Saguaro - Largest Cacti and Symbol of Wild West

Saguaro cactus is one of the symbols of Arizona and the American Wild West. And for a good reason: unlike other cacti I have seen before, s...

Saguaro cactus is one of the symbols of Arizona and the American Wild West. And for a good reason: unlike other cacti I have seen before, saguaro's size is just mind-blowing. A grown-up one can be as tall as 55 ft / 17 m - it's a like a 5-story building! - and weighs up to 8 tonnes. Can you imagine? You absolutely have to see it at Saguaro National Park to believe it.

Saguaro can live up to 250 years. It takes a cactus 15 years to be a foot / 30 cm tall. When it's 30 years old, it starts blooming and bearing fruits. And only when it's 75 years old, it can grown an arm - a baby-cactus.
Saguaro National Park was set aside in 1933 and consists of two geographically separated parts - Rincon or East (old) and Tuscon or West (new) districts.
'Old' and 'new' are not only used to tell the sequence in which both parts joined the park, but they actually describe an average age for saguaro cacti living there. The Rincon district has older ones, hence they are taller and wider. However saguaro cacti in the Tucson district greatly outnumber the ones in the Rincon district. So if you only have time to visit one of the districts, you'll have no choice but to come back to visit the other one.
The park sits next to Tucson, AZ, a home to one of the largest military bases in the US. 

The valley where saguaro cacti grow is surrounded by the Rincon mountains which are quite tall, so the climate changes dramatically as you hike up the hill. While it's hot and dry in the valley, there easily can be rain or snow in the mountains. 
Speaking about precipitation - make sure you check a weather forecast or ask a park ranger about a possibility of rain as it can cause a flash flood. This is when dry river beds get quickly filled with water that washes off everything on its way. It can be dangerous and even fatal. You can check my blog post about a flash flood in Valley of Fire in Nevada.
Southern Arizona makes up a desert called Sonoran which the US shares with Mexico. Sonoran is one of the four deserts in the US. Visually, it does not really look like a desert, but if you come closer to vegetation, you'll realize that almost each plant has spikes - to reduce evaporation and protect itself from thirsty animals.
Despite its name, Saguaro National Park is home to many other types of cacti. This cute baby one is called Barrel Cactus.
Cholla Cacti with bright red heads.
Saguaro's roots are huge and soak up to 13 gallons / 50 litres of water during a short rainy season. It's enough for a cactus to survive a long cruel summer.
The park is home to many animals including jaguars!
What looks like a hole, will likely be a nest for birds like owls.
Most of the park has been designated as wilderness where no development is possible. Even hiking trails are not well-maintained, so good navigation skills are required while hiking or backpacking in the park.
Saguaro's skeleton is quite strong and woody, so first nations even used it for construction and fencing. 
Petroglyphs left by first nations on Signal Hill.
My favourite moment when visiting Saguaro National Park was a sunset. 
What a view! It was unreal.

When to go
Don't forget - it's a desert so Saguaro National Park offers a hot weather year around. However winter brings a cooler air and even some rain, so it's probably the best time to visit the park. 

Rincon District: 3693 S. Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, Arizona 85730
Take Interstate-10, exit #275 (Houghton Road) and drive 9.5 miles / 15 km north to Old Spanish Trail and turn right. Drive 3 miles / 5 km southeast on Old Spanish Trail and the park entrance, which will be on the left side of the road.

Tucson District: 2700 N. Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona 857
Take Interstate-10, exit #242 (Avra Valley Road) and drive 5 miles / 8 km west on Avra Valley Road to Sandario Road (turn left on Sandario Road). Drive 9 miles / 14.5 km south on Sandario Road to Kinney Road (turn left on Kinney Road). The visitor center is 2 miles / 3 km down Kinney Road on the left side of the road.
* - from the park's official website 

Additional Information
For additional information visit Saguaro National Park's official website.

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