by Rob Samuelsen
Douglas Spring Trail in the Rincon Mountains is a popular hike on the northwestern flank of Saguaro National Park East. The intermittent Douglas Spring is a long 16.6 mile round trip day, but the spur trail to the beautiful Bridal Wreath falls is less than 6 miles and offers a rewarding respite of flowing cascades. Parking at the east end of Speedway Boulevard, the trail begins in a dense saguaro forest. The trail is well maintained and always well-travelled. It starts to climb on the western edge of a deep gorge emerging in a grasslands plateau with city wide views. There are several intersecting trails for anyone who wishes to loop back to the desert floor parking area.
The climb up stretches the muscles and invigorates the lungs but it’s not difficult on the groomed trail. As the trail continues eastward, there are interesting creek beds and water pools that are enticing to explore. Even though the elevation gain isn’t that much, the flora is different, and it feels like you’ve climbed higher than you really have.
Rather than head to the popular Bridal Wreath falls, I took the trail less travelled to the north heading towards Ernie’s Falls. Curiosity got the best of me, so I proceeded beyond Ernie’s Falls and outside of the National Park boundary until somewhat threatening weather suggested that I turn around. The trail doesn’t provide the best vantage point for Ernie, so I decided to bushwhack for better photography. After contemplating my next move, I started to step down the slope only to see a coiled rattlesnake sunning itself on the rock directly under my next step! It was a cool day in the mid spring, so I was surprised to see the snake and even more surprised to see it three inches from my right foot! Wisely, I came to the conclusion that my bushwhacking efforts were done for the day and I returned to the visible trail.
I crossed the Douglas Spring trail and continued southward towards the Bridal Wreath cliffs. There were other people on the trail and on the abandoned flotsam beneath. Enjoying the lightly misted cool air, I followed suit and joined others for a sack lunch. After a couple of hours of hiking and an encounter with a sunbathing rattler, resting in the verdant mist of a gorgeous waterfall was nirvana.
The falls are really two sections, an almost impassable upper cascade and a lower free fall splash into a carved out catch basin. There is a small social trail to a viewpoint of the upper section but from that vantage point, I could not see any reasonable way to explore further. The lower section is really the noteworthy destination and justifiably so. My departure time came just as a hoard descended on my peace. Pleased to have not swapped saliva with a poisonous critter and happy to have discovered bliss, I hiked quickly back to my vehicle and returned home just as it started to rain.