Saguaro National Park – A Revisit

Hi everyone,

In my post last week, I mentioned that my Facebook feed was filled with articles from national parks in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. These posts reminded me of previous visits. In January and February 2018, my Traveling Partner and I ventured to many of these sites in the Southwest of the United States. This week I’ll take you to a revisit of the Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona. Let’s get started.

We arrived in Tucson in early February. We were fortunate to score six nights in a campground on the west side of the city. However, we had to move three times during our stay. It seemed like all the gray-haired adults with an RV (like us!) wanted to enjoy the warmth and sunshine of southern Arizona as a respite from the northern winters. Regardless, we were satisfied to have safe and comfortable place to lay our weary heads each night.

The Saguaro National Park was established as a National Monument in 1933 by President Herbert Hoover using the Antiquities Act. It was promoted to a National Park by an act of Congress in 1994. The Park consists of two distinct units; the Tucson Mountain District (also known as Saguaro West) is on the western edge of the city, near where we were staying. The Rincon Mountain District (also knowns as Saguaro East) is across town, a few miles east of Tucson. The two units are separated by about thirty miles and about an hour’s drive through the city of over 500,000 residents.

Each unit of Saguaro National Park has a very nice visitor center that explains the uniqueness of the desert environment as well as the flora and fauna. The main feature in the Park is it’s namesake, the saguaro cactus. This tree-like cactus is native to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. It also can be found in the state of Sonora in Mexico and in parts of southern California. The cacti can grow to over forty-feet tall and can live over one-hundred-fifty years. The distinct arms of the saguaro don’t appear until the plant is seventy-five to one-hundred years old. Some never grow arms. Those arms add to the plants chances of reproducing giving them more opportunity to bear fruit and flowers. Like most cactus species, the saguaro stores a vast amount of water that is used during dry or droughty periods. Below is a photo from the Tucson Mountain District that shows the prevalence of relatively “younger” cacti on the side of a hill. 

This informational sign offers a few details on the life of a saguaro.

Contrast the above view with specimens that had an abundance of arms. During our drives and hikes, we were always on the lookout for those prolific, older cacti. It looks these cacti are also serving as motels for birds! Note the many holes burrowed into the plant.

The following photo is one of my favorites. It looks like a guy flexing his muscles with his hairy armpits showing! Note the heart created by the split of cactus spines. Doesn’t look and feel like a human!

Not all arms grow up, a few branches droop downward. This is usually due to injury or extreme cold conditions that freeze the stored water in the branch. If the cold weather persists too long, the branch can be damaged beyond repair and fall off. 

Since we stayed closer to the Tucson Mountain District of the Park, we went there a few times during our stay. One evening, we drove the loop road for some late in the day and sunset photos of the majestic cacti..

During our daytime visits, we would hike one of the many trails and see other species of cacti such as the prickly pear, barrel, and cholla.

The only animals that we saw were the every present javelina, a pig like critter. We did see a variety of birds, woodpeckers and flickers. They commonly nest in saguaro cacti. Other species such as owls, martins and finches will occasionally make nests in saguaros too.

One afternoon during our stay, we visited the Rincon Mountain District. We were fortunate to catch a ranger program that was quite informative about park habitat. Rincon is about two and a half times larger, 67,000 acres, than the Tucson Mountain District at 25,000 acres. We took the eight-mile loop drive through the park, stopping often to check out the cacti, take a short hike, and shoot some photos.

We did learn that the saguaro habitat is under pressure from urban encroachment and the affects of climate change. In addition, they are subject to rustling to be sold into landscape slavery! Thieves will dig up saguaros and sell them for about $100 per foot. I can’t imagine how someone can handle these prickly monsters! I read that the National Park Service has even taken the steps to implant RFID chips into some cacti to track movement and find the perpetrators. Interesting that modern technology is being used to protect and secure these majestic and interesting plants.

I hope you enjoyed this revisit to one of the many interesting parks in the National Park Service. We have an abundance of natural beauty in this country, I hope these posts inspire you to visit one or more of our national treasures.

Until next week, happy virtual travels!



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