Saguaro National Park, Tucson
Saguaro National Park, which is divided into two districts, protects the saguaro cacti and other desert vegetation of the Sonoran Desert, as well as the wildlife living within it. The giant saguaro cactus, which you see in the photo, can live up to 150-200 years and reach 50 feet in height, weighing several tons. This cactus grows only in southern Arizona, California along the Colorado River, and in the northern Mexican state of Sonora. The national park therefore plays an important role in protecting this marvelous huge cactus. You will be able to explore this beautiful desert by traveling its drives and numerous hiking trails. The best time to explore this park is between March and May when the temperatures are usually pleasant. If you should arrive in April or May, you may even be lucky enough to catch the desert when the cacti and other desert plants are in bloom.
It was 11:00 am on Saturday morning, Desire and I had nothing planned for the day so we decided to go hiking. We needed new hiking grounds besides Sabino Caynon and Mount Lemmon both of which we are exhausting. Saguaro National Park was our choice for the day, off we went. It was a beautiful day with temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. From where we live the park is less than 25 minutes drive. Being a Saturday, the park was busy with bikers, hikers, visitors from within and out of state. The Saguaro National Park protects the forest that is home to giant plants, particularly the ones known as the Saguaro. The saguaro cacti are found all over the state of Arizona, they are a symbol of the American west and Arizona is one of the southwestern states that has a great many of these cacti with the largest concentration right here at the Saguaro Park, hence the name. The saguaro cactus is renowned for it's size and the odd shapes it takes as it grows. Did you know that they have a lifespan of 150 - 200 years? I have visited this park only twice even though I have lived over six years in Arizona.
There is an information center as you go up the drive way off of Old Spanish Trail road. Inside the information center you will find all necessary information about the park and souvenirs to take with. We stepped in briefly to get some additional information, looked at a few ranger hats for purchase, I think the smaller size was $11.50 each. We looked at the display of the entire forest in the next room, it showed the entire park and part of Rincon Mountain which overlooks the park. The entire forest area was officially designated as wilderness in 1976. It is a large back country with no roads through it except for a short loop (the cactus Forrest Loop) that gives visitors great overlooks of the entire wilderness. The entire area is comprised of 57,930 acres within the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. It is also surrounded on three sides by Rincon mountain ranges which are part of the Coronado National Forest.
We paid $10.00 park entry fees for a one week pass, along with the pass we got a detailed map of the entire Saugaro wilderness and all hiking trails. A one year unlimited pass costs $25.00 which is a really good bargain if you are an avid hiker like I'm. The lady at the ticket booth told me I could turn in my ticket within a week and pay the difference of $15.00 to get a one year pass, which I'm considering doing. The fees are per vehicle.
From the information map and flyer we were given, Desire and I learned quite a bit about the growth process of the saguaro cacti and their lifespan. Apparently they do need nurse trees in their early years to protect them otherwise the chance of survival are slim. The nurse trees we saw in the park included the mesquite and the palo verde.
Additional history in the wilderness is the Manning cabin built by one of Tucson's mayors name Levi Manning, he built the cabin in 1905. Desire and I did not go to the cabin, but we plan on taking the adventure soon enough. We did however go on two hikes on two separate trails totaling five hours in the Saguaro National Park. The weather could not have been any perfect.
They do offer junior ranger programs for children too.
Information on visiting the park:
*Hours: 7:00 am to sunset daily
*Seasons: all year round
*Fees: $10.00 for privately owned vehicle valid for 7 days, $5.00 Individuals or bicycles. Commercial vehicles pay a higher fee ranging from $25 for a 6 passenger vehicle, $40 for vehicles with 25 person seating capacity and $100 for a motor coach with a capacity of 26 passengers or more.
When we were looking for the way to the park, we saw a sign for the park and decided to take the adventure onto Golden Gate Road. Although it was a dirt road it was fun to see the Saguaro cactuses in its own natural habitat. So many wonderful shapes and sizes of the Saguaros. We kept seeing the doves that thrive around the Saguaros and so many of the cactuses had fruit growing on top. The road is not bad, but I would reconsider it if it ever rained. There are many wonderful trails and picnic areas to enjoy. 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.
There are a variety of species of cacti in the Saguaro National Park; but the most famous and the one that best symbolizes the American West is the mighty Saguaro. Saguaro Cacti actually grow very slowly increasing in size only 1 to 1.5 inches a year for the first 8 years. They begin by sprouting under trees like the Littleleaf Palo Verde Tree, the state tree of Arizona. Eventually they dwarf the trees, killing them. Saguaro normally live about 150 years; but some are over 200 years old. A 20 foot tall Saguaro weighs over 2000 pounds. There are at least two mountain ranges near the park and several more within view. The Santa Catalina Mountains are just north of the park and the Rincon Mountains comprise part of the southern border of the park. For more information and photos see my Saguaro National Park - East Unit Page.
One of the most photographed cacti in Arizona- The Saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States generally reaching 40 feet. They are only found in Arizona (you may see a few over the CA border) overall the majority of them are in Phoenix and South of Phoenix in Tucson.
Saguaro are everywhere in Arizona, but if you want to see lots and lots of them in one place-this is the place to visit on the west side of Tucson the Saguaro National Park. The Saguaro (really pronounced like SA-WAR-O) is AZ's state tree and it is protected here as it takes hundreds of year to just grown an arm. That may not be the proper english way of sounding it out, but the above is what always worked for me. Anyway they are very cool especially if you are not use to seeing them everyday. If you are lucky enough to visit when they are in bloom it is really a sight to see! Springtime (mid-may), if we get enough rain they are beautiful for the short time they last. Drive through the park, hike or visit the visitor's center for more info here.
It's amazing how quickly you could get from a large city like Tucson to the middle of nowhere. Saguaro National Park covers a very large area and contains miles and miles of desert, with an amazing number of large saguaro cactuses. There is a lot of hiking trials that go to nice viewpoints, as well as some driving tours. You're in the desert so make sure that you've got enough water.
A nice short hike is the Valley View Outlook trail. It's a 1.5 mile loop that takes you to a view point from which you could see the park for miles around. It's well marked and even has some signs giving information about some of the plant life around. It's off Hohokam Rd just past the visitors center (be careful on that road - it's not paved, it's narrow and people drive really fast on it).
There are biking and horse trails also. Going off trail is prohibited.
Saguaro cactus grow only in the Sonoran Desert, in parts of Arizona, California and northwestern Mexico. These plants are very slow growing, often taking 35 years to flower and 75 to 100 years before the main plant has "arms."
Saguaro National Park is a preserve for these famous cactus as well as cholla, prickly pear, barrel, and Arizona rainbow.
Saguaro West is also called The Tucson Mountain District, while the other half of Saguaro National Park is on the east side of the city and is called Rincon Mountain District.
Entrance fee is $10 per vehicle. The website says both sides of the park charge this fee, but I never paid it at the west section...maybe things have changed or I was inadvertently violating the rules.
Located just outside of Tucson downtown, the Saguaro is a symbol of the Wild Wild West.
The tree actually is very slow growing of 1 to 1.5 inch a year.
Do not stand near the tree during lightning storm as the saguaro is known as lightning rods having absorbed enough salt. Several saguaro trees have been "lost" due to being strucked by lightning according to the park ranger.
The Freeman Homestead trail was the most interesting of our three hikes. It was only one mile long, and had interpretive signs. A family settled in the desert in 1930, built a home and farmed there.
All that is left now is mounds of dirt where the walls of the house once was (the home was built of clay walls), some ocotillas planted in a row which must have been a fence, and a big tree that provides shade (but looks somewhat out of place).
The trail goes past a spring where they must have got their water, but it was not obvious if or where they planted any crops in the desert. It took us 45 minutes, and we saw quite a bit of small wild-life -- ground squirrels, woodrats, a cardinal, wrens and flickers, etc.
Located 16 miles west of Tucson lies the Saguaro National Forest.
The Giant Saguaro cactus is featured here. It can live up to 200 years and rise up to 50 feet. Beautiful white blossums develop when the cactus reaches 75 years.
At one time herds of cattle and the encroachment of homesteads and cities threatened the saguaro's delicately balanced desert life. The Saguaro cactus are unfortunately very sensitive and need to be protected. Only one of 40 million seeds it produces will live to maturity.
In 1933, an ancient saguaro forest east of Tucson was designated a National Monument. In 1961, a younger forest west of Tucson was added. In 1994, both units were upgraded to National Park status.
The Red Hills Visitor Center has a wealth of information about the park's history and resources. It is open from 8:30am -5pm daily, but the park is open at all times.
You can travel the park by foot, horseback, or car on the six mile Bajada Loop Drive. There are many trails (long or short), and a couple of picnic areas that are easily accessible.
December to April are the park's busiest time.
$10.00/private car - 7 Days
$5.00/individual - 7 Days
$25.00 - Annual
Better yet, if you visit other National Parks throughout the year, purchase the National Parks pass for $50.00 to save money.
After hearing the recommendations of the naturalists, we drove the 8 mile Cactus Forest Drive, stopping at the Mica View Picnic area. We settled for an easy 2 mile hike through the forest of cacti.
On the hike, we passed many saguaros including a few of giant ones such as in the photo. The hike also goes by a number of washes. Washes are dry 'river-beds' that only get used during the raining season in the fall. Then there is too much water to absorb into the ground, so it flows away in these washes. We also saw birds such as the gilded flicker who dig out their nests inside the saguaros, as well as cactus wrens and western kingbirds who nest in the old holes made by the woodpeckers and flickers. We even saw a roadrunner cross our trail. All that was missing was Wiley E. Coyote.
This is a quarter-mile wheel-chair accessible trail - again through cacti and washes. Interestingly the interpretive signs are marked Saguaro National Monument (not Park).
We found out from the visiter centre that the American national park system is made up of national parks (by decree of Congress) and national mounuments (by decree of the President). Often parks are first national monuments and then become national parks.
Saquaro National Park is divided into two districts 30 miles apart - one west of Tucson, and the other east. Both districts have visiter centres, scenic drives, trails and picnic areas.
We spent most of one day at the SNP East. This park might have been outside the city once, but now Tucson butts right up against the park. We spent some time inside the visiter centre to help decide which of the 128 miles of trails we wanted to hike.
To go inside the national park, you need to pay a $3 per person fee, or have a national park pass.
It's a must see whenever you are in Tucson. Why? For 100 reasons, just a few attractions:
- eating cacti in new Cactus Restaurant (50% off for VT members and everything FREE in rainy/snowy days :-)
- the world's largest number of cacti species,
- the world's oldest living thing (12,000 years!)
- 4-story tall saguaro cacti,
- the most drought tolerant plant (2 years with NO water).
Much more: matcrazy1 Saguaro National Park page - you are welcome.
Saguaro National Monument
Tucson is bookended by portions of Saguaro National Park.
They both showcase the saguaro cactus, found only in the Sonoran Desert.
Hiking in either area is a perfect way to discover the almost prehistoric sense of the desert.
Each has a looped road for driving or bicycling, picnic areas and visitor center.