The saguaro cactus with it's upright arms is the stereotypical symbol of the desert southwest. Did you know there's a national park solely dedicated to protecting these stately icons?
|Mandatory park sign photo - a family from Oregon took this for us!|
Located on either side of Tuscon, Arizona, Saguaro National Park's two districts are dedicated to preserving the Sonoran Desert landscapes, fauna, and flora, including the giant saguaro cactus. (And by the way, it's pronounced "suh-WAR-oh")
|The mighty saguaro|
When planning my Arizona trip, I added a couple of days in Phoenix to visit my sister-in-law. Being a National Parks geek, I always check for parks close to my destination. Guess what? Saguaro National Park, in nearby Tuscon, was only two hours away. Luckily my SIL was totally game for a visit.
|Cactus covered the landscape|
The day after my arrival found my sis-in-law and I driving down I-10 bound for Tuscon. Although Saguaro National Park has two units - one east and one west of town, in the interest of time, we decided to concentrate our visit on the west unit, called the Tuscon Mountain District.
|We read the saguaro can grow as high as a 4-story building|
Approaching Tuscon, we drove down a series of local roads to reach the park. I began to get excited every time I saw saguaro catci dotting the landscape. My SIL, who sees them all the time, thought it was cute.
|Some cacti appeared to be rotting away|
First stop of course was the visitor center (mostly to use the restroom, it was a long drive!). We got our maps, bought a few souvenirs, and inquired about hiking trails. Then my SIL and I walked a short loop from the visitor center through one of the saguaro "forests." Oh, were those tall cacti amazing! Lots of photos may have been taken.
One of the trails recommended to us was the Hugh Norris Trail. (I kept calling it the Chuck Norris Trail, ha-ha!) After eating lunch at the visitor center, my SIL drove to the trailhead, a short distance away. Being an out and back hike, we figured we'd walk as far as our legs would let us and then retrace our steps.
|Some of your more typical saguaro|
Being a wimpy Pacific NW'er I was totally un-acclimated to the desert heat. Temps were in the upper 80s that day, and there wasn't much shade on the trail. But wanting to see as many of these cool cacti as possible, I was willing to put up with a little hot weather. To cope with the high temps, my SIL made sure there were plenty of water bottles in my backpack before setting out. I donned a wide-brimmed hat and slathered myself in sunscreen. Now, let's go see some saguaro!
Although one may think all saguaro are the same - aka the sterotypical two arms curving upright from the trunk, I found out right away many are not like that at all. We found catci with low droopy arms, tiny buttons of arms just beginning, and numerous cacti with more than the standard two arms.
|I found these barrel cactus almost ready to bloom|
Some of the cactus arm positions were downright funny! My sis-in-law and I began making up names for some of them - elephant cactus, carnival arms, pro wrestler, and a couple names that, um, aren't fit to mention here (this is a g-rated blog).
|We climbed to a ridgetop with terrific views|
I couldn't believe the number of saguaro dotting the hillsides. There were acres and acres of hills covered with the tall, green cacti. So impressive! I was happy to see so many of these grand desert plants preserved for future generations to enjoy.
|We called this one "carnival arms cactus"|
The Hugh Norris trail ended up being quite a steep climb up a shadeless ridge. My SIL doesn't hike much, but hot weather slows me down, so I think we were even. Around every bend was another interesting cactus to photograph, so thankfully our progress was slow.
|Close up of the outer skin|
From the visitor center displays, we learned that the saguaro doesn't begin to sprout arms until reaching 75 years of age. Average lifespan of these huge cacti is about 200 years. Although the saguaro look very soft and spongy, in fact they are quite sturdy, with interiors consisting of wooden ribs. We saw a few dead cactus along the trail that had deteriorated into long, wood-like strips.
|I though this one looked like a pro wrestler|
There were other varieties of cactus besides the saguaro here. Lots of flat, low prickly pear cactus grew under the saguaro's long arms. And we even saw a few barrel cactus with yellow flowers just beginning to bloom. But that was the only colorful plant we saw - everything else was either green or brown.
However, I learned the months of May and June are the time to see the cacti in bloom. Something to put on the bucket list - I'm willing to endure the heat to see that!
|We read that the saguaro don't begin to sprout arms until they reach 75 years of age. We figured this one was really old.|
Lots of the saguaro had holes in their trunks. I assumed that this was where birds and other animals took shelter from the hot sun.
|Mountains and saguaro forest|
Speaking of critters, I was really, really hoping to see a roadrunner. The landscape was a carbon copy of the one depicted in that long-ago Warner's Brother cartoon featuring the roadrunner and coyote. I kept thinking I'd see Wiley Coyote come crashing through the sagebrush in pursuit of his beeping prey. But we didn't see anything but a few birds. I think the midday heat kept all the animals (smartly) hidden. Sadly, no roadrunner sightings this time. But, on the flip side, we didn't see any snakes! (and I was fine with that)
|We'll call this one "Dolly" :)|
My SIL and I trudged uphill for about and mile and a half. We sought out shady rest areas wherever we could, behind boulders and straggly bushes. The views from the ridge were impressive. I could see hazy blue outlines of far-away mountains.
|Loved trying to get close up photos|
Finally, we'd both had it with the heat and climbing, and decided to head back downhill. At least our trip down was much easier, although still as hot. We met a few people climbing uphill, even in the heat of the afternoon. They all looked like locals who were probably used to this climate.
|This cactus looked like it had a mouth|
Back at my SIL's car, we blasted the AC and each downed another bottle of water (which she had wisely stashed in a cooler).
|There were other varieties of cactus here too|
Despite the midday heat, it had been a great hike with fantastic scenery. This visit totally left me wanting for more. I haven't seen the last of this National Park - next time I'm visiting the Rincon Mountain District on Tuscon's east side.
|One last shot|
This wasn't the last National Park visit of my trip. My sister was flying in the following day, and we had plans for a bucket list adventure in Arizona's large, well-known National Park to the north. Join me for my next post and you'll hear all about it!