Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park consists of two sections, east and west, encompassing parts of Arizona near Tucson. Originally established as a national monument in 1933, it was made one of the Arizona national parks in 1994 and remains a popular tourist draw to this southwestern state. Encompassing two sets of mountain ranges, the Rincon Mountains and the Tucson Mountains, the park is situated in the Sonoran Desert, featuring tons of desert plants and animals, including its namesake, the saguaro cactus. While participating in any number of activities, be prepared to experience unique and breathtaking scenery all the while.

When the national monument was first established in Saguaro Arizona in the early 1930s, it was limited to what is today the eastern portion. Years later, some of today’s western region was added to include the Tucson Mountains, and another 21,000 acres was later added to bring the total area of the park up to more than 91,000 acres. Also within the park is the Saguaro Wilderness Area, which was designated in 1976 and includes part of the Rincon Mountains and is near the Coronado National Forest.

The land around Saguaro includes a variety of desert landscapes, such as the Tucson and Rincon Mountains, forests of saguaro, and dozens of other desert plants. Saguaro Park is one of the Arizona national parks that features an abundance of plant life—25 species of cacti, to be exact. The most well known plant in this region is the saguaro cactus, a towering giant with sizable arms reaching up to the sun and which can live for centuries. For a saguaro cactus to grow a single arm, it is believed to take one hundred years.

Other widespread cactus breeds include Engelman’s prickly pear, fishhook barrel, the staghorn cholla, the teddybear cholla, the chainfruit cholla (also called the jumping cholla), and the pinkflower hedgehog. There are also invasive plants that are threatening the ecosystem of the Saguaro National Park, of which buffelgrass is the current and most common; the park offers educational programs and invites volunteers to help control this plant population in an effort to protect the park’s wildlife and natural environment.

In a desert, one might not expect to find an abundance of animals; however, while Saguaro is a desert region, the animal population is diverse and plentiful. There are monsoon seasons that occur each year, causing the water levels to build up for a period of time, and the mountains also support a great deal of life. As would be expected in many deserts, there are dozens of reptiles, such as the desert tortoise, turtles, and snakes (both poisonous and nonpoisonous). A handful of toad and frog species call this park home, and they can be seen mostly during the rainy season when they come out to mate in the temporary ponds. Some of the birds include roadrunners, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, hawks, and owls. When trekking, driving, or roaming through this desert land, don’t be surprised to see a healthy selection of mammals, such as raccoons, bobcats, black bears, coyotes, foxes, various types of rodents, rabbits, bats, and the ringtail, a type of raccoon Arizona’s state mammal.

The most popular activities within the park vary with every visitor, from driving through the various landscapes to adventurous hiking to taking one of the guided tours that take place during the winter season, the park’s busiest time of the year. As with many of the large Arizona national parks, such as Grand Canyon National Park and Petrified Forest National Park, Saguaro is equipped with a system of paved roads, allowing visitors to easily traverse the area. Energetic visitors often go biking and hiking along the 150 miles of designated trails in the park, and everyone who visits Saguaro National Park snaps plenty of pictures of the enchanting surroundings offered by the variety of plant and animal life that live here.

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