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Posted by on Feb 22, 2016 | 72 comments

Visiting Saguaro National Park

As you may know, this year we are celebrating the centennial of the National Park Service.  Even the world famous Rose Parade, celebrated every year on Jan 1st, was dedicated to the institution that protects national treasures such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.

I, as many other nature lovers, have separated time on the agenda to visit several National Parks this year.  Not that I need an excuse to visit these magnificent places but a little bit of a festive atmosphere doesn’t hurt.

My own celebration started late last year (see how excited I am about this).  While staying in the Tucson area, we dedicated half a day to visit Saguaro National Park.

Now, I am going to tell you several things up front.  There are no powerful waterfalls, deep canyons, jagged mountains or verdant valleys in here.  There are no lakes, rivers or meadows either.  This is a different kind of place.

What you will find in here is land totally covered by the giant Saguaros.  They extended for as long as your eye can see.  There are so many of them that some people have called their conglomeration a “forest.”

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

The Saguaro is a tree-like, cactus species that can grow up to 70 feet (21m).  It is native to the Sonora Desert (Southern Arizona, some parts of Southern California and the Mexican State of Sonora).

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

They grow from seed and their growth is very slow (depends a lot on precipitation).  At five years, the plant is smaller than a human finger.  It starts to grow arms at around 70 (some do not grow arms at all).  The fascinating thing is that they can live more than 150 years.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

But, make no mistake.  The Saguaro is the tallest cactus in the United States but not the tallest cactus in the Sonora Desert.  Its cousin the Cardon can reach higher heights.  It is found in the stretch of the Sonora desert which is part of Mexico.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Hollywood and marketers have created a lot of misconceptions about the Saguaros.  For many years, Saguaros were places in Texas, Northern Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah for Western films.  Several Texas based brands used the Saguaro in their logos.  But, as I have mentioned, the cacti only grow in the Sonora Desert.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

The National Park bearing the name of the cactus protects more than 91,000 acres of terrain. The area was declared National Monument in 1933 and elevated to National Park in 1994.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

The park is divided in two sections: the Western District (Tucson Mountain) and the Eastern District (Rincon Mountain).  We had the opportunity to visit the Western District.

After the obligatory stop at the visitor’s center, we proceed to take the Bajada Loop Drive.  This 5 mile, unpaved road (in good condition, apt for low cars) take visitors thru the Saguaro forest and several trailheads.

We walked the Valley View Trail first (0.8 mile round trip).  In here you can appreciate the many shapes of the Saguaros.

I called this one the elephant.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

The next one is the octopus.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

To me, this one can be considered a group hug.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

And, what about this one?  I called it the Marilyn Monroe (skirt up!).

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

There are also Saguaros in all levels of disrepair.  Some of them have been hit by lighting.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

This next one has a similarity to Edward Scissorhands.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

The next one is the creepiest I saw during my visit.  It looks like something taken out of the X-files.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

After having way too much fun walking the trail, the overview is reached.  It is impressive how many of them can be seen from this point.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

The Saguaros are a source of life in the desert.  The nectar of its flowers sustains species such as bees, hummingbirds and woodpeckers. What I like the most is that bats also used the flower as a source of food.

In addition, the Saguaro produces fruits.  They are consumed by humans.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

We had lunch in a picnic area and proceeded to the Signal Hill area.  The short trail takes you to a stack of rocks full of Hohokam petroglyphs.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Time certainly flew while we were inside the park.  Just like that, the sun started to go down and it was time to go back to Tucson.

At another time, I would like to visit the Rincon District of the park.  In addition, I would like to visit the Saguaro’s Mexican cousins (the cardones).

Hope you have learned a little bit about these unique desert inhabitants.  And, I hope you are already making plans to visit a couple of National Parks this year.


  • Saguaro National Park Website –
  • I really encourage you to combine a visit to the park with a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum –
  • Remember the Saguaros are protected by law in Arizona.  Any damage to the cacti (even to the skeleton) is punishable.

Have you seen the giant Saguaros?

Ready to pin? Let’s do this!

This National Park protects the Saguaro, is tree-like, cactus species that can grow up to 70 feet. It is amazing how big they can get!


    • Great you liked them. Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Lovely photo journal. I have a friend who is visiting there just now. I’ll have to send her a link to your blog.
    Marcia recently posted..Tuesday’s Treasures #6My Profile

    • Thanks Marcia. Hope your friend comes back with tons of lovely stories.

  2. It’s a dream to visit as many NP as I can. I like the saguaro cactus, however, it always reminds me of cartoons I watched when I was younger.
    Photo Cache recently posted..The Marvelous Malaga CathedralMy Profile

    • You are right. They remind me of the coyote and the roadrunner.

  3. I just met the saguaro catcus last 4th of July… and I was completely and totally fascinated by them!! I don’t know if we were in the national park, but we stayed up on Dove Mountain and they were EVERYWHERE!! It was actually one of the most unexpectedly beautiful places I have ever been!
    Sara recently posted..Cinque Terre Trip PlanningMy Profile

    • I checked the Dove mountain area and it is north of Tucson. The two districts of the park are located on both sides of Tucson. Anyway, the entire area is full of the cacti.

    • Diana,it is a great experience. The botanical world is something else.

    • Yes, that one is very interesting. I saw various specimens alive even though they were hit by lighting (which tells you how storing they are).

    • Yes, I think we are lucky to have those works of art still around. I have to say some of these were vandalized. That is very sad.

  4. These are the tallest cacti I’ve ever seen… and I think that’s the only time I will ever say that sentence :P. I chuckled to myself at all the names that you gave them…. especially the Group Hug, lol!
    Anna recently posted..Day trip from Taipei: Yehliu Geopark (in photos)My Profile

    • That is my favorite photo. I do not know, the number just came to my mind.

  5. Do you think I’m allowed to pick your blog two weeks in a row for the Travel Tuesday highlights?! 😉 Wonderful, as always! #citytripping
    Christy Swagerty (whatupswags) recently posted..Berlin in MotionMy Profile

    • If it is for me, you are more than allowed ;0) Thanks for your kind words.

  6. Looks like an interesting park to visit! I didn’t know that the Saguaro Cactus is only in the Sonora Desert! Thanks again for visiting and commenting on my blog, Photographic Journey. I’m not a member of Google+, so I’m glad I found this blog post and could post a comment!

    • It was my pleasure to visit your blog. Happy you learned something new reading this post.

  7. These are amazing! I hadn’t realised they only grew in one place – they seem such an archetypal shape for this part of the US to me. I love your names for them (group hug is genius). #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted..City Tripping linky #15My Profile

    • A lot of people think they are widespread along the Western states. That is what Hollywood has made movie watchers believe.

  8. What a beautiful and educational post. I would love to take a photo safari there. I’ve loved cacti all my life. I had one for years that grew high enough to touch my ceiling. Not a Sonoran Sagauro though.

    • I really wanted to take photos during sunset but didn’t have the opportunity. I want to get cacti to decorate my home and office.

  9. What an amazing place!! There is nothing like visiting a national park, although I’ve never had the opportunity to see something like this – I’m always very jealous of the national parks you have in the US! We don’t quite have here in Belgium, or in Europe but we have our nature reserves and they can be just as beautiful. Though, the lack of cacti is quite disappointing.

    ~ K
    Kerri recently posted..Life || Photo An Hour FebruaryMy Profile

    • Like you mentioned, that is one of the advantages of the United States. There is always a natural reserve nearby (it doesn’t have to be a National Park). But, there are amazing natural places in Europe too (and I would like to visit more).

  10. I love all the different shapes and sizes. The park is definitely among the unique. I do love the terrain. Thanks for hosting this week, and apologies that I have not been around much. Good Internet often eluded me this winter. #TPThursday
    Nancie recently posted..Barcelona:The World Begins With Every KissMy Profile

    • Nancy, I am always happy to host. You get to connect with so many wonderful people and read a lot of interesting posts.

    • Becky, I love your honesty. Glad you learned something from reading the post.

  11. Wow cactus forest!!!! I love it! It’s so new for me! I’m still travelling in Australia… soon back home. xx cathy

    • I know it sounds very strange. We also have Joshua tree forest but in the Mojave desert.

  12. I’ve never been here, but would love to check it out someday.Your photos are beautiful. I especially love the petroglyphs. What a neat experience.
    Tara recently posted..Exploring Raleigh, North CarolinaMy Profile

    • Thanks Tara. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy a visit to the park so much. I learned a lot about the desert and its inhabitants.

  13. I’m not sure if these sculptural plants are found in Australia. They’re firmly planted in my mind as the backdrop in Western Movies (American) that we watched as children. It would feel strange to walk amongst them.
    budget jan recently posted..Budget Eating at Ortigia Market SiracusaMy Profile

    • They may grow well in some parts of Australia because of the climate. They are very popular as ornaments. I do not doubt they have them down there.

  14. I was not aware we are celebrating the centennial of the National Park Service and neither was I aware of the Saguaro National Park, so your post was a very pleasant surprise. I feel sort of bad that I have never been to the Sonora Desert, because I really love the Saguaros.
    Anda recently posted..The Weekly Postcard: The Hermit of Emerald BayMy Profile

    • Anda, glad you came to that realization reading the post. I think, more than ever, it is time to support the National Park Service and the vision they have for the future (inspire the new generations to love the outdoors).

  15. Coming from Texas, I can attest that what I see around here is prickly pear cactus, not Saguaro cactus. I like that you’ve made naming them into a type of Rorschach test, and your nicknames had me laughing. I have my fingers crossed that I’ll get one of the giveaways.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Austin’s Graffiti Park at HOPE Outdoor GalleryMy Profile

    • I didn’t plan to write the post like that but then I really saw all those shapes in the pictures. I couldn’t resist.

    • It is true what you say. I have not thought about Saguaros in that way.

  16. Great photos! I loved your names for the cactii. We’re planning a visit to Saguaro this summer, hopefully it won’t be too hot.
    Jim recently posted..Expanding the Cherry ListMy Profile

    • If you stop by the park, visit the Desert Museum too. It is on the way to the Western District of the park. That is a super neat place full of flora and fauna.

  17. Wow,that view from above is fantastic, I had no idea there would be so many! I love the names you gave them, especially the Marilyn Monroe, that one was brilliant! Your photos are very lovely 🙂
    Vlad recently posted..A Quick Guide To Concert TravelMy Profile

    • Thanks Vlad. I think I can send hours taking pictures and coming up with names. The good thing is that the park was not that full the day we visited. We were able to stop and take pictures without blocking the way.

  18. Love the Marilyn Monroe – ha ha! I’ve never been to southern Arizona but it looks so different from where I live. Thanks for sharing!

    • That one has such pointy arms that I thought about Marilyn’s skirt. I thought about another name first but I can’t remember now what it was.

  19. Beautiful cactus-pictures. The blue sky is something we are craving for here in England. #TravelFotoThursday

    • We are blessed to have sunny, blue skies almost every day. The only thing is that that becomes the norm to you and you forget cloudy and rainy days exist.

  20. Beautiful photos Ruth – I love the shots of the huge cacti you came across, and what a great way to celebrate the service these parks play. – Tasha
    Natasha recently posted..Still WatersMy Profile

    • Thanks Tasha. I think the best way to celebrate and honor the Park Service is by communicating other how wonderful our parks are.

    • This is a great addition to your list. There are several long trails in the park. I only did short ones because of time constraints.

  21. Fab, informative post! I see a lot of Saguaros in films or used as a symbol of the dessert of Mexico but had no idea about what fantastic plants they are…and how old they live – amazing! Looks like a great trip out. I like the group hug photo best! Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    • It is incredible to see how they live way longer than humans in very inhospitable regions. It is a bit ironic to me.

  22. I’ve never heard of the Saguaro National Park! a whole forest of cacti – very cool. There’s so many national parks in the USA, you could spend years visiting all of them.
    Shobha recently posted..From Dawn until Dusk on the Beaches of RioMy Profile

    • It is true, we have a lot of parks, preserves, historical monuments and others. Seems like we have plenty of options.

  23. Ruth, Jim and I are headed to Tucson this summer and we are definitely going to see this park. I can’t wait. Your photos are amazing!
    Corinne recently posted..Expanding the Cherry ListMy Profile

    • Thanks Corinne. I can’t wait to see what places you guys are going to visit in the area.

  24. These majestic beasts have been my favourite plant since I saw my first Downe Burns painting. I got to see a few in person outside of Scotsdale but will definitely visit the National Park one day. I would really love to experience it while they are covered in snow.
    Dean recently posted..Panoramic EuropeMy Profile

    • I am pretty sure they would look pretty good covered in snow.

  25. Ruth, this was a really interesting read. It was a surprise to learn all those facts about saguaro cacti. Who knew? lol. I saw saguaros while passing through Arizona and didn’t realize I was driving though a national park. Have you tasted their fruits? I’m wondering if they taste anything like prickly pear.
    Linda Bibb recently posted..9 Best Things To Do in Banos, EcuadorMy Profile

    • I have not tasted their fruit but I imagine it is good. I think preserves (or other products made with the fruit) may be available in local markets (I didn’t check though).

    • They really look like they are cuddling. I think there is a cactus called Teddy Bear. That is cute too.

  26. Glad to hear you enjoyed your visit to Saguaro NP. We loved Saguaro! It was so different from any other park we’ve visited. It’s amazing what they go through to survive and thrive in this environment. We did that trail too but I really like how you named the cacti 🙂
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..5 Free Things to do in Brisbane, Australia with KidsMy Profile

    • Thanks Mary! That is the beauty of our National Parks. What is protected is very varied. You are never going to find the same things in different parks.


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