When we attended a family wedding in the Phoenix area of Arizona last autumn, my husband and I decided on a free day to take a two hour drive south to Tuscon, Arizona, where Saguaro National Park is located. We had visited this park once before, and wanted to see it again. Saguaro National Park has two districts--East and West-- that are separated by the City of Tucson. It is a 30-45 minutes transit between the two districts depending on the route and traffic but visitors pay only one fee to see both sides.
(All photos in this post will enlarge if clicked on)
The giant saguaro cacti, which can reach a height of 50 feet, and live 150 to 200 years, are unique to the Sonoran Desert, which covers the valley floor and rises into the Rincon and West Tucson mountains. Since 1933 these extraordinary cacti has been protected within the Saguaro National Park
You can see the size of these ancient cacti by us standing next to them in the photo collage above. Saguaro cacti are very slow growing. A ten year old cactus may only be 1.5 inches tall, but they can grow to be between 40--60 feet tall. When fully hydrated with rain water it can weigh between 3200 to 4800 pounds. Most saguaro cacti grow "arms" as they age, that can number up over 25, and are covered with protective pointy spines. They flower in late spring and produce fruit in summer. Bats, bird and mammals eat the fruit and distribute the saguaro seeds.
In a section of the park we parked our car and walked one of the trails.
It was nice to see the cacti up close...
...and read the educational metal placards along the trail, some of which I show above. Click on to enlarge to read them.
In addition to the saguaro cacti there are many different types of cacti, trees and shrubs in the park.
There were many beautiful cacti to look at and photograph.
It was thrilling to see occasional hawks flying overhead.
We stopped in the eastern Visitor Center in the Rincon Mountain District.
From its back porch there was a view of a deep "forest" of saguaros!
There is an interesting and well done exhibit just outside the center that walks around 15 major plants that live in the Sonoran Desert, with a plaque that contains the name and description of each plant.
We also saw examples of holes in some of the saguaro that contain holes that nesting birds or Sonoran desert mammals made, as well as the skeletons of dead saguaro. The strong woody ribs of the dead cacti have been used to build roofs, fences, and furniture.
Soon we heard the rumbles of thunder, so we headed back to the safety of our car in case there was lightning.
As we drove for the park exist the sky turned dark and ominous but the few rays of sunshine gave the landscape a deep jewel tone that was exquisite,
As we drove out towards the exit the weather improved somewhat, until....
...we entered the highway where we saw the wind causing a dust storm in the distance.
These dust storms, called "haboobs" after the Arabic word for "blasting/drafting," can be very intense and dangerous when they are large and black out the sun, with choking dirt and sand.
Fortunately, this dust storm was not too intense...
...and we were able to drive past it without incident.
We headed back to our families that live in suburbs of Phoenix and enjoyed the rest of our visit.
In the next post I'll show you our drive through another Arizona National Park --the Petrified Forest. It is an amazing sight you won't want to miss!
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