlooks Tucson.
Parry's penstemon provides splashes of color in the semi-desert grassland life zone.
View from Cardiac Gap northward: Esperero Trail (Fred walking up on right side) stays high over Esperero Canyon as it travels through grassland for one mile before it drops down into the floor of the canyon.
Approaching the drop into the floor of Esperero Canyon to the left.
Near the drop-in point of Esperero Canyon.
HUGE alligator juniper in Esperero Canyon. Notice the cairn at its foot marking the trail as it weaves through white sand in the Madrean Woodland life zone. Common species in this life zone are Emory, Mexican Blue, Arizona and silverleaf oaks. Pines include Mexican pinyon and Apache pines. Agaves, manzanita, and bear grass make up some of the subcanopy.
Looking at rock formations above from the floor of Esperero Canyon.
Large cairn marking trail through bottom of Esperero Canyon - approaching Mormon Spring, ~0.5 mile from Bridalveil Falls.
Folded pegmatite (?) dike in leucogranite (?) in Esperero Canyon.
Bridalveil Falls finally! The only water we saw on this six-mile-in hike.
Portion of Bridalveil Falls - fun playing with Photoshop filters.
Refreshing Bridalveil Falls in Esperero Canyon.
Santa Catalina Indian Paintbrush
Found this near the falls with these rocks holding it down.
Saguaro and brittlebush
DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum - Tucson
Scenes from DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun - Tucson.
A quote from Ettore DeGrazia, posted up on the wall along with dozens of his paintings in the Gallery of the Sun Museum in Tucson.
Our GPS tracks and elevation profile for Esperero Trail to Bridalveil Falls.
Click on map for larger image.
Sue and Fred
About this blog
Exploration documentaries – "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west.
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