Saturday, February 10, 2018

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park
The Sonoran desert of Arizona is home to the most iconic cactus of all, the Saguaro. They are the shape that Americans think of when picturing a desert cactus. We were pleased to start seeing them as we left the low lying sage, prickly pear and chollas of the Chihuahuan desert and started spotting these giants of the Sonoran desert.
They are so much bigger than I had remembered from childhood.

The Saguaro's are taller than any desert tree
Tall and straight they rise up from the desert sand like trees.
Some have so many arms they are difficult to count and some don't have any at all.
I prefer those with just 2 arms since they often look like they are frozen in humanlike postures, embracing a nearby cactus or preparing to dance. We even saw one with its two arms curved down in front of it in a weight lifters pose!

A many armed Saguaro
And one with no arms at all.
We were fortunate to spot a couple of the rare crested Saguaro with ruffled top's appearing like a crown.

Only 1 in 10,000 Saguaros has a crested top.
Tucson is home to  Saguaro National Park whose mission is to protect and preserve these giant specimens in their natural environment. We are happy to have been able to spend time in the West portion of the park learning about the Saguaro.
We stopped at the Visitor Center to stamp our National Park Passport and to pick up a hiking trail map. Saguaro West’s Visitor Center has exhibits that introduce you to harsh environment of the Sonoran desert and the life forms that thrive here. We enjoyed a short film that spoke of the Spiritual nature of the desert and of how the Saguaro were regarded by the ancient native american people who lived here. I was happy to learn that i was not alone in imagining human characteristics in the postures of these desert giants.

This tiny Saguaro still sheltered by its nurse tree is probably 10-15 years old.

We learned that like many other plants Saguaro seeds are planted by birds. The tiny black seeds grow best under a nurse tree that shelters it for the first several years of its slow growing life.
It takes a Saguaro 5-10 years to reach an inch tall and 20-45 years to reach a height of 2 feet. The cacti do most of their growing during the Summer rainy season. They don’t begin to grow arms for 50-100 years and can live to be 200 years old.
A full grown Saguaro can weigh 16,000 pounds.
Rainfall, temperature and soil conditions all play a part in the growth process.

Saguaro Skeleton
It is not uncommon to see damage to the stately cacti. Saguaro are susceptible to lightning strikes and to freezing. Gila woodpeckers and Gilded Flicker’s make holes in them for single season nesting cavities. Some are sickened by fungal and bacterial infections and others become so heavy with water in the Summer monsoon's that their shallow netted root systems can no longer hold them. In unprotected areas people have used them for target practice. When you walk in the desert it is common to come upon skeletons of fallen Saguaro's.
These cacti flower in late Spring and produce their fruit in the extreme heat of Summer. The Saguaro fruits in the National Park are harvested by the Tohono O'odham using the traditional methods of their ancestors.

Evening hike
We have done some hiking at Saguaro NP. The Valley View and Signal Hill trails rewarded us with expansive views from their ridgetops.

Petroglyphs at Signal Hill
Signal Hill had Petroglyphs to ponder over as well.
Our favorite so far has been the Sandero Esperanza. We were lucky enough to go on a Ranger led evening hike on the night before January’s full moon.
The path leads across the desert on an old sandy mining trail before climbing steeply on switchbacks to the top of the ridge. The moon rose on our walk in and we reached the top in time to enjoy an amazing desert sunset walking back out by the light of an almost full moon. The tall posing Saguaro looked even more lifelike in the moonlight.

Saguaro National Park West
Red Hills Visitor Center
2700 N Kinney Rd
Tucson, AZ

Saguaro National Park East
Rincon Visitor Center
3693 S Old Spanish Trail
Tucson, Arizona

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