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Earthgoers Guide: Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park, encompassing over 91,000 acres, consists of two separate districts located east and west of Tucson, Arizona. Home to an estimated 1.6 million saguaro (pronounced sah-WAH-roh) cacti, for which the park is named, the park preserves some of the finest Sonoran Desert and provides vast recreation opportunities with its 165 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. With approximately 600,000 visitors per year, the park is one of the more popular destinations in Arizona.
Flora & Fauna
The park's well-preserved Sonoran Desert is anchored by its iconic symbol, the mighty Saguaro. These cacti take 8 years to grow just over an inch. At about 30 years they begin to flower (in late April, May, and June) and produce fruit. After 50 years the saguaro can be as tall as 7 feet, but the first branch typically doesn't start growing until age 75. Saguaros can live 150 years or more, at which time they can tower as high as 50 feet and weigh 8 tons. During their lifetime, Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers make nest holes in the trunk and larger branches, which are then often used by numerous other bird species.
There is much more to Sonoran Desert than saguaros. The park has an incredibly diverse ecosystem with at least 1,162 species of plants, which include over 50 species of cacti. Wildlife abounds in the park, but sighting it during the day can be difficult. Many species are nocturnal and avoid the daytime heat. Still, you stand a good chance to spot jackrabbits, Gambel's quail, cactus wrens (Arizona's state bird), rattlesnakes, and lizards. If you are very lucky you may see collared peccaries (javelinas), coyotes, a desert tortoise, or a gila monster (one of only two poisonous lizards in the world).
So where are the best places to experience the park? Let's explore the two districts.