Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Quick Visit to Saguaro National Park in Tuscon Arizona




Photo By:Kristen Lee

Just outside of Tuscon, Arizona is the Saguaro National park. 143 square miles of natural desert with trails and drives allowing you to enjoy the park from the comfort of your own car. One of the many national parks in the United States Park system, Saguaro National Park is conveniently located outside of the bustling city of Tucson. The park is located on either side of the major metropolitan hub, complete with an airport. The Saguaro National Park and the surrounding desert (called the Sonoran Desert) is the only place in the world where you can find the Saguaro cactus, making it a truly unique place to visit. During the summer, there is very little wildlife during the day but if you visit around sunset you may see lizards, rabbits or even a deer (like we did). Like Joshua Tree National park, Saguaro National park is surprisingly green for a desert park and in springtime the wildflowers must be amazing. We arrived there in late summer, after the major blooms had faded, however, many of the cacti still had remaining blooms on their crowns.




Photo By:Kristen Lee



When I graduated from Community College I took a road trip from California to Texas to see my best friend. On our way from Los Angeles to San Antonio my mom and I stopped in Tucson and took a drive along the Cactus Forest Drive loop in my car. It was easy to find after we put the address in my phone GPS. There was a small entrance fee ($10) which was good for the entire week to both sides of the reserve. Being the middle of summer it was hot, even in the car with the air conditioning on, so be sure you have plenty of water. The gentleman manning the kiosk was friendly and asked where we were from while he gave us our receipt, park maps and directions. He even reminded us that there is no water in the park itself so be sure to bring some with you. The park was clean and bright and while we can’t speak to the state of the bathrooms, they were available on-site. There are picnic areas and hiking off the loop as well as a visitor center and gift shop. On the other side (the west side) there is also a wildlife area with a small museum. The drive was slightly hilly but was well paved, nothing that requires four wheel drive or all-terrain. The loop is one way and takes a while to drive although it probably took longer because we were getting out to take pictures regularly. You can stop at any time, just pull over to the side of the road so that others can go around your car to continue their drive. While the loop itself can probably be done in 20-30 minutes, you can easily spend all day hiking, picnicking and taking photos. How long you stay, is really up to you. Additionally, the closeness of Tuscon means that it only takes minutes to get back to restaurants, shopping and the comfort of your hotel.





Photo By:Kristen Lee

I was really hoping to see a bright, desert sunset, like the ones I grew up with in the Mojave Desert but the sunset was muted. It was still beautiful and it wasn’t until the sun started to set that we began to see animals. One of the things I really enjoyed seeing was the cacti that had died. While this may sound grim, they were truly beautiful because what was left of them was their basic structure. Additionally, it was really interesting to see the way that the birds lived in the barrels of the healthy cacti and even the cacti that had died. We had arrived in Tucson from California the day we had visited the park so we got there in the afternoon. I cannot imagine visiting at the height of the day when the sun would be its strongest. Still, I think that visiting the park in the early morning may allow for great lighting for pictures, as well as providing the remaining evening coolness.




Photo By:Kristen Lee


While some may find the desert lacking beauty, I was surprised at just how beautiful I thought the Saguaro National Park was. I especially appreciated that I was able to see the beauty from my car and while I would have loved to have taken advantage of the hiking trails it was just too hot. The smoothly paved road, plentiful turn-outs and short duration of the loop makes this a great excursion for someone who has mobility issues, problems with standing or walking long distances, and those who don’t handle the heat particularly well. While my mother and I both deeply enjoyed this trip I think that families with small children may struggle as it may be boring for little ones. This problem may be solved by visiting during a cooler time of year when you can allow young ones to get out of the car and stretch their legs, although be careful to keep an eye on them, Saguaro cacti have long stickers and they are everywhere.



Photo By:Kristen Lee



Resources:
National Parks Service - Saguaro National Park
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The Drive We Took



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