In late May and though June, the Saguaro cactus begin to bloom producing clusters of beautiful white flowers. Some interesting facts about the blooming Saguaro. The flower opens at night and only lasts for 24 hours. In that time they have to pollinate. During the day that is by bees and birds. However at night it is by bats!
After the Saguaro has been pollinated it will produce a red fruit. When the fruit ripens it splits open and can produce up to 2000 seeds!
The fruit is also edible and is a food source for many desert animals as well as humans.
Off the Golden Gate Road you have access to the Prophecy Wash Trail, Encinas Trail, Ez-Him-In_Zin picnic area, Wild Dog Trail, Signal Hill picnic area. If you keep following this road it takes you too Sandario Road which willl take you to Kinney Road and this is where the Red Hills Visitor Center. Off of Kinney Road you have access to Desert Discovery Nature Trail too.
If your not sure, make sure to look at your maps. You can easily get lost, so make sure you stay on the trails. They have some wonderful display of maps at the Red Hill Visitor Center outside near the entrance plaza and I am sure if you ask any of the rangers inside the center can help you out or provide a map too!
To the Western Saguaro National Park you take the Interstate 10 and Exit 246 Cortaro Road or Exit 248 Ina Road will take you to Wade Road and take a left and this turns into Picture Rocks Road and follow this to Sandario Road and then take Kinney Road.
Saguaro National Park
2700 North Kinney Road Tucson, AZ 85743
Saguaros grow mostly in the south of Arizona and Mexico in the Sonora Desert from sea level to 4,000 feet. They are a slow growing plant that grows between 1 and 1.5 inches in the first eight years of its life. What is so amazing is how long these magnificent plant lives. They do not start to grow limbs or branches till they are almost 50 to 70 years old or sometimes older. The pleats in a saguaro serve to soak up water so they can conserve their water supply during the hot summers months. A saguaro can almost weight up to 6 tons due to this process and grow as tall anywhere from 15 to 50 feet. There are many layers of a saguaro such as protective spines, epidermis (green part), Cortex or pulp, ribs (pleat), and pith (inside of the ribs). Saguaros attract an array of different animals such as owls, hawks, woodpeckers, purple martins, finches, sparrows, bats, mice, rabbits mule deer, and bighorn sheep. They make ideal homes when they have open cavities making it easy for nests and their fruits are a favorite for food, nectar or pollen. The deer and sheep like eating the skin when water is scare during the drought seasons. The Hohokams have used the ribs to construct their homes and harvest the fruits for food and are still considered very sacred to the Native Americans who live in this area. The average life span of a saguaro cactus is 150 years, but some plants may live more than 200 years.
Saguara National Park
Saguaro National Park-Tucson Mountain District
2700 North Kinney Road Tucson, AZ 85743
Fondest memory: My fondest memory is seeing these as a kid from our station wagon traveling back and forth from California and Colorado during the hottest summer months. It was wonderful to finally see them finally up close.
Fondest memory: As it turned out, it wasn't just him that was crazy and he got the last laugh watching me tear the car apart. We called and the keys were indeed at Chiricahua. We did drive all the way there and back that very afternoon. While there we saw a few things we missed during our brief stay. We returned traumatically with the keys and didn't have any worries about camping as we were already set up at Gilbert Ray, having learned the ropes the day before. We'd also already taken a lot of great dusk and dawn shots of massive cacti so we could make a stop at the brewpub in Tuscon that we had missed the evening before. We never feared walking in the desert at duck but you don't want to make a habit of it, lest we become just a bit too much like our neighbor. I guess it's a good thing that Happy Hour and “the hour of the snake” often coincide.
Fondest memory: He was in an old Volkswagen convertible van. You know the kind with the pop up roofs so you can stand in them. It was an old relic and he was certainly of another era himself though he was probably younger than I was. He was friendly enough and between playing some acoustic guitar and just vegging in his van, he was a good fairly quiet neighbor. He looked like he was living in the spot, not just camping there. There was just something permanent about his set up and my hopes of him moving on and us taking his primo spot faded pretty quickly after our first conversation. He was telling us about the desert and how he would walk out into it, evidently barefoot, as he didn't seem to ever be wearing any shoes. He loved to go at dusk when it was cooler but that it was the “hour of the snake” and that you had to keep your wits about you and your eyes on the ground. He was calmly animated and very entertaining. I don't think we ever forgot his phrasing and since we were in the desert for another month or so, we had many times to recall it. It's not likely that we walked at dusk without not only thinking it to ourselves but saying out loud that was indeed “the hour of the snake.” (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
The Saguaros. Some things are over hyped but these big cacti more than live up to their reputation and are a sight to behold.
Fondest memory: I'm sure he thought I was crazy. I'd nearly torn my entire car apart. There was stuff scattered all over our camping spot. It was hard to believe all of it had come out of one car. But still no sign of my keys. I finally resigned myself to admitting that I must have left them at Chiricahua National Monument, some 135 miles away, every inch of it in the wrong direction. We'd make a call to the Visitor Center just to make sure but we'd have to make a decision about going back to get them one way or another.
We had made our way to Saguaro National Park the evening before and thanks to the time change had made it to the Visitor Center just before it closed even though by my watch said we were too late. The rangers told us that while there was technically no campground in the park there was one very nearby called Gilbert Ray. They explained how to get to it and that it was self-pay and unmanned outside of the brief January through March “season.” We made our way over and found many spots though very few offering any shade, something becoming increasingly important in the desert as it got later in the spring. We finally decided on one under a good sized tree but unfortunately we were on the wrong side of it and our new neighbor was the lucky recipient of most of the relief it was providing. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
As with all US National Parks, there is an entrance fee to Saguaro National Park. When I was there we purchased a now discontinued National Parks Pass,( Which will still be honored for 1 year from the date we received it) The NPS have since introduced a new system. The "America the Beautiful" Passes. These will replace the traditional pass, the Golden Eagle, Golden Age and Golden Access passes. The new standard pass is $80, which is $30 more expensive then the pass we bought but does allow access into the areas that were only formerly available with the Golden Eagle pass (which at $15 more that the regular pass was still $15 cheaper than this new one) Ah but time marches on and prices keep going up, what can you do? It's still more than worth it to support the parks. You can of course still buy a weekly pass to each park, which is $15 per vehicle, $7 if you are on foot or bike.
Check out the NPS website for more details on ALL passes.
Favorite thing: The saguaro cactus begins as a tiny, shiny black seed, but from the very beginning the odds for survival are very poor. Those that are protected by a “nurse” plant have the best chance of survival. These may be plants such as a palo verde or a mesquite tree. The seeds that sprout under these trees are able to grow in a shaded, sheltered location, protected from the winter colder temperatures and hidden from animals that may eat the seed. A saguaro grows very slowly, with most of the growth in the summer rainy season. After a year the baby saguaro may only reach one-quarter inch in size. After 15 years it may be only a foot tall. By age 50 the cactus will be around 7 feet tall. After the saguaro reaches the age of 75 it may begin to sprout its branches (or arms). These “arms” begin as prickly balls that then grow out. If you see a saguaro that is about 25 feet in height you can be pretty sure that it is around 100 years old. Those that live to be 150 to 200 year of age grow as tall as 50 feet and weigh 8 tons. Beside old age, the saguaro may die of other causes. Animals may eat the seeds before they can even sprout, in years of severe droughts the cactus is weekend, lightning or winds may destroy large saguaros, and killing freezes are considered a major cause of death. And of course, we humans are also guilty of the destruction of these cacti, the largest in the United States. At one time grazing harmed the desert, today vandalism, people digging up the cacti to sell or replant in their yards, and simply the act of walking off trail continue to damage the survival of the saguaro.
Favorite thing: Here is a list of park rules that must be observed: All plants, animals, rocks, wood, and other natural features must be undisturbed. Firearms and other weapons are prohibited. Pets are allowed on paved toads only and must be on a leash. Camping and fires are permitted in designated areas with permit only. Trash must be packed out or placed in litter containers. Horses are not allowed to travel off trails. Obey speed limits on the park roads and always wear a seat belt. The photo shows an Ocotillo, which during the dry season looks like dead spindly branches. When it rains, however, it may sprout these wonderful red flowers at the top, and if you are really lucky and see them after enough rain they will also fill out with small green leaves that run up and down the branches.
Favorite thing: The best time to visit, especially if you plan to hike are from October through April, when the temperatures are usually in the 60s and 70s F. Be aware, however, if you arebackpacking that the night time temperatures during this season fall below freezing, so have warm sleeping bags. May through September brings very hot weather, averaging in the 100sF, so hiking can be dangerous during this time with out taking lots of rests and carrying lots of water. However, even during these hot summer months, night time temperatures can drop to as low as 30 degree F. There are two short rainy seasons. Theses rainy seasons generally fall from July through September with violent thunderstorms, and dangerous flash floods, January to March with more gentle rains. Except for these two rainy seasons, the skies are generally a beautiful blue color and sunny. In the photo, we were in a dry season, as well as a time of draught where little rain had fallen during the wet seasons. Because of this you can observe that the prickly pear cacti on the left of the photo are very flat, meaning that they have used most of the water that they had stored in its leaves to get them through the dry season.
It's for citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are blind or permanently disabled. It's free of charge. It's surely nontransferable and can be obtained in person at Red Hills Visitor Center.
National Park Service Entrance Pass Programs
It's more than a museum itself, it's an institution whose activities and programs are diverse and far-reaching:
- exhibitry and environmental interpretation,
- scientific research,
- environmental education.
It's a must see whenever you visit Saguaro National Park.
The museum is located in Tucson, outside boundaries of eastern part of Saguaro National Park, so I wrote much more about it in my Tucson page - click here - you are welocme :-).
Official Saguaro National Park webpage
Friends of Saguaro National Park
Arizona - Sonora Desert Museum
Best unofficial sites:
Saguaro National Park webpage by John William Uhler
DesertUSA - online guide to the American Southwest
The area of the Saguaro National Park can be divided into six different biotic communities depends on climate = height above sea level.
Each biotic community has different vegetation. Some animals may only be found exclusively in one or two of these communities. Others can be seen throughout the park.
I visited only the western part of the Saguaro National Park (called the Tucson Mountain District). Why? Hmm... it was closer to my itinery, it was free (NO ENTRANCE FEE) and I had no much time.
You can visit the Rincon Mountain District (the East district) as well when you pay $6.00 entrance fee per private car (valid for 7 days).
Park Passes and Fees