Cloudy skies with temperatures hovering near 60 bode well for a comfortable, though formidable, 7-mile hike to Douglas Springs Camp.
Heading east at the end of Speedway Boulevard, a masterfully crafted trail — with stones strategically placed to aid hikers as well as control erosion — leads into the Rincon Mountains.
Reminiscent of a favorite Colorado trout stream, the initial section meanders through the desert along a smooth surface at a gentle grade. Informative signs are found throughout the network of trails, providing lengths and bearings for various destinations.
Thirty minutes into the adventure, a steep, more-demanding incline appears as hikers begin to truly experience the exquisite beauty and silence of the desert.
Ocotillos are beginning to green. Pink Fairy Dusters are blooming. Lavender clover plants line the trail. The desert is awakening.
A relatively level plain is soon reached, a small creek pouring over granite slabs, pleasantly interrupting the quiet. Deep, smooth cuts have been carved into the solid bedrock, testaments to the forces of water and time.
Well into the morning, clouds begin to break, the sun painting patches of light across the slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains to the north.
Passing a spur trail to Bridal Wreath Falls — to be enjoyed later — hikers now climb toward 4,000 feet in elevation. Saguaros and ocotillos give way to yucca. Shindiggers grab from trailside. Scrub oak and juniper dot the hillsides. Mature cottonwood trees stand in the creek bed, their leaves poised to explode into a distinct spring green. Blooming manzanitas appear, their gorgeous deep red trunks and branches in sharp contrast to rich green leaves.
The ascent eases as gently rolling hills cover the last mile to Douglas Springs Camp, a welcome change from the steep switchbacks leading to this plateau. The afternoon descent is anticipated.
Nearing the campground, at 4,800 feet, following a tortoise-like pace of 3-1/2 hours, primitive campsites stand beside a small, beautiful creek flowing through bear grass, under branches and over colorful boulders. Coarse sand and gravel line the banks.
High to the south, snow is falling on the peaks of the Rincons. At 8,364 feet, Helen’s Dome is the prominent feature of the skyline.
Following the creek upstream from the campground, a rewarding area of waterfalls, deep pools and stunningly sculpted granite boulders is reached. Bounding across the slopes above the falls, the day’s single wildlife sighting, a young deer, soon disappears.
Expecting a three-hour return to the trailhead, the downhill experience begins, the goal to be off the trail before sunset.
With 2.5 miles remaining, the junction leading south to Bridal Wreath Falls is reached.
Adding slightly over a half-mile and 30 to 45 minutes is a fair exchange for a close-up view of these falls, which are seen and heard from the main trail. A swift, level walk reaches the large pool at the base of the cascading falls. A fine mist fills the grotto.
Higher above, more beautiful falls pour over steep drops, a much more challenging climb to view up close.
Less than an hour later, with the sun still shining above the western horizon, the adventure ends. A memory of times passed along this trail when our sons were much younger has lifted aching feet and sore legs as another superb journey is enjoyed.
The high quality of the trail and the beauty of the surroundings offset the difficulty of distance and elevation gain.
A strenuous experience, this 14-mile adventure pushes the limit of a day hike. With a permit, issued at the Saguaro National Monument, overnight camping is available at several sites along intersecting trails in these mountains. The 5-mile round trip to Bridal Wreath Falls would be a more leisurely, less strenuous activity.
Whatever the choice, all experiences in the Rincons will be enjoyed.