Superstition Mountains Phoenix Arizona Flat Iron Siphon Draw
The Superstitions

Vanlife diaries #8: Saguaro National Park East & the Superstitions

With Dan sick during the first half of the week, we spent several days holed up in Tucson, giving him time to recover and me an excellent opportunity to spend time with my sister, Kim. Thankfully, he was feeling (and looking) much better by Wednesday, and we were able to make it over to Saguaro East and onwards to the Superstitions for some fantastic hiking. Despite the unfortunate start, it was another wonderful week on the road!

What we’ve been up to this week

If the west side of Saguaro National Park impressed us last week with all the blooming cactus, we were absolutely blown away by the beauty of Saguaro East, which had exponentially more flowers and the best cactus forests we’ve seen to-date, all set against the magical backdrop of the Rincon Mountains. 

We drove the scenic loop and got out on several small hikes over 2 days, but our favourite trails were Mica View (3.7mi / 6km), which was a veritable explosion of colour, and Bridal Wreath Falls (5.7mi / 9.2km), which was equally breathtaking. Although the falls were completely dry, the views of the surrounding mountains were just superb, and it felt good to be back on the trail, working up a sweat. 

Saguaro National Park Cactus Forest Loop Drive Mica View
Mica View trail in Saguaro East
Saguaro National Park Cactus Forest Loop Drive Bridal Wreath Falls
Hiking to Bridal Wreath Falls

Among our favourite discoveries in the east side of the park was the cristate saguaro, whose wrinkled and convoluted crest gives this iconic cactus an entirely different look.

There are a few excellent examples of this genetic mutation around the park, one on the Cactus Forest Loop Drive, one at the end of the Garwood Trail (3.3mi / 5.3km), and one on the way out of the park— each time we stumbled across its distinctive gyrus-top rising above the other normal saguaro, it felt like discovering something special. 

Saguaro National Park Cactus Forest Loop Drive Garwood Trail
Cristate Saguaro on the Garwood Trail
Saguaro National Park Cactus Forest Loop Drive Cristate Saguaro
Cristate Saguaro

Finally satisfied that we’d done Saguaro National Park up right, we scooted onwards to the Superstitions on Friday and spent the remainder of the week (which was really just the weekend, at this point) enjoying Arizona’s most impressive mountain range. Not before getting our first covid vaccine in Tucson, though!

Despite extreme heat well into the low hundreds, we spent our first day in the Superstitions hiking the Peralta Canyon Trail to Fremont Saddle (4.6mi / 7.4km) for a spectacular view of Weever’s Needle rising above the jagged surrounds. 

These mountains are truly dramatic, with dark volcanic columns clustered into peaks and eroded into canyons, and the legends of the Lost Dutchman only add to the mystique.

Superstition Mountains Phoenix Arizona Flat Iron Weever's Needle peralta Canyon
Peralta Canyon

We wrapped up the week with the most spectacular hike yet, scrambling up Siphon Draw to the top of the Flat Iron (6mi). This iconic feature, shaped like a ship’s bow, stands at 2173m / 7132ft, making for a very vertical 2700ft ascent over only a couple miles.

The approach is very gradual, but soon gives way to a steep climb that continues all the way up the slick basin of Siphon Draw.

Superstition Mountains Phoenix Arizona Flat Iron Siphon Draw
Hiking up Siphon Draw

The final ascent is even steeper, almost entirely Class 2-3 scrambling— but the reward for all this sweaty, sweaty work is one of the most impressive views over the Phoenix valley and neighbouring Superstition peaks, and with a heavy breeze rushing over the summit, it’s easy to forget just how hot the climb was.

Under cooler conditions, we could have spent an entire week hiking around the Superstitions, but after far too many days in 90+ heat, we eagerly hit the road Sunday afternoon, heading north to higher elevation for our next round of exploration.

Superstition Mountains Phoenix Arizona Flat Iron Siphon Draw
On the summit of the Flat Iron

Where we stayed this week

We originally suspected Dan’s congestion was allergy-related, so we spent the first 2 nights of the week holed up in a hotel washing all of our bedding and scrubbing every surface. It later turned out to be a cold… but our van certainly appreciated the clean, regardless!

  • Comfort Inn in Tucson, AZ (free with points; 26-27 April)
  • Dispersed camping on Redington Road near Saguaro East, AZ (free; 28-29 April)
  • Boondocking on Cactus Forest BLM near Red Rock, AZ (free; 30 April)
  • Boondocking on BLM land outside Lost Dutchman State Park, AZ (free; 1 May)
  • Boondocking in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, AZ (free; 2 May)
Saguaro National Park Cactus Forest Loop Drive vanlife camping
Camping near Saguaro National Park

What we spent this week

Well and truly into the rhythm of vanlife now, we are consistently spending ~$400/week for both of us, which is actually below the original budget I’d forecasted. At this rate, 2 years on the road will be no stretch whatsoever!

  • Groceries: $216
  • Eating out: $108
  • Fuel: $95
  • Accommodation: $0
  • Activities: $10
Saguaro National Park Cactus Forest Loop Drive Mica View trail hike
Twisted saguaro on Mica View trail

Some other fun weekly stats

  • Distance travelled: 719km / 447mi
  • Amount of time Brooke spent driving: 1hr
  • Days over 90F: 6
  • Mice inside our van: 2