After driving for 240 miles from Gila Cliffs Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico, we finally made it to Tucson, Arizona. For some weird reason, I was excited. The Fox post-apocalyptic comedy series that I have been following, “The Last Man On Earth”, is supposed to take place in Tucson, Arizona. While in reality, the show is filmed in Southern California, I am still excited to be in Tucson.

Will Forte aside, another reason to be ecstatic about being in Tucson is that we are officially in the Sonoran Desert.  Sonoran Desert is a 120,000 miles arid region that extends from the southeastern edge of California through southern Arizona and into Mexico. The Sonoran Desert is also the ONLY place on Earth where the Saguaro Cactus exclusively grows.

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Our first glimpse of saguaro cactus as we drove through the Sonoran desert on our way to Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
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Sonoran Desert is a 120,000 miles arid region that extends from the southeastern edge of California through southern Arizona and into Mexico.
Driving towards Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Driving towards Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
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The Sonoran Desert is also the ONLY place on Earth where the Saguaro Cactus exclusively grows.
Beautiful drive towards Red Hills Visitor Center at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Beautiful drive towards Red Hills Visitor Center at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.

SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK

The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea Gigantea) is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of the American Southwest. Saguaro is an Indian word. The correct pronunciation is “sah-wah-ro” or “suh-wah-ro.” While saguaro cactus is widespread across southern Arizona, extreme southeast California and Sonora, North Mexico, the saguaro cactus only grows in the Sonoran desert. However, they do not grow in all parts of the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaro cactus will only grow from sea level to about 4000 feet in elevation, and because the saguaro can tolerate temperatures as low as 24°F (-4°C), it survives further north than any of the other species of large cactus. Saguaro cactus dies anywhere higher than 4000 feet because they can’t tolerate frost. They are usually found on south facing slopes where freezing temperatures are less likely to occur or are shorter in duration.

Saguaro National Park has two districts geographically separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (RMD) is often referred to as Saguaro East, while the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) is often referred to as Saguaro West. We went to Saguaro West.

Red Hills Visitor Center at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Red Hills Visitor Center at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
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There is a 100-yard hiking trail located in front of the Red Hills Visitor Center called The Cactus Garden Trail in Saguaro National Park.
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Celebrating National Park Service Centennial 2016 at Red Hills Visitor Center in Saguaro National Park.

VALLEY VIEW OVERLOOK TRAIL – Saguaro West

There are numerous hiking trails and nature walks around the Tucson Mountain District. As a matter of fact, there is a 100-yard hiking trail located just in front of the Red Hills Visitor Center called The Cactus Garden Trail. The trail we chose, however, is the Valley View Overlook Trail located on the Bajada Loop Drive, just 3.5 miles north of the Red Hills Visitor Center. The trail was easy and it is only 0.8 miles out and back and is well-maintained. The trail passed two washes (I only remember passing one.), and then gradually ascended a ridge. While the trail was easy, my husband and I were uncomfortable. It was late spring and we were feeling hot. I, particularly, was horribly irritated by a significant number of insects flying around. Despite some arthropod issues, we made it to the top of the ridge and the view was rewarding.  Looking below is a magnificent sight of the Avra Valley and the Picacho Peak can be viewed to the north.

Saguaro cactus is the largest and one of the slowest growing of all cacti, reaching up to 15 meters high and living for several centuries. The saguaro may be only 6 inches high after 10 years.  The most fascinating fact that I learned about saguaro cactus from this trip? A saguaro’s arms usually begin to grow only after it is about 15 feet tall and around 75 years old! Which means the characteristic branched appearance of a saguaro cactus is reached only after around 80 years. Which also means that if a saguaro cactus was grown on the day you were born, it will take about a lifetime to see the saguaro in its full characteristic glory! My mind was blown.

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At the beginning of our short hike through the Valley View Overlook Trail located on the Bajada Loop Drive, just 3.5 miles north of the Red Hills Visitor Center in Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
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A forest of saguaro cactus in Saguaro National Forest.
Saguaro cactus is the largest and one of the slowest growing of all cacti, reaching up to 15 meters high and living for several centuries.
Saguaro cactus is the largest and one of the slowest growing of all cacti, reaching up to 15 meters high and living for several centuries.
The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea Gigantea) is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of the American Southwest. Saguaro is an Indian word. The correct pronunciation is “sah-wah-ro” or “suh-wah-ro.”
The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea Gigantea) is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of the American Southwest. Saguaro is an Indian word. The correct pronunciation is “sah-wah-ro” or “suh-wah-ro.”
A saguaro’s arms usually begin to grow only after it is about 15 feet tall and around 75 years old. Can you guess how old this saguaro cactus in Saguaro National Park is?
A saguaro’s arms usually begin to grow only after it is about 15 feet tall and around 75 years old. Can you guess how old this saguaro cactus in Saguaro National Park is?
A saguaro’s arms usually begin to grow only after it is about 15 feet tall and around 75 years old.
A saguaro’s arms usually begin to grow only after it is about 15 feet tall and around 75 years old.
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The ecosystem in Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Saguaro flowers are usually found near the tops of the stems and arms of the cactus. They are white in color about 3 inches (8cm) in diameter.
Saguaro flowers are usually found near the tops of the stems and arms of the cactus. They are white in color about 3 inches (8cm) in diameter.
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After the flowers have been pollinated they mature into bright red fruit. When the fruit ripens it split open showing juicy red pulp. Each fruit can contain up to 2000 small black seeds.
Picture perfect American Southwest at Saguaro National Park.
Picture perfect American Southwest at Saguaro National Park.
In Saguaro National Park, studies indicate that a saguaro grows between 1 and 1.5 inches in the first eight years of its life.
In Saguaro National Park, studies indicate that a saguaro grows between 1 and 1.5 inches in the first eight years of its life.
Maybe a teddy bear cholla or a bundle hedgehog cactus?
Maybe a teddy bear cholla or a bundle hedgehog cactus?
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Sonoran desert ridge carpeted with saguaro cactus at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Cylindropuntia bigelovii or Teddy bear cholla at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Cylindropuntia bigelovii or Teddy bear cholla at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
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In the spring, the saguaro produce white flowers on the upper stems of mature plants. Later, sweet edible red fruit appear, traditionally used by the local Indian tribes as food and also to make wine.
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Saguaros are the largest cactus species in the U.S. They can grow more than 40 feet tall.
Hiking the Valley View Overlook Trail witnessing the arid Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Hiking the Valley View Overlook Trail witnessing the arid Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
The gradual ascending ridge while hiking the Valley Overlook trail at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
The gradual ascending ridge while hiking the Valley Overlook trail at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Hiking at Valley View Overlook trail at Saguaro National Park in late spring presented us with some insect issues. Despite some arthropod issues, saguaro cactus left us in awe.
Hiking at Valley View Overlook trail at Saguaro National Park in late spring presented us with some insect issues. Despite some arthropod issues, saguaro cactus left us in awe.
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The serenity and peace at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
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The Valley View Overlook trail was an easy hike. Despite its gradual ascent, the hike can be done by hikers of different levels.
A fully-grown saguaro can weigh more than a ton. They also have an intricate root system. A single “taproot” grows straight down about five feet to access water that’s stored deep underground. A saguaro’s main roots, however, extend like a maze about three inches under the surface to easily collect rainwater.
A fully-grown saguaro can weigh more than a ton. They also have an intricate root system. A single “taproot” grows straight down about five feet to access water that’s stored deep underground. A saguaro’s main roots, however, extend like a maze about three inches under the surface to easily collect rainwater.
Looking back at our Valley View Overlook trail at Saguaro National Park.
Looking back at our Valley View Overlook trail at Saguaro National Park.
The saguaro is one of many plants in Arizona protected by the Native Plant Protection Act, and within national park lands, the removal of any plant is illegal. Also, all land in the state is owned by somebody whether it is federal, state, tribal, or private.
The saguaro is one of many plants in Arizona protected by the Native Plant Protection Act, and within national park lands, the removal of any plant is illegal. Also, all land in the state is owned by somebody whether it is federal, state, tribal, or private.
Saguaro cactus can weigh up to 8 tons, partly because of the large amount of water the stems can hold - after rainfall the cactus can absorb hundreds of gallons in a short time.
Saguaro cactus can weigh up to 8 tons, partly because of the large amount of water the stems can hold – after rainfall the cactus can absorb hundreds of gallons in a short time.
Desert animals like lizards thrive in Saguaro National Park.
Desert animals like lizards thrive in Saguaro National Park.
Hiking the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Hiking the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Hiking the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Hiking the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
The top of the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park offers a magnificent sight of the Avra Valley and the Picacho Peak can be viewed to the north.
The top of the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park offers a magnificent sight of the Avra Valley and the Picacho Peak can be viewed to the north.
The top of the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park offers a magnificent sight of the Avra Valley and the Picacho Peak can be viewed to the north.
The top of the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park offers a magnificent sight of the Avra Valley and the Picacho Peak can be viewed to the north.
The top of the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park offers a magnificent sight of the Avra Valley and the Picacho Peak can be viewed to the north.
The top of the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park offers a magnificent sight of the Avra Valley and the Picacho Peak can be viewed to the north.
The view from the top of the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park.
The view from the top of the Valley View Overlook trail in Saguaro National Park.

 

Hiking around Saguaro National Park can be an absolute solitary moment. Bringing your own provisions, especially water, is HIGHLY advisable. Camping and fires are prohibited on the Tucson Mountain District (Saguaro West). Nearby Gilbert Ray Campground, a county campground, is located 3 miles from the park. On the Rincon Mountain District (Saguaro East), camping is only permitted in the 6 established backcountry campgrounds. The closest of these campgrounds is a 6 mile hike in from the Douglas Spring Trailhead. Permits are required at a fee of $6 per night.

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