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.
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.
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.
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.