One of the greatest symbols of the American Southwest is the tall and sturdy saguaro cactus. Reaching heights of 60 feet (18 meters), the only place in the world where they grow natively is in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona, southeastern California and northern Mexico. These mighty cacti can live upwards of 150 years and are an important part of the desert ecosystem. Thousands of them are protected in Saguaro National Park, which is located just outside Tucson, Arizona. The park is actually split into two separate areas, Saguaro East (the Rincon Mountain District) and Saguaro West (the Tucson Mountain District) with the sprawling city of Tucson in between.
On my recent Epic Road Trip I visited the eastern region of the park. For a $10 vehicle fee, we had access to a scenic eight-mile (13 km) loop that snakes through the arid desert landscape. On the road, there are plenty of vista points to pull over and take photographs. Besides the saguaros, which stand tall like sentinels over the dusty terrain, the park features numerous other species of cactus and low-lying bushes as well. I’d like to return in the spring or summer someday, when desert wildflowers in gold, orange, and purple fill the spaces in between. Coyotes, foxes, jackrabbits, desert tortoises, and javelinas (wild pigs) and birds such as hawks, owls, roadrunners, and woodpeckers call this desert environment home.
Here’s a little bit of history: The area was first set aside as a nature preserve by President Herbert Hoover in 1933. At the time it was named Saguaro National Monument and consisted of only the eastern region in the Rincon Mountains. Later, in 1964, President John F. Kennedy designated an additional 21,000 acres of protected land to the west in the Tucson Mountains. Only as recently as 1994 did Saguaro become an official U.S. National Park, joining the ranks of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon (also in Arizona).
Saguaro National Park is a great place for hiking, although in the summer months temperatures can reach above 105ºF (41ºC). At night, the temperature hovers around a still balmy 75ºF (24ºC). During winter, the temperature ranges between 40ºF (5ºC) and 18 ºF (- 8ºC). Even with sudden and fierce thunderstorms in summer, the desert averages less than twelve inches (30.5 cm) of rain annually.
Below are some additional photos from my visit:
Getting there: By plane: The nearest city is Tucson, Arizona (TUS). By car: Tucson, as well as both districts of Saguaro National Park, is located off Interstate 10 in southeastern Arizona. The entrance for East Saguaro (Rincon Mountain District) is at 3693 South Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, AZ 85730. West Saguaro (Tucson Mountain District) is at 2700 N. Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona 85743.
How much: All vehicles must pay a $10 fee to enter the park, which is valid for seven days. Individuals on foot or bicycle must pay a $5 entrance fee. (If you have a National Park Pass, which costs $80 annually, you can enter at no charge.)
When: Both districts have visitor centers, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, as well as a scenic loop drive, open from 7:00 a.m. to sunset daily.
Don’t forget: Always bring plenty of water and sunscreen, no matter what time of year you visit.
For more information: Visit the official U.S. National Park Website at http://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm
Have you ever visited Saguaro National Park? What were your impressions? Feel free to comment in the section below!
This is my submission for Travel Photo Thursday. Be sure to check out Budget Travelers Sandbox for more great photos from around the world!