It’s the iconic image of the American Southwest: The giant saguaro cactus, standing tall amid the arid desert, arms perpetually raised to the sky.
Avid movie watchers probably expect to see saguaro cacti scattered everywhere from west Texas to the California coast. In fact, this subtropical plant thrives only in the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona.
At Saguaro National Park, you can see more than 1.6 million giant saguaro—the largest forest of its kind on the planet.
The park is divided into two sections. The Tucson Mountain District spreads across desert scrub and desert grasslands, where you may see Gambel’s quail, desert tortoise, and even coyote. Hike to the Valley View Overlook for a terrific view of the mountains.
The Rincon Mountain District, on the other side of Tucson about an hour’s drive away, reaches elevations over 8,500 feet. Here, the landscape changes from desert to woodland, with pine and conifer forests climbing the hillsides.
Drive or bike the Cactus Forest Loop or hike the Freeman Homestead Trail. The cooler temperatures within the evergreens provide habitat for black bear, spotted owl, and white-tailed deer.
If you can, visit Saguaro National Park in spring to see the wildflowers, or in summer, before and after it rains. Many desert plants fall dormant and brown during dry spells, and then burst to green life after a rain.
Did you know:
The giant saguaro is one of the slowest-growing plants on earth. It can take eight years for the cactus to grow just 1 inch.