Boxes have been maintained, repaired, replaced as of April 23, 2013 for your letterboxing enjoyment.
Hike: 4.5 to 8 miles depending on starting point chosen of easy to moderate hiking for the experienced and frequent hiker.
Stamps: Hand Carved - Bring your markers, these stamps are designed for multiple colors.
This series is designed to be a day (4-6 hours depending on how fast you hike or how much time you spend at the falls) adventure. All degrees are magnetic.
I strongly suggest you bring plenty of water/drink (one 10 oz bottle will not suffice for the whole hike especially in the hot summer months), a snack/lunch, sunscreen and a hat!
Also, please be advised that this is back country hiking. Falling rocks, snakes (and I have encountered rattlesnakes up close and in person!!), flash floods, bees, and other dangers are always present. Please be careful. If you are hiking alone (which is not advised), please let someone know where you are going and an expected time you will return.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area:
One of the premier natural areas in southeastern Arizona, Sabino Canyon is located within the Santa Catalina Ranger District, on the edge of Tucson’s expanding urban residential development. Outstanding scenery abounds, featuring steep rock cliffs, and foothills covered with unique desert vegetation adjacent to the riparian corridors. Annual visitation to the canyon is estimated at 1.25 million people. The canyon is within easy walking, biking and driving distance by local residents, and a 30-minute drive from the heart of downtown. The canyon itself has been closed down to private vehicle access since 1978.
For a century, Sabino Canyon has been a popular destination for local residents and their families and friends, as well as for international visitors. Popular contemporary uses of the area are walking, jogging, hiking, bicycling, shuttle riding, nature study, wildlife viewing and photography.
Directions to the Canyon:
From Tanque Verde Road in Tucson turn north on Sabino Canyon Road and go 4 miles to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area Visitor Center. The parking lot is just north of the intersection of Sunrise Dr and Sabino Canyon Rd.
$5 for a day pass, $10 for a week pass, and $20 for an annual pass (good for Sabino Canyon, Madera Canyon and Mt. Lemmon)
Entrance fee is waived with NPS annual pass
Bear Canyon Shuttle is $3.00 for adults, $1.00 for children 3-12, free for children under 3
To the boxes:
Park in the parking lot and decide which route you are going to take. The Bear Canyon shuttle will take you up to stop #3 and will cut about 3.6 miles roundtrip off the hike. However, the trams run on a schedule and you will have to plan your outing accordingly to catch the shuttle back down. To hike all the way up to the Falls, begin at the fieldstone entrance to Bear Canyon Trailhead. Follow the dirt trail which then turns into a paved road 1.8 miles to shuttle stop #3. There are restrooms and picnic areas located here.
From stop #3, you can either walk on the trail or follow the dirt road down to the “real” trailhead where there is a bench with a shade cover and a water source. Continue up the Bear Canyon trail 2.2 miles crossing over the creek several times. You will come to a fork in the trail where you can either go left .2 miles down to the falls or right to continue up on the Bear Canyon Trail. If you would like, you can hike down to the falls, take off your boots, stick your feet in the water (if it’s running) and enjoy the sun and your snack/lunch. Otherwise, continue up Bear Canyon Trail.
Box #1: To the Falls: The Falls
A short distance after the fork between Bear Canyon and the Falls, you will come to a sharp switchback. Step over the rock “step” and you will see a low rock wall on your right. While facing the Falls, the box is this wall on the northern side under a stone hidden within the wall. Stamp in, enjoy the view and people watch if you care to.
Box #2: To the Falls: Greater Roadrunner
The Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is a large, long-legged bird in the cuckoo family, Cuculidae. Adults have a bushy crest and long thick dark bills. They have a long dark tail, a dark head and back, and are pale on the front of the neck and on the belly. Although capable of flight, they spend most of their time on the ground. They can run at speeds of 15 miles per hour or more. They nest on a platform of sticks in cactus or bushes, where they love to hide.
You’re now on your way back down to the visitor’s center. Head back down Bear Canyon trail until you find the second metal sign at a switchback. You will see a line of rocks that were placed to prevent ground erosion. Notice an unofficial trial going up hill (not the main trail), step over the barrier and walk up the hill staying to your right everytime the trail splits. At about 20 steps you will notice a larger black rock you can sit on since a pencil cholla is guarding it. Notice a saguaro at 20* with a small baby saguaro stump at the bottom. The box is securely wedged under a rock "ledge" hidden by a large flat stone in front on the south side of the saguaro. Please wedge the box back in tight as this one has gone missing once before. It must be a tasty one!
Box #3: To the Falls: Crested Saguaro
Crested saguaros are rare and there is a debate about the cause of the mutation. Some argue that it is environmental and others say genetic mutations cause the phenomenon. Keep yours eyes open as there is a crested saguaro on this trail on the left as you travel up towards the falls.
Continue down the trail. After about a 1/2 mile you'll be looking for a large sycamore tree with multiple trunks and a vine growing up one of the trunks in the middle of the creek. You will come to a spot on the trail where, on the left, there is a large black square-ish rock with a corner that is pointing to the creek. Standing on this rock you will see the sycamore to the Northeast at 60* and the top of a humungous multi-armed saguaro at 195*. Walk down the trail to this huge saguaro that is over 50 ft tall and has at least 14 arms. Leave the trail to stand on the northeast side of this saguaro. From here, lying nearby, you will see the ribs of a dead saguaro. The box is at the roots of this dead saguaro on the northeast side under a black rock with mica flecks in it.
Box #4: To the Falls: Bark Scorpion
Three species of scorpions are commonly found in the Arizona Upland subdivision of the Sonoran Desert one of which is the bark scorpion, Centruroides exilicauda. Although more than 30 species of scorpions are found in Arizona, only the sting of the bark scorpion is considered to be truly life threatening. Its slender shape, and its long, delicate pincers and tail distinguish it from other more stoutly-built species in the state. Of the three most commonly seen species, the bark scorpion is the only one that prefers to climb, and it may be found many feet above the ground on trees and rock faces.
Continue down the trail about 1/3 mile until you find, on the left side of the trail, two large mesguite trees about 9 paces apart with a large now dead sprawling prickly pear between them. From the most southern mesquite, walk 15 steps down the trail and stop. Locate 2 now dead saguaros at 110*. (Behind the spires of the dead giants is a mesquite tree up a ways on the hillside also at 110*) Notice just to the right of the dead saguaro in the back a black slanted rock with some white streaks in it. The box is wedged under the uphill side of the slanted rock towards the back dead saguaro.
Box #5: To the Falls: Cactus Wren
The cactus wren is about eight inches (21 cm) long. It has a white belly with brown spots, and speckled brown, black and white feathers on its back, wings and head. It has black feathers on its throat and a long stripe of white feathers that look like eyebrows. It has long legs and a long pointed bill. The cactus wren lives in desert thickets and areas with large cactus like the cholla. It needs areas with cactus or thorny plants or bushes strong enough to hold its large nests.
Continue down the trail about 1/3 mile until you come out to a spot where you need to cross the stream. You will know it’s the right crossing when you come out from under a shady spot in the trail to the streambed. Stop here before crossing to locate a cliff with a window in it at 210 degrees and the flat-edged face of a very large white boulder at 330 degrees. Cross the stream to stand on the northeast side of this fairly level white boulder. Now the window in the cliff will be at about 210* and you will see a baby saguaro about a foot tall with a bush next to it growing in a large boulder at 255*. Carefully, scramble up the rocks (this is some rock climbing, be careful) to this saguaro/bush combination to locate a large orangey 3 ft by 3ft square rock about 15 feet behind the saguaro/bush. The box is hiding in a cubbyhole under the large orangey rock covered by some stones.
Box #6: To the Falls: Gambel’s Quail
Gambel’s quail are pear-shaped birds with short legs and roundish wings. Both sexes are gray above and buff below, with white-streaked russet sides. Males have a black throat and face and a head plume (called a "topknot"), a red cap and white headband. Gambel’s quail inhabit brushy and thorny vegetation of southwestern deserts. They are often closely associated with honey mesquite, although these plants are not essential to the birds’ survival. The birds range up to a mile, often along river valleys and drainages. They use shrubs and trees as a nighttime roost, resting a few inches to a few feet off the ground, a habit not typically found in other desert quail. They appear commonly in the suburbs.
Continue down the trail about 1/3 mile to another crossing in the stream where you will see a post with a hiker on it on the far side of the crossing. From this post, count 25 steps to a sandy clear spot on the right side of the trail. From here, locate a saguaro high on a now familiar cliff at 155*, a six-armed saguaro at 200* and two saguaros almost touching at 325*. "Teddy sure does love Rosy", doesn’t he? Scramble (this is a complete scramble, watch out for the cholla, what was I thinking? there are so many pokey things up here) up the hill to look behind the right one of the two almost touching saguaros.
Box #7: To the Falls: Horned Toad
The numerous species of Horned Lizards, all members of the genus Phrynosoma, have very wide, flattened, toad-like bodies. The tail is short but broad at the base. In most species, the back of the head and temples are crowned with a prominent row of sharp, pointed horns. The tail and sides are fringed with sharp spines. On some species the sides are adorned with a double fringe of spines. On the back, there are rows of short conical spines. Horned Lizards are found only in the western portions of the United States and Mexico.
Continue down the trail back to the trailhead. Locate the flat, brown plastic ”pole” and walk 16 steps back up the trail towards the falls. At 320*, you will see a saguaro with a palo verde (not the one with the mesquite) snuggled up to the right of it. Once more, scramble up the hill to look behind the saguaro under some rocks to find the box.