One cool, sunny morning we headed to east Tucson where we picked up our friend Melinda and ventured out to explore Saguaro National Park and to immerse ourselves in the desert ecosystem. The park is named after the iconic Saguaro cactus that dominates the Tucson landscape. If you have never seen a saguaro – it is that tall lean cactus with the funny arms that ends up as a cartoon character or in every western movie. Somehow these plants seem to take on a real personality and you forget they are covered in menacing thorns.
|A "cactus blight" severely reduced the number of saguaros at the|
park and officials even considered abolishing the park.
Our first stop was at the visitor center where we watched the orientation film, checked out the exhibits, and perused the bookstore and gift shop (just in case there was something we could not live without). Then we were off to drive the Cactus Forest Drive which is a one-way loop road where there are numerous pull-offs for you to stop and enjoy the scenery, marvel at the thorny mountainous landscape, and pick up a hiking trail or two.
|A view of the Catalina Mountains from the park.|
|The wooden "ribs" of the saguaro have been used for centurys' in building construction and |
are still visible in old buildings around Tucson.
After hearing that there are six species of rattlesnakes in the park, I was a little hesitant to venture too far away from the vehicle (I don’t do snakes). Melinda convinced me snakes are quite sluggish this time of year and Betsy coaxed me out of the car with a look of disgust for my intolerance of one of God’s creatures. So off we went for a short walk along the Desert Ecology Trail.
The park’s history dates back to 1933 when it was declared a National Monument and holds the distinction of being the first monument established with the purpose of protecting a particular plant species. A booming Tucson population and expansive cattle ranching (if you can believe cattle are ranched in the desert) brought about detrimental changes to the landscape and conservationists felt an urgency to protect the saguaro. The saguaro is a very long-lived species and their disappearance would have a lasting impact on the land.
|Saguaros can live to be 200 years old but only grow between 1-1 1/2 inches in its|
first 8 years. They don't start growing "arms" until they are 50-70 years old. So this one if very old!
|O.k., so I was more interested in following around "Smokey" the cat at the B&B Cactus Farm than picking out a cactus.|
We will always remember our time amongst the cactus with Melinda as she gave us a baby saguaro cactus and an adorable metal javalina for Christmas. What a great reminder of our time in Tucson. Thanks!