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.”
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The next one is the octopus.
To me, this one can be considered a group hug.
And, what about this one? I called it the Marilyn Monroe (skirt up!).
There are also Saguaros in all levels of disrepair. Some of them have been hit by lighting.
This next one has a similarity to Edward Scissorhands.
The next one is the creepiest I saw during my visit. It looks like something taken out of the X-files.
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.
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.
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.
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 – http://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm
- I really encourage you to combine a visit to the park with a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – https://www.desertmuseum.org/
- 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!