Stretching outward, an army of saguaro cacti waved at me with their massive prickly arms.
The giant saguaro (scientific name Carnegiea gigantea) is the universal symbol of the American Southwest. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the US, are protected by Saguaro National Park, to the east and west of Tucson.
The saguaros are the highlight of this national park, of course. The scenery is spectacular and captures the beauty that is so unique to the region.
The saguaro cactus is a large, tree-sized cactus with a relatively long lifespan. It’s beautiful white, waxy flower (which blooms late May-July) is the Arizona state flower and is a favorite treat for the diverse animal populations that call Saguaro National Park home.
Saguaro National Park has two districts. The Rincon Mountain District is located to the East of Tucson and the Tucson Mountain District is located to the West. Both districts have their own visitor center, scenic drives, and hiking trail systems.
The Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District are approximately 30 miles (45-60 minutes) apart. While similar in terms of plants and animals, the intricate details make both areas worthy of a visit.
The Eastern Rincon Mountain District rises to over 8,000 feet and includes over 128 miles of trails. The Western Tucson Mountain District is generally lower in elevation with a denser saguaro forest.
The Rincon Mountain District includes a one-way paved road drive, the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop, that winds through the spectacular saguaros and is easily navigable by RVs under 35 feet long and less than 8 feet wide. This 8-mile loop includes several trailheads, picnic areas, scenic vistas, and pullouts. You may want to stop at the visitor center for a guide to the natural and cultural history that can be viewed along the drive. This forest of impressive saguaros is a must-see when visiting the Tucson area.
Speaking of Saguaros…
- Start out as tiny black seeds no larger than a pinhead
- Frequently spend their early years under the protection of a so-called “nurse tree,” such as a mesquite or palo verde
- Grow very slowly—seedlings might poke up only a quarter-inch after a year of life and may be barely a foot tall by the time they’re 15 years old, often living 75 years before sprouting their first arms
- Reproduce with the help of pollination by birds, insects, and nectar-feeding bats
- Provide homes for Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers, which excavate nest cavities in saguaros; other birds including elf owls, finches, and sparrows often move into abandoned nest cavities
Did You Know?
The average life span of a saguaro cactus is 150 years, but some plants may live more than 200 years. A 20 foot tall saguaro weighs approximately 1 ton (2000 pounds).
Saguaro National Park
Entrance Fees: $10/vehicle (valid for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted
Established: National Monument, March 1, 1933; National Park, October 14, 1994
Size: 91,445 acres
2013 Visitor Count: 678,261
Saguaro National Park Headquarters and Rincon Mountain District (East)
Address: 3693 South Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, AZ 85730
Directions: From I-10 exit # 275 (Houghton Road) drive 9.5 miles north to Old Spanish Trail and turn right; the park entrance is 3 miles southeast down Old Spanish Trail on your left
Phone: (520) 733-5153
Saguaro National Park-Tucson Mountain District (West)
Address: 2700 North Kinney Road, Tucson, AZ 85743
Directions: From I-10 Exit # 242 (Avra Valley Road) drive 5 miles west to Sandario Road and turn left; drive 9 miles south on Sandario Road to Kinney Road and turn left; the visitor center is 2 miles down Kinney Road on your left
Alternate Directions: From I-10 Exit #248 (Ina Road) drive west 2.5 miles to Wade Road and turn left; drive 0.6 miles to a big curve; at this point Wade Road will change names to Picture Rocks Road; drive 6 miles west on Picture Rocks Road (while on Picture Rocks Road you will enter and exit Saguaro National Park) to Sandario Road and turn left; drive 3.5 miles south on Sandario Road to Kinney Road and turn left; the visitor center is 2 miles down Kinney Road on your left
Phone: (520) 733-5158
A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up house?