Saguaro Hill – officially known as the Caroline Bartol Preserve - is one of DFLT’s smallest properties, just over six acres, and, dating to 1997, it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary. It’s also perhaps the land trust’s most urban holding, if that word makes any sense in Cave Creek.
Walking the main trail of the preserve, owned jointly by DFLT , the town of Cave Creek and the Desert Foothills Library and managed by DFLT, is any easy jaunt, a stroll up a cement path to a ridgeline offering terrific views of the town and the hills on either side. Some impressions:
Minute 1: The path begins just to the right of the Desert Foothills Library’s main entrance, at the back corner of the parking lot. There’s a handsome metal sign marking the entrance, which starts with a dozen steps leading up to the path. You walk past a sprawling ironwood on the left where a saguaro is growing tall, right up into its host tree’s branches.
Minute 2: Brittlebush plants flank the path on either side, and there are tall saguaros – both real and not: the latter are cell phone towers disguised as cacti. Similar to those in other parts of the North Valley, they’re so well fashioned that it sometimes takes a second glance to see that they aren’t real (and the color is usually a bit off). The trail winds around and curves gently to the east.
Minute 3: You walk between two low rock walls emblazoned with the name of the “Richard E. Rudolph Memorial Garden.” Look to the left, to the north, and you can clearly see Elephant Butte and Skull Mesa, set in the Tonto National Forest.
Minute 4: You reach set of a stacked-stone walls, set in small arcs, that would make a reasonable bench. To the south, Black Mountain rises past downtown Cave Creek; it’s jagged and asymmetrical, and a boulder field graces its left flank. A small gravel trail, part of the network for the preserve, drops off down the hill to the right among a field of brittlebush.
Minute 5: The trail rises gently and straightens, and the views open up on both sides of the ridge. Stone signs appear intermittently along the path with the common and Latin names of the plants behind them – hedgehogs, ocotillo, palo verde, buckhorn cholla. The oddest one is for the saguaro: an infant of probably two feet tall, far smaller than the mature plants nearby. A desert spoon and a desert milkweed stand side by side.
Minute 6: A round metal bench, carefully inscribed, circles a palo verde. To the north, the hills rise gently to the east toward the summit of Continental Mountain.
Minute 7: Another gravel trail dips down the hill to the right. The main trail opens up, and the views are unobstructed. There’s a hum of traffic from Cave Creek Road, but on the ridge, it’s tranquil. Distant ranges are visible through the haze to the southwest. Ravens soar; cactus wrens sound their throaty calls from the brush. The paved trail soon ends at another set of low rock walls, changing to broken stone, still very easily navigated.
Minute 8: The end of the main trail ends with a “private property” sign, which guards a tennis court, fenced in, and a house beyond. Looking back down the trail you’ve walked, there’s a sense that – apart from the saguaros, tall and erect - things are low, sculpted close to the earth. The ironwoods and scraggly Foothills Palo Verdes seem to be hunkered down, willing to sacrifice their growth to afford a visitor better views.
You’ve reached the end of the trail, and you start back. It’s been a short and easy walk, but it’s had its subtle rewards. In a few minutes, you may want to duck into the air-conditioned library, relax and browse for a book to read. Or consider visiting in off hours, especially in summer’s blazing heat: the preserve is open dawn to dusk.