Saguaro National Park east of Tucson might look like a pristine preserve today - but it was once the turf of cowboys and kiln workers.

Relics of that workaday past remain in clear view along a new network of trails in the park. The trails take hikers and horseback riders past a lime kiln made of stone, a line camp site and windmill once used by cowboys, and other reminders of bygone days.

Such artifacts share the landscape with gargantuan cacti, steep cliffs and wildflowers along a new 5.8-mile loop route made up of the Hope Camp, Ruiz and Coyote Wash trails.

Construction of the trails, in the Rincon Valley area at the southern end of the park, was finished last year.

"That loop makes a good day hike where you can see natural scenery and also tangible evidence of humans who lived in that area," said Christopher Morris, a ranger at Saguaro Park.

The windmill, lime kiln and other artifacts "are part of the history of the area," Morris said. "We've removed excess implements and things like that to minimize safety issues, but we want to keep some of the things as a reminder of the human history there."

Many of the objects, Morris noted, are little more than abandoned remnants of human endeavor.

"There is some of what basically turns out to be historic junk," Morris said. "You might see old barrels, sections of baling wire and old cans.

"We haven't completely sanitized it," he said. "It's a way to find your place in relation to other people who lived there over the years."

Get to the trailhead

• Follow Old Spanish Trail southeast of East 22nd Street, past the main entrance to Saguaro National Park and into the Rincon Valley. Turn left, north, on Camino Loma Alta and drive two miles on pavement and another half-mile on an unpaved road to the trailhead.

• Trails are open to hikers and horseback riders. No bikes or dogs are allowed.

did you know?

• Beehive-shaped lime kilns were used in the Tucson area from the 1880s to 1920. Their purpose was to process limestone into lime for mortar and plaster used in building.

• The kilns required lots of wood for fuel, and areas around them were denuded of trees.

• Among the partial remains of kilns in the area are one along the Ruiz Trail and two along the Cactus Forest Trail in Saguaro National Park East.

trek into the past

Here is a guide to the loop route and some sights along the way:

• From the trailhead, go northeast on the Hope Camp Trail, which follows an old road bed. Saguaro-studded ridges above the trail give way to distant views of the heights of the Rincon Mountains.

• About a mile into the hike, you'll spot the remains of the Deer Camp line camp and its creaking windmill on the left.

• At the 1.3-mile point, watch for a signed junction with the Ruiz Trail on the right. Follow the Ruiz Trail southwest 2.2 miles as it climbs to a ridge and then descends to a junction with the Coyote Wash Trail. Watch for a stone lime kiln on a hill on the right side of the Ruiz Trail shortly before the junction.

• Follow the Coyote Wash Trail north 1.5 miles to the Hope Camp Trail and continue 0.8 of a mile back to the trailhead.

• Sharp-eyed travelers might spot parts of old barrels, baling wire, rusted metal and other remnants of yesteryear.

• Archaeologists have found signs of prehistoric people throughout the area, and you might come across shards of pottery or other artifacts. Stay on trails and leave all artifacts undisturbed.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at or at 573-4192.