An icon of the American West, the Sagauro (sah-WAH-row) are the giants among cacti found only in the Sonoran Desert, limited in the US primarily to southern Arizona. Who could resist getting up close and personal with a few of these spectacular plants? We started our Saguaro National Park experience at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center just east of Tucson, Arizona with a delightful conversation with a park volunteer who helped us plan our visit. Luckily we were able to view “A Delicate Balance” there. It’s also online so you can see it by clicking the green button above.) Then with a little more of a sense of what we were looking at we headed out on the park loop road. It’s a one way 7.8 mile loop with lots of delightful stops and interpretive signs along the way. We were blessed with incredibly beautiful weather so we really enjoyed hopping out of the car frequently, eating our picnic lunch at the Cactus Forest Overlook, walking the Desert Ecology Nature Trail, and doing a little poking around at the Javelina Rocks. We were amazed at the relative lushness of the Sonoran Desert with it’s warmer and wetter winters and monsoons in the summer it has much more biological diversity that other North American deserts. Between the interpretive signs and the Seek app on the iPhone we were delighting in being able to identify not only Saguaro cacti but to distinguish them from Barrel Cacti, notice different varieties of Cholla Cacti, identify Desert Mistletoe, Mesquite, Palo Verde, Brittle Bush, to name a few. We also learned that January is the busiest month here. Not only is the weather pleasant but folks come to Tucson in from all over the world for a variety of gem and mineral shows from late January through mid-March and many of them also visit Saguaro National Park while they are here to take the opportunity as we did to learn about the amazingly long life cycle of these majestic cacti.

The visitors center, though not particularly large, gave us a fine overview of the park.
They gave us an overview of the history of human habitation here.
And gave us a feel for the life cycle of a saguaro.
Due to many factors including their very long lifespan and their very specific environmental needs, these amazing plants benefit from legal protection in the face of the growing human population in the area.
Exceedingly slow growing a saguaro grows under the protection of a nurse tree, usually a mesquite, ironwood, or palo verde.
A saguaro isn’t considered an adult until it’s about 125 years old, and doesn’t develop it’s “arms” until it’s at least 50 years old.
Just a beautiful specimen.
Never before had we known the varieties of Cholla cacti.
A saguaro may live for up to 200 years and will outlive it’s nurse tree, perhaps by competition for nutrients, or maybe just because it’s species has a longer lifespan.
It’s sobering to gaze across this deserts cape and to realize how vulnerable the Saguaro cacti are and how much they need protection from the encroachment of human activity.
This short walk was well designed to give us a chance to slow down or even just stand and admire and ponder the beauty of the individual plants and their environment.
Under ideal conditions, such as here in the Sonoran Desert, a Saguaro may begin growing arms when they are but 50 years old. In more arid locations their arms may not begin to bud until the cactus is 100 years old.
The Desert Ecology Trail was a great opportunity to get close-up and personal with these amazing giant cacti.
This whole visit has given us a very different perspective on the ecology of the Sonoran Desert.
Greetings from the Javelina Rocks in Saguaro National Park. Life is an adventure!

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1 Comment

  1. Jackie Mallory

    I’d leave the up close to you travelers! But thanks for sharing.
    Love to you
    Jackie Mallory

    Reply

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