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Signal Hill Trail in Saguaro National Park is Worth Exploring



Signal Hill Trail is a special hiking trail located in the Saguaro National Park. Check out these reasons why it’s worth your time exploring.

Saguaro National Park is Divided Into Two Halves

About twenty miles east of Tucson, you’ll find the Rincon Mountain District, or Saguaro Park East. On the east side of the park, you can take the picturesque Cactus Forest Loop Drive, covering more than eight miles and passing many tempting trailheads. Many tourists flock to the east side of the park to do their exploring. Tucson Mountain District, or Saguaro Park West has more of it’s namesake saguaro cacti than the east side, and seemingly fewer tourists. The west side of the park is also home to a unique location, though – Signal Hill.

2) What is it About Signal Hill Trail That Attracts People

Flickr User Grace Tomkins
Flickr User Grace Tomkins

If you’re traveling with an archaeologist or an anthropologist, you may have trouble dragging them away from this location. The rocks of this hill are covered with ancient petroglyphs — rock carvings. Art abounds here, with most rock surfaces occupied by some engraving. Wandering from rock to rock, you’ll find a wide variety of depictions. Plenty of the carvings are simple designs, like spirals and esoteric circles. But, there are many pictures you might find yourself able to interpret, too. Some of the scribbles clearly seem to represent the sun or what might be a hunter and his prey.

So What Does All of the Artwork on Signal Hill Mean?

Flickr User Byron O'Neal
Flickr User Byron O’Neal

As is often the case when dealing with ancient civilizations, archaeologists aren’t quite sure. A number of theories have been hypothesized as to the significance of these rock drawings. This artwork is often credited to the mysterious Hohokam people, but some sources argue that people by that name never truly existed.

Whoever created these illustrations, they may have been used for religious ceremonies, medicine rites, or to keep historical records. Of course, there is always the chance that scientists are scrutinizing what may have only been doodles created out of boredom. Luckily, it seems unlikely that these extensive engravings can be chalked up to offhand scribblings. Not only were there many other, important tasks to be attended to – like chores and searching for food – but the drawings are also incredibly widespread and quite detailed in some places.

If You Study the Drawings Closely, You’ll Make a Few Discoveries

Flickr User Holly Zimmerman-Hill
Flickr User Holly Zimmerman-Hill

Some experts attempted to interpret the drawings of Signal Hill as a story with characters or as a complex metaphor or allegory. In 2004, retired technical photographer Nile Root decided to approach things from a different angle. After studying the symbols of the area for some time, Root determined that they act as a timepiece. This hypothesis as the function of ruins isn’t an uncommon one, but, if he is right, Signal Hill Trail is an incredibly complex timekeeping system. If you visit the Signal Hill Trail and wander from rock to rock, it might seem far fetched that there is any rhyme or reason to this creation. Root has plenty of evidence to back up his theory, though.

Some Curious Things Happen if You Study Signal Hill at Length

Flickr User Jim Roth

The longer Root studied the area — overall about eight years –, the more patterns he noticed. Many of the drawings seem to align with the movement of the sun.

During the sunrises on the Spring and Fall equinoxes, the sun aligns perfectly with two depictions that look quite like the sun themselves. This, in connection with a boulder that leans at a thirty-two-degree angle and a series of concentric circles with radiating lines connecting them combine to create an elaborate sundial. The shadows created here always disappear at midday. They can be used to track the passing of the seasons as well as the occurrence of the equinoxes. The tallest stone on the Signal Hill Trail is covered with a huge spiral drawing. Is it a coincidence that this spiral is split perfectly in half at noon on each of the equinoxes?

Even more, research reveals that symbols here align with lunar events, too. Root has his own website,, where you can read about all of the discoveries he has made and see them in action!

Cheyenne Reed was born and raised in Ohio. She recently relocated to rural Wyoming to try out working at an exclusive guest ranch. She graduated from Kent State University with an English degree, and most enjoys writing about travel. If she has free time, you may run into her anywhere, because she is always itching to explore new places. Her personal motto is, "Any day can be an adventure if you make it one!"