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Suh-wah-row National Park

Saguaro National Park

February 26, 2020

Well, no doubt they got the name of this park correct. Very cool to see these cacti everywhere you look.

A Bit of History

President Hoover established the area as a national monument in 1933. It was upgraded to full National Park status in 1994 (it is the newest National Park), and encompasses approximately 91,400 acres. During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps was active in the park, building everything from serpentine erosion barriers to the many road signs, picnic benches, and shelters visitors that are still in use. They knew how to build structures that both had character and would last!

About The Park

The park is divided into two separate and distinct units on either side of Tucson. The Tucson Mountain District to the west of the city features desert grasslands, desert shrubs (including a denser area of Saguaro cacti) and a variety of wildlife; the Rincon Mountain District to the east offers higher elevation vistas and conifer forests climbing the hillsides. So far I have only visited the Tucson Mountain District. Unlike most National Parks, at least this part boarders on the suburbs of Tucson. The road through the park has a significant amount of local traffic.

The park ranges from an elevation of 2,180 to 8,666' and contains six distinct biomes, from desert scrub and grasslands, to oak and pine woodlands to mixed conifer forest. It's this range of climates that gives Saguaro its extraordinarily diverse wildlife. Two hundred species of birds nest in the park, including 18 species of hummingbirds, roadrunners, great-horned owls, and red-tailed hawks. Saguaro also has 50 reptile species including six different rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, iguanas, and a colorful variety of lizards. Jackrabbits, mule deer, javelina, coyote, bobcat, desert tortoise, and even black bear call the park home. (Rumor has it that this area is where jackrabbits and antelopes mate.) . I am disappointed, in a way, to report that I saw none of this wildlife.

The unique adaptations that vegetation comes up with for desert survival make for some interesting vegetation Wildflowers such as striking gold poppies and desert marigolds, red and pink penstemons, purple lupines, and orange globe mallows add welcome splashes of color. I observed how many of these flowers close up as the sun goes down and the temperature drops.

About the Saguaro Cactus.

The saguaro blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona.

This variety of cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) is one of the defining plants of the Sonoran Desert. It is the largest cactus in the United States. They are large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age, although some never grow arms. These arms generally bend upward and can number over 25. Saguaros are covered with protective spines, white flowers in the late spring, and red fruit in summer.

Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert - primarily in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico. At the northern portion of their range they are more plentiful on the warmer south facing slopes. A few stray plants can also be found in southeast California. The most important factors for growth are water and temperature. If the elevation is too high, the cold weather and frost can kill the saguaro. Although the the Sonoran Desert experiences both winter and summer rains, it is thought that the Saguaro obtains most of its moisture during the summer rainy season.

With the right growing conditions, it is estimated that saguaros can live to be as much as 150-200 years old. Saguaro are very slow growing cactus. A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. They may grow their first side arm any time from 75–100 years of age, but some never grow any arms. Arms are developed to increase the plant's reproductive capacity, as more apices led to more flowers and fruit.. Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall. When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds.

Most of the saguaros roots are only 4 to 6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep root, or tap root that extends down into the ground more than 2 feet.

After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture. The holes that birds nested in or "saguaro boots" can be found among the dead saguaros. Native Americans used these as water containers long before the canteen was available.

(Unfortunately I did not take this photo but I sure wish I had!)

Fun Facts About the Saguaro

Cuttings rarely root and when they do, they do not go through the juvenile growth phase which gives a different appearance.

The largest known living saguaro in the United States in Maricopa County, Arizona, measuring 45.3 feet high with a girth of 10 feet).

The tallest saguaro ever measured was an armless specimen found near Cave Creek, Arizona. It was 78 feet in height

It uses crassulacean acid metabolism photosynthesis, which confers high levels of water-use efficiency. This allows the saguaro to only transpire at night, minimizing day-time water loss.[

A saguaro without arms is called a spear.

Inside the saguaro, there are many "ribs" of wood which form something like a skeleton, with the individual ribs being as long as the cactus itself and up to a few inches in diameter.

The rib wood itself is also relatively dense, which made the ribs useful to indigenous peoples as a building material.

The spines on a saguaro are extremely sharp and can grow up to 0.039 inch per day. They grow to approximately thee inches in length.

(Didn't take this one either. 🤣)

My Slideshow

Here’s a slideshow of my photos from my two hikes yesterday. Given that the park is located in the Sonoran Desert, I thought the first song was appropriate. Note: I didn't have a horse with me.😎 The second song will be a surprise (you’ll get the joke, I’m sure).

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