Walking with the Saguaros
All 59 national parks we’ll visit this year protect living things. But few are as geared around these living things as Saguaro National Park.
The park’s namesake is the saguaro (suh-wah-ro), the gigantic iconic cacti featured in emojis and everyone’s imagination when they picture a cactus.
Because of its adaptation to the harsh desert life, and the particular amount of water available in the Sonoran Desert, saguaros only grow in this relatively small area surrounding Tucson, Arizona.
Walking among the saguaros is a very special experience. The cacti are tall (some can grow to 40 feet) and old (some can live to 150 years) and just dang majestic. They also resemble people, which can add a whole other level of enjoyment acting out their poses, pretending they are clumped in families, being sad when their skeletons are left standing. Not that we would ever be so immature… 🙂
The park has a pretty narrow focus, so unless you plan to backpack into the surrounding mountains, or attend ranger programs, your options are somewhat limited. There are two scenic drives in the park, but the best way to enjoy these beautiful creatures is to hike among them.
We thought we’d take you through a virtual tour of the saguaro forest. There are a couple million saguaros throughout the park, and no two are exactly the same. Here is a sample cast of characters you might see in Saguaro National Park.
“The Perfect One”
Cole spent days searching for the perfectly symmetrical, iconic saguaro. (I was busy admiring the cute misfit ones) He found it on our last hike through the eastern district. Although most classic shots of the saguaro looks like this, there are very few throughout the park.
For the first 50 years of their lives, before they grow arms, saguaros look like this. They aren’t quite as attractive as their elders, but they are still impressive: they can weigh several tons already. Saguaros begin to bloom flowers on top at around age 35, but unfortunately hadn’t begun blooming for the spring season when we visited.
“The Family Man”
Sometimes saguaros grow in clusters like this. This picture is a great example of the growth variation of saguaros: all these below germinated at the same time.
“The Late Bloomer”
Saguaros generally begin creating arms at around 50-70 years old, but their height at that point can vary drastically depending on weather conditions. It’s interesting to try to date the saguaros, but it’s also extremely hard.
“The Only Child”
Growth also depends on the saguaro’s location in the Sonoran desert area. Some grow many arms, some only one.
“The Bad Year”
Most saguaro arms point up, but during a particularly cold year, arms can fall or point down. Sometimes they correct themselves eventually, sometimes they forever point down. It’s an oddity that is fascinating.
It’s clear to see that this guy had a rough couple of years at some point, compared to his fully-functioning friends.
“The Bad Haircut”
By far the most interesting were these broccoli-looking saguaros. This growth deformity is called cristate. Rangers and biologists don’t know why it happens, but it occurs in about 50 saguaros throughout the park. It’s also hilarious.
On our last day in the park, we joined an auto tour where a ranger took us to one of the largest saguaros, with some of the most arms, in the park. It was an interesting combination of the rest of the saguaros we saw through our hikes.
The saddest sight throughout the park is by far are the dead saguaros. It’s a part of their life cycle, and it typically occurs naturally, but the sight is just eerie.
Learning about these beauties, seeing pictures, and even watching our video is one thing. But to walk among the saguaros at Saguaro National Park offers a rare opportunity to see these beauties up close. To take in their giganticness. To appreciate the environment in which they thrive.
Thanks once again, national parks!