There are at least two ways to get to the Sutherland Wash petroglyphs. The SaddleBrooke Hiking club takes a relatively easy trail route, but the round trip is 5.6 miles. I thought I could figure out a shorter route that would start at the end of Golder Ranch Road, south of the petroglyphs. The first problem with this idea was that most of the route would be cross-country, up and down brushy slopes, and rattlesnakes were beginning their April appearance. The second problem was that it wasn’t shorter. After all was said and done, we (my wife was foolish enough to join me on this adventure) had walked 5.8 miles. And, having done most of the walking through prickly pear, shin dagger and cat claw, we were well bloodied.
We did find the petroglyphs, however, so at least the death march wasn’t in vain. We were also rewarded with lots of cool birds. The hike was on Wednesday, April 4. We’ve had one of those rare, glorious wildflower years this spring, but because of early rains and a warmer than usual January, flowers broke out early, and then faded early. There are still flowers blooming, but most of these have passed their peak. However, one of the flowers that didn’t appear earlier, mariposa lily, was in abundance on the rugged hillside just east of the link to Catalina State Park’s Sutherland trail. These were totally unexpected, and incredibly beautiful. They were blood-orange in color and everywhere. We also saw Mexican goldpoppies, Arizona lupine, desert chickory, penstemon, mallow, heliotrope and many other flowers we had seen in March.
Birds were as abundant as wildflowers. A pair of Gilded Flickers were nesting in a saguaro, and we found four species of hummingbirds: three male Broad-billed, two Costa’s males, one Anna’s and our first-of-the-year Black-chinned, a female. Northern Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia were both present, and Rufous-winged and Black-throated Sparrows were both singing, as were Lucy’s Warblers. At least a dozen Northern Mockingbirds were spotted singing and courting, and Bell’s Vireos were singing throughout the six-mile walk. At the petroglyph site we even found a pair of American Robins, bring our total species count to 36.
We finally stumbled upon an unmarked trail that led us up the backside of the primary petroglyph area. This is one of three sets of petroglyphs in the wash area, and the site with the largest number of petroglyphs. The rock art is Hohokam in origin, dating back perhaps 1,000 years, and overall in excellent condition, especially considering the proximity of the sites to nearby homes.
Leaving the area, we decided to follow the wash down and out rather than retrace our steps. This was another poor decision, since the wash is filled with large overgrown boulders, a difficult and slow route. Nevertheless, we finally reached familiar ground, and found our way out through the same cat claw that bloodied us on the way in. Next time we’ll take the hiking club’s trail.