Hiking the Tortolita Mountains near the Ritz-Carlton
This past Thanksgiving, I visited my family in Marana, Arizona, a small agricultural town northwest of Tuscon. In the past 10 years, Marana has grown tremendously and now boasts a number of world class golf courses, master-planned communities (Dove Mountain), as well a resort–the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. Every February, the world’s top 64 professional golfers arrive in Dove Mountain to compete in the Accenture Match Tour Championship.
The areas surrounding Tucson have a rugged, surreal beauty. As a lifelong East-Coaster, the environs here feel almost other-worldly. The Sonoran Desert–often referred to as the living desert–is world famous for its “armed” saguaro cacti. Eager to see the surrounding area, we took advantage of the weather (sunny in the high 70s) and hiked in the Tortolita Mountains that surround Dove Mountain.
The Lower Javelina Trail (1.7 miles, 3090’ highest elevation)
The trailhead for the Lower Javelina Trail is located near the back of the Dove Mountain property just past the guardhouse for the Ritz-Carlton. Simply inform the guard that you’re hiking and you’ll be directed to the trailhead parking lot. The trails are well-maintained, and for the most part, well marked. In a few cases, we had to backtrack for a wrong turn.
The Lower Javelina Trail is moderately difficult with a 1,000 foot change in elevation. As the trail begins and ends, you cross a dry creek bed or “wash” that lies at the bottom of Wild Burro Canyon. During monsoon season (typically July through August), Tucson experiences major thunderstorms that often create flash flood conditions. During heavy rains, a dry creek bed such as this one become fast moving torrents of water.
The trail follows the perimeter of Wild Burro Canyon about half-way up the ridgeline. The trail offers tremendous views and allows hikers to see a large variety of cacti, desert plants and trees, and a few animals. We spotted one cottontail rabbit on our hike.
Make sure to bring plenty of water. Because the air is so dry, you may need as much as 2 quarts of water per hour. For hiking, day temperatures are most favorable from October through March. I would avoid hiking in the summer months.
The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain
Located at the very back of Dove Mountain at the base of the Tortolita Range, the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain sits in a very secluded, tranquil location in Wild Burro Canyon. About 25 miles northwest of downtown Tucson, the hotel is far removed from the light and sound pollution of the city. The stars in the night sky are particularly bright and beautiful.
The hotel has 209 guest rooms, as well suites and casitas. The casitas, which are essentially houses, offer 1,700 to 2,600 square feet and form a small village at the back of the hotel property (further back in the canyon). Rooms start at around $200 (note the hotel charges a $35/day resort fee, which includes valet parking and internet access).
The Ritz-Carlton also features a spa, fitness center, 2 outdoor pools (one with water slide), as well as 27 holes of golf (Jack Nicklaus-designed). The Sunday brunch offered at the hotel is also highly regarded.
Reviews are very positive. The hotel averages 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor. Here’s an excerpt from one review:
The setting, quality rooms, courteous staff and activities all recommend this hotel. The hotel seems carefully designed to take advantage of the spectacular setting nestled in low hills and surrounded by saguaros. You know that you are in the southwest, and the hotel’s interior design reflects this, as well. The rooms have a southwest flavor, but are not kitschy. Luxury bedding, flat screen TV, walk-in closet, double-sink baths with separate shower and toilet.
There are many activities. A nice infinity pool, with hot tub. Hiking trails and bikes available for guest use. Nearby golf. Ranger guided walks, some with additional charge. Kids’ pool and water slide and kids’ club nature room with its own ranger. Lovely Native American flute serenade at sundown and guitar music on the terrace some nights
Be aware that the Ritz is isolated. This is an advantage, but also limits your choices. The hotel is at best a half-hour drive from downtown Tucson and its activities and restaurants. When you stay at the Ritz, your eating alternatives are at the hotel or a long drive away.