One key fact visitors to Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona should know is that this magnificent park is divided into two districts. The Rincon Mountain District is located to the East of Tucson and the Tucson Mountain District is located to the West of Tucson. The park is located in Pima County in southeastern Arizona.

saguaro national park cactusIf you want to enjoy the tranquil Sonoran desert landscape and capture some one of a kind photos, Saguaro National Park with it’s 150 square miles of mountains and desert scrub  is a must stop.

West Saguaro National Park is a great drive with a few small trails to explore. We recommend that you do want to stop at the visitor center because you’ll learn quite a lot about the park, the cacti you’ll see close up and view maps of the various walking trails available. For those that want to simply drive and admire the thousands of cacti, you can simply drive through the west district free of charge.

The park’s official history goes back to 1933 when the Saguaro National Monument was created. The western section of the park was recognized in 1937. The entire area (both sections) was named a national park in 1974.

arizona cactus photosLarge Variety of Cactus

Visitors to Saguaro National Park will see familiar cactus varieties such as the saguaro, barrel and prickly pear. What you may not have realized the park is home to 25 less-common species including the Bisbee beehive cactus, the rainbow cactus and the exotic night-blooming cereus. The desert and terrain at the park provide the perfect environment for these species to thrive.

The sagauro, which grow slowly from seed, never from cuttings like the prickly pear. is supported by a ribbed woody like skeleton. There are other cactus varieties that also leave behind skeletons. The skeleton expands and allows the cactus to hold moisture which of course is critical to it’s survival. Native Americans used the saguaro ‘ribs’ to build roofs and walls. They also consumed the fruit of the cactus. They achieved this by using large poles to knock the fruit off the cactus.

As a side note, the cacti in Arizona are very special and they represent the state of Arizona in many ways. In fact it is a symbol of the west. Because of this, it’s against the law in Arizona to harm a saguaro cactus. If you own land in the state, landowners need a special permit for any construction that will affect a living plant. 

The Saguaro and Wildlife

The saguaro cactus is important to many species of wildlife. There are literally dozens of animal species that depend on the saguaro and for many reasons. Some wildlife such as insects, birds and mammals dine on it’s fruits and flowers. Other animals such as bobcats make homes in the cacti’s arms. You will also notice with mature plants that woodpeckers and others carve out the cacti’s arms to build nests in.

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As mentioned above, the drives through both sections of Saguaro National Park are scenic. The roads are open from 7A to sunset. The drive in Saguaro National Park East is a paved eight mile one way loop and the drive in Saguaro National Park West has several routes.’

arizona national park photosWhen we first visited Saguaro National Park our first impression was that this park is unique indeed. We think you’ll also have the same impression during your first visit. Picturesque photo opportunities are almost endless due to not only the cacti but also to the scenic mountains and desert landscape.

Reference material for this article includes…The National Park Service..Desert Giant : The World of the Saguaro Cactus by Barbara Bash…Cacti and Succulents Handbook by Gideon F. Smith.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

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