Weather predictions for today were not good so we got an early start to beat the rain and went to Saguaro National Park. The park is actually divided by Tucson into East and West. Our campground – by total fluke – was the closest to the Eastern side. It is extremely difficult to find a campground in Arizona that will accept children; they’re all very ‘age-ist’! Many say ‘age-restrict’ in the directory; we came to understand that this means 55+ only – they really are this specific! Anyway, it was obviously meant to be that we ended up here; it was very child-friendly.
Saguaro (pronounced: sah.WAH.row) is named for the type of cactus that grows here. It is the cactus that most people thing of when they hear the word cactus but it really only grows in a limited area. When the National Park was created in 1933 when there were over double the number of cacti. Unfortunately due to unusually cold temperatures, many of them died. Scientists discovered that if these cacti are exposed to temperatures below freezing for over 20 hours, they will likely die. There was a fear that by the 1990’s all the cacti would be gone.
Thankfully, that did not happen and there are still a great number here. Saguaros are fully protected by law, not only in Saguaro National Park, but throughout Arizona.It takes 35-40 years for the cactus to bloom (the saguaro flower is Arizona’s state flower), about 70 years for the first arm to grow. They can live up to 200 years and grow to 50 feet tall. They are the largest member of the cactus family in the United States. They were fascinating, we really enjoyed this Park. The 8 mile Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive around the park was awesome, once again, we couldn’t stop taking photos! The National Park also includes the Rincon Mountain District, so there is a range of animals here, from mountainous to desert.
A lot of the cacti had holes in them, the gila woodpeckers make the holes for nests, use them for a while, enjoying the cooler air within the branches of the cactus and making use of the water stored there. The cactus is self-healing so it doesn’t get damaged, the following year the woodpecker needs to make a new hole for a nest, so it was tough to find a cactus without evidence of woodpecker activity.
We stopped to hike the Freeman Homestead 1mile loop path. It was pretty chilly, we could see the rain over the mountains in the distance, which was a cool site. It was also neat to stand at the base of the saguaro to truly get a concept of how huge these plants really are; we were completely dwarfed by them. On the trail we also swathe woody ribs exposed from a couple of dead cacti – they become visible as the softer plant tissue dries up and crumbles away. The saguaro tissue may be 85% water; a large plant may weigh 8 tons or more!
We stopped at the javelina picnic area, passing a crested saguaro (the Ranger had told us to look out for it). The casue of it is not known, sometimes damage occurs to the growing tip of a saguaro, causing a fanlike growth, this only occurs once in every 200,000 plants so it was great that we got to see one, it was very pretty.
As we ate our snack, we were visited by a family of ground squirrels, which look almost exactly like chipmonks. We were set straight by the ranger, who let us know that chipmonks are a little more afraid and ground squirrels don’t have the face stripes. A group of Gambel’s Quail also walked by, they were unusual with their feathers sticking out of their heads. We enjoyed seeing these animals up close – our peanut butter crackers obviously smelt appealing!
One of the things that really stood out for us was how green everything was. The Ocotillo cacti was covered in tiny green leaves, in stark contrast to the dead-looking ocotillo we had seen in Big Bend. Also interesting to everyone were the saguaro ‘babies’ living under their protectors. Saguaros must start life under a tree or shrub to protect them from drying out and be hidden from herbiovores. Saguaros often outlive their ‘nurse’ plants.
The Junior Ranger program was good, Becca and Nathan did a shorter book while Jake and Caitlin were more challenged. We began the books on Sunday and finished them over the next couple of days. On Tuesday afternoon, we returned to the park to receive certificates and badges. The Ranger was very good with them, took them into the exhibits room, sat them in a corner and asks them different questions about the park and other parks we’d visited. She announced them over the tannoy when they were sworn in and everyone clapped – the Visitor Center was surprisingly busy so all four of them looked really bashful!
States visited: 49!
visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800
Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)