Saguaro National Park exists for the protection of America's largest cacti, a long-standing symbol of the American west. There is something about the Saguaro that makes you want to read personalities into them and take their pictures.
Another gorgeous day. Clear blue skies and 75 degrees.
We drove the few miles over to Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain District, also known as Saguaro West.
There are two districts of Saguaro National Park. The Tucson Mountain District is just a few miles from Gilbert Ray Campground. The Rincon Mountain District, or Saguaro East, is north of I-10 between Tucson and Benson. There are about 30 miles between the two.
We started at the Red Hills Visitors Center.
After securing our pass, we watched the fifteen minute movie on the Giant Saguaro cactus from the Native American perspective. After the presentation, the screen lifted for a great view of the desert and mountains.
The Native Americans believed that the Saguaro (pronounced Sa-WAH-ro) represented people. As we looked at them closely, they did seem to take on personalities.
We walked the Javelina Wash Trail around the visitors center and then the Cactus Garden Trail.
I got a close-up of a young Saguaro.
These cacti grow very slowly - one to one and a half inches a year in their first eight years. They don't start sprouting "arms" until they are 50 - 70 years old. They can get up to 50 feet tall and weigh over six tons.
But to get started, they grow under the protection of a "nurse tree", usually a Palo Verde or Mesquite. Here is a sample of a youngster with its Palo Verde nurse.
Eventually, they outgrow and outlive their nurse tree.
After the two short trails at the visitors center, we weren't really sure what to do. None of the hikes jumped out us. The terrain is pretty much the same throughout the park and the trail descriptions didn't give us any incentive to take one over another.
We drove the Bajada Loop, a six mile drive on a gravel road. We stopped a couple of times to take photos of birds.
This is a beautiful male Phainopepla (Fay-no-pep-la).
It looks like a black cardinal with a bright red eye. The females are gray with a red eye.
This Curve-billed Thrasher sang us a lovely song.
We just sat by the road and listened for several minutes.
We finally decided to hike the half-mile Signal Hill Petroglyphs Trail - the only trail that distinguishes itself in the written descriptions.
There is quite a bit of rock art and you can get pretty close.
Linda was more intent in searching for baby Saguaros under "nurse trees". She found lots of youngsters, but had trouble spotting any newborns.
This is a Fishhook Barrel Cactus.
The spines on these cacti are curved at the end like little fishhooks. Also, we learned at the park, that they tend to lean toward the southwest. Sometimes they are called the "Compass Cactus" for that reason. As they get bigger and heavier, they often fall over and uproot themselves.
Here is a great example of a Chain Fruit Cholla (choy-ah) cactus.
The Chain Fruit Cholla is the largest of all the various types of cholla cactus. The chollas don't grow from seeds like the Saguaros and other cacti. They grow in segments which are easily detached. Detached segments then take root and start new plants.
This cholla and the Teddy Bear Cholla are often called "Jumping Cholla" because the segments detach so easily and it seems they "attack" passing animals and humans.
This Saguaro seems to have a little "nose".
This Saguaro looks like a boxer saying "Put up your dukes".
Linda adds some perspective to the size of these wonderful plants. They have to be pretty old to get that tall and we've come to respect them like old trees.
I really enjoyed taking pictures of them and imagining they really do have personas like so many of the rock formations we've seen on our journey.
As the sun got lower in the sky, I wanted to get some shots in the red hills area.
These two Saguaros seemed to be having a tender moment in the romantic light of dusk.
We exited the park and went back toward the campground.
Saguaro National Park certainly isn't one of our favorite national parks, but there is something about the Saguaros themselves that touches us. We feel a sort of spiritual connection with these desert giants, and we hope that they remain a symbol of the American west for decades to come.