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Saguaro National Park - Arizona - OutdoorPlaces.Com

 Saguaro National Park


Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Copyright Broderbund, Division of TLC, Division of Mattel, All Rights Reserved Give a crayon to a six year old and ask them to draw a picture of a cactus. Even if they have never seen one in their life odds are they will draw a saguaro cactus. Although it is the state symbol of Arizona, the saguaro cactus grows in a limited area in the hot and dry Sonoran Desert. Located to the west and the east of Tucson, Arizona, 91,453-acre Saguaro National Park is one of the best places to see these giants.

The saguaro cactus is one of the largest cacti species in the world. They can live to be 400 years old and grow over 50 feet high. They are one of the slowest growing cacti, with a ten-year-old saguaro reaching a height of about six inches. Their famous branches don't even start to appear until they are around seventy-five years old. They're hardy cacti able to survive even when the temperature drops below freezing. In the spring fragrant white flowers bloom on the saguaro, which later produce edible red fruit that Native Americans use to make wine.

Despite being covered in thorns and having a thick waxy skin, it is not enough to protect the saguaro from attack by both man and nature. A virus is ravaging the cacti and poaching (theft and removal) is a very serious problem despite the fact that larger specimens can weigh over eight tons. Worse urban sprawl from Tucson is threatening the park, with subdivisions and trailer parks mushrooming across the desert.

In order to survive and thrive, the saguaro cactus needs a hot, dry, environment with a bountiful rainy season, and the Sonoran Desert of Mexico is perfect. Getting about twelve inches of rain on average a year the Sonoran Desert is wet, and Saguaro Cactus National Park benefits from this supporting over 1,000 plant species and being one of the most biological diverse deserts in the United States.

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Saguaro is divided into two units with Tucson in between. The West Unit is the smaller of the two and only has day use facilities. The East Unit contains a vast majority of the parks real estate and contains the greatest diversity of terrain, plants and animals. As you head further east into the park, it climbs upward into the Rincon Mountains giving way to Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir as you break 8,000 feet.

The best hike in the West Unit is the Hugh Norris Trail. This 4.9-mile trek (one way) begins on the eastern edge of the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive and climbs 2,100 feet in elevation ending at 4,687 feet Wasson Peak, the highest point in the Tucson Mountains. The trail cuts right through the densest saguaro forest in the park, with a majority of the cactus found on the slopes of the gradually climbing hills. The saguaro prefers growing on the slopes, giving them more access to water rolling down the sides during the short rainy season. The Hugh Norris Trail intersects with the Sendero Esperanza Trail, which can be taken north to the Ez-Kim-In-Zin Picnic Site on Golden Gate Road or south into the Red Hills and the Tucson Mountain County Park.

If you want to take a shorter hike you can trek on the half mile Desert Discovery Loop Trail. The trailhead is located just north of the Red Hills Visitor Center on the western side of Kinney Road. The interpretive trail provides information on the environment, plants and animals of Sonoran Desert and is an excellent way to see the park, even on a hot day.

If you are looking to take a scenic drive you can tour the six-mile long Scenic Bajada Loop Drive located on the western edge of the park. The dirt road loops through the saguaro forest and rolling hills. From the Red Hills Visitor Center head north up Kinney Road and take your first right onto the loop. You can stop at the Sus Picnic Area or continue northward to the Valley View Overlook Trailhead. The 8/10 of a mile long trail passes through two sandy washes and then climbs up a ridge. The end of the short trail provides a stunning view of the Avra Valley and Picacho Peak to the north.

Continuing on the loop you can stop at the Signal Hill Picnic Area and take the short quarter mile long Signal Hill Petroglyph Trail. The trail meanders north from the picnic area to dozens of ancient Indian artworks. Be sure not to touch or do rubbings of the petroglyphs, as this activity will ruin them forever.

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