Saguaro National Park, Arizona, founded in 1994, protects a piece of the Sonoran Desert, the only place in the world where the Saguaro (pronounced Suh-WAR-oh) cactus grows naturally. The Park is divided in two, east and west, flanking the city of Tucson.
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ILNP Park Review
In a Word “Eccentric”
“Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen.” -Isaiah 32:2-3
Our Visit We first visited Saguaro in March as part of our 8-Park southwestern tour. Our visit (like the Park) was split, with one evening in the eastern Park and the next morning and afternoon in the western Park. I was able to go back for a couple of hours in October during a business trip to Tucson.
Our Weather The weather was sunny and unseasonably warm at 90 degrees in March and a balmy 70 degrees around sunset in October.
Overall Impression For a desert, Saguaro NP is surprisingly full of life and color. Everywhere we went, we saw birds, lizards and small mammals. Even the desert plants, normally thought of as prickly and greenish-brown, were vibrant. Prickly pear cactus displayed green, red and purple varieties and yellow wildflowers were everywhere. Even with this surprising competition, however, the saguaro steal the show. Like people, each saguaro is unique and has its own “personality.” Did you know the saguaro live to be 200 years old? Did you know a single saguaro can absorb 200 gallons of water in a single rainstorm? The more we found out about the saguaro, the more mesmerized we were.
Favorite Spot the Desert Ecology Trail in Saguaro East
Minimum Time Required About 1-hour. In Saguaro East, you can take Cactus Forest Drive to see plenty of saguaro. If you do no other hiking, take the short Desert Ecology Trail. In Saguaro West, you can have a similar experience driving Bajada Loop Road and hiking the Desert Discovery Nature Trail. If you go around sunrise or sunset, you’ll be rewarded with a typical display of western sky and the animals will be more active.
A Longer Visit In a full day, you can see both sides of the Parks. We’d recommend splitting into two half days with a visit to one Park in the evening and a visit to the other Park the next morning. If you have to choose between the two, Saguaro West has more saguaro and Saguaro East has more plant diversity.
For a 1/2 day trip to Saguaro West, budget some time to visit the excellent Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near the entrance. Don’t let the name fool you, this is a ZOO with dozens of well-done exhibits. While in the Park, take the Bajada Loop Road where you’ll see saguaro of every size and shape. Choose a hike to get into the desert a little–Valley View Overlook Trail, for one, is a good place to start.
For a visit to Saguaro East, take the Cactus Forest Drive and choose a couple of short hikes. Our favorites were hiking around the Mica View Picnic Area and the Freeman Homestead Trail where you can see a 32-armed saguaro. Regardless of which side of the Park you visit, plan to spend sunset in the Park–Arizona sunsets can be truly sublime.
Suggestions Try to visit when it’s cool. The summer months can be brutal! A visit in the Spring is not only cooler, but you can see wildflowers and blooming saguaro if there has been any Spring rain.
This is the desert, take (and drink) lots of water. Consider wearing hiking boots for extra protection from all the cactus and possible rattlesnakes on the trails.
Make every effort to spend a sunset in one of the Parks as they can be amazing.
Nearby Towns Tucson (Arizona)
Other Nearby Attractions Pima Air & Space Museum, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Official NPS Website Saguaro NP
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