Thursday, February 12, 2009

Exploring & Hiking Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona



The Saguaro National Park is actually located in two different regions – the one to the west of Tucson is the Tucson Mountain District, and the one to the east of Tucson, where we hiked today, is the Rincon Mountain District.

Upon entering the park, there is a Visitor’s Center with a nice variety of books and a small display, as well as a short movie that tells the story of the national park that protects the saguaros and the animals that call Saguaro National Park their home, such as Gila Woodpeckers, Mountain Lions, and Black Bears. Once through the gate ($10 per vehicle, but remember, you can purchase an America the Beautiful Park Pass) you can drive or bike along Cactus Forest Drive, a mostly one-way road that leads you to all of the trailheads and areas of interest in the park.

Our first stop was the ¼ mile, concrete-paved path (wheelchair accessible) Desert Ecology Trail that had signs every few yard with educational tidbits about Saguaro National Park – this is a nice, quick stop to get more information about the park and its flora and fauna.

Further down the road was the trailhead of our longer hike – the Loma Verde Loop, an easy 3.6 mile walk/hike with little elevation change. This was a beautiful hike – starting first along the Loma Verde trail through mesquite trees, prickly pear cacti, ochatilla, and a variety of other cacti. After passing the Loma Verde Mine (no longer accessible), the saguaros begin to be in abundance – we were amazed as the numbers of saguaros – it seemed a forest of them. The trail continues onto Pink Hill Trail which gives a 360-degree view of the cactus forest and the Rincon and Catalina Mountains. In about ½ mile, we turned south to Squeeze Pen trail (where we saw Javelina tracks and coyote scat) which leds back to the start of the Loma Verde Loop. This was a great hike – easy and very beautiful – definitely do this if you’re in the area – you will not be disappointed.

Some interesting facts about the Saguaro Cactus ~

  • The spines of the Saguaro cactus not only protect it from animals that might eat it, but also provide shade in the hot summer sun.
  • Saguaro Cacti grow arms so they have more surface area for photosynthesis (remember, they have no leaves), and more arms equals more places to grow flowers, which means more seeds for reproduction.
  • It generally takes 47 to 67 years for a Saguaro to reach a height of 6 feet. (As a comparison, it took Brad about 18 years to grow that tall!)
  • Saguaros grow up to 50 feet, are up to 85% water, and weigh up to 8 tons!

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