The saguaro cactus is the symbolic icon of the American southwest. Its life begins as a shiny black seed the size of a pinhead! Out of the 40 million pinheads a saguaro produces in its lifetime, very few will survive the harsh desert environment.The survivors grow very slowly. On its first birthday, the tiny saguaro measures only ¼ inch tall! On its fifteenth birthday, it may have reached the 12-inch mark!
After 75 years the cactus could sprout its first arm, which starts out as a small prickly ball. From there, most of the “arms” reach for the sky resembling human-like characters in an old western stagecoach robbery!
At the 100-year mark, the saguaro is capable of reaching 25 feet.Those surviving 150+ years have been known to grow as tall as 50 feet towering well above other desert plants.
In the spring, the saguaro cactus sprouts a gorgeous white flower that opens up after sunset. Eventually, the flowers turn into a red fig-like fruit that Native Americans made into jams, syrup and cactus wine.
Getting there: Saguaro is divided into two Units: Saguaro West and Saguaro East. Both are accessed off Interstate 10 about a half hour drive from downtown Tucson, AZ.
When to visit: The park is open every day except for Christmas. The best time of year to experience Saguaro is during the fall, winter and spring months.
Where to stay: There are no campgrounds or overnight lodging facilities available in either district. Lodging is available in nearby Tucson. There are 21 backcountry campsites located in 6 designated wilderness campgrounds within the Rincon District.
What to do: During January thru April, guided Ranger Programs give visitors a look at the many stories of the Sonoran Desert. Among the most popular are the guided walks that take you amongst the giant saguaros.
Saguaro offers 165 miles of maintained hiking trails in its two districts ranging from easy walks along interpretive trails to a day-long wilderness treks.
Driving Tours: The scenic 5-mile Bajada Loop Drive in the West District passes through a dense saguaro forest along a graded dirt road. The 8-mile Cactus Forest Drive located in the East District winds through another saguaro forest providing a glimpse at life in the Sonoran Desert.
Although Saguaro is believed to be primarily a desert park, Mica Mountain located in the eastern district tops out at an elevation of 8,666 ft. Here you will find a dense forest of Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and Aspen.
Trivia: There are over 1.6 million saguaros estimated to be thriving in the park!