Saguaro National Park

Only a few miles outside of the booming city of Tucson in South Arizona lies the refuge of the Giant Saguaros cacti, a species that has become symbolic of the American West. Saguaros grow exclusively in the Sonora desert and there only up to an altitude of about 1200 meters. The number of cacti living within the Park perimeter is estimated to be some 1.6 million. The plants of this species can reach an age of about 175 years. The National Park has two separate halves in order to cover the largest occurrences. Altogether, the Park covers an area of about 37,000 hectares. Saguaro National Park has been opened in 1994 and can be easily reached from the city of Tucson via Interstate I-10.

AZ Saguaro

The Giant Saguaro, whose Latin botanical name carnegiea gigantea is a nod to philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, grows slowly and rather straight in the first 30 years of its life, often in the cover of trees, before after about 35 years the first yellow-white blossoms grow at the trunk as well as at the arms. The blooming period is in May and June. The arms, which give the cacti their characteristical appearance, only appear after 50, sometimes even only after a hundred years of the plant’s existence. Saguaros can grow up to 15 meters tall, in single cases they can even reach a height of 20 meters. They have flat roots that grow closely under the surface of the soil, a fact that enables them to absorb even the smallest amounts of water. However, it also makes them vulnerable to the danger of toppling over in strong winds. The absorbed water is stored in the body of the cacti, resulting in a grown plant consisting of water to a large part, which in turn means that the largest specimens can reach a weight of up to 6 tons. The cacti’s fruit are consumed by a number of animal species and are an important water and energy source in the dry summer months in the desert. The fruit are also harvested by the Tohono O’odham Indians native to the region, who make wine and candy out of it. The Indians consider the Saguaro as. 

The National Park consists of two sections, which are about 30 miles apart from one another, the Rincon Mountain District east of Tucson and the Tucson Mountain District west of the city. Both park sections have distinctively different landscapes, caused by the differences in altitude. Rincon Mountain District goes up to an altitude of 2600 meters above sea level and stretches from desert to grass land to mixed coniferous forest over various ecosystems and habitats. In this section, more than 1100 plant species have been identified, 25 cacti species alone. The fauna shows a similarly wide range: Many different bird species can be watched as well as frogs and toads, snakes and desert tortoises, coyotes and raccoons and, in extremely dry years and in higher altitudes, even a few black bears have been seen. Aa a general rule it can be said there are fewer Saguaros in Rincon District than in the Tucson Mountain District, but there, they are larger and more impressive. When the wild flowers blossom in February and March, many visitors come to Saguaro National Park; most cacti blossom later, in May or June.

To enable visitors to discover the Park, a network of trails and roads has been created, usable for both automobilists and hikers as well as horseback riders. The hiking trails cover a total length of more than 260 kilometers including a number of shorter trails suitable for relaxed walks. Those who want to stay longer than one day and spend the night in the National Park, need a permit that is being issued by the Park Rangers. Camping is merely permitted on designated campgrounds, each of which is accessible via a short hike. Overnight stays in RVs are not permitted within Saguaro National Park.

In Rincon Mountain District, tourists will find the use of Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive enjoyable, that’s a route that leads through the scenic area over some 13 kilometers past several outlooks, picknick grounds and a number of trailheads. Cyclists may use this road as well. Access to the Loop Drive is closed daily at sunset. A similar route in the other Park section is Scenic Bajada Loop Drive, which is also designated to be a route for automobiles (this road has a length of almost 10 kilometers), but it is not paved. This road will also lead visitors to a number of trailheads and to various scenic overlooks. At the Signal Hill picknick grounds along the route, there are some ancient Indian petroglyphs to be seen.

Next to these possibilities to explore the area on one’s own, the National Park Service also offers programs aimed at introducing visitors to the Park’s natural highlights by experts. This program consists of guided excursions and similar events. Information on this as well as on the biology, geology and history of the National Park can be obtained at the Visitors Centers, of which there is one in both sections of Saguaro National Park, respectively. Signposts lead the way there, the centers are open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Accommodation options can primarily be found in the city of Tucson which is located adjacent to the National Park. There is also another campground, usable with RVs, near Colossal Cave outside of the Park’s perimeter. Colossal Cave is a cave system that has played an important role many hundred years ago for the Indian peoples native to the area.




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