The awesome and iconic Saguaro cactus is truly the dominant feature of the Sonoran Desert in the Southwest. The Saguaro has become the symbol of all things desert. The towering cacti live to be 250 years old and older. They don’t start to grow their “arms” until they are at least 75 years old!
The Saguaro National Park has two sections on either side of Tucson, Arizona. Both sections offer unbelievable opportunities to enjoy the magnificent and thriving desert environments. Walking trails and scenic roads give ample opportunities to get up close and personal with the Saguaro and countless other species of desert plants. A trip to the Saguaro National Park should be on everyone’s travel itinerary. We’ll be back to Tucson and the desert once our travel is possible.
Sher and I are not traveling now due to coronavirus, so we thought we’d share some of our BC pictures with you. (BC = before COVID-19)
One of my favorite places on Earth is the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. This photo was taken in the Western Mountain District a few minutes before sunset. The stunning landscape is dotted with the magnificent saguaro cacti.
We took a drive to the Tucson Mountain District of the Saguaro National Park one evening. It was a visual delight to watch the desert turn from the bright sunlight of the day into the subdued lighting of dusk followed by yet another night.
One by one the cacti lose the sun’s warmth
Shadows begin to lengthen
A beautiful blaze of the day’s last light
Sher and I were driving in our motorhome on the far east side of Tucson, following Tanque Verde Road, one of the main east-west routes. As we approached the foothills of the Rincon Montains the road became Reddington Road. We kept on driving enjoying looking at the houses, horse ranches and the scenery.
The dirt road at its widest
The road narrowed but I kept on, and soon there was a sign for curves, one of which was a 5MPH curve warning. This curve led to a steep, steep climb. At this point turning around was not an option.
The next thing we saw was a sign for the Coronado National Forest and the change from paved road to dirt/gravel road. No way to turn around, and no idea what was ahead. When a small truck came down the road towards us I flagged the vehicle down. The lady inside informed me that less than a mile up the road was a parking area where we could trun around. Whew!
We got turned around and stopped to get out and admire the view. Hundreds of Saguaro cacti covered the landscape. What an impressive sight they were! We were in but a small portion of the 1.78 million acres of the Coronado National Forest which covers portions of Arizona and New Mexico.
Oh, and by the way, I won’t head out on a road leading into the mountains again without doing some research!
Lots of Saguaro
The Saguaro National Park is unique in that it is actually in two different parts: The Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. One section is west of Tucson, the other is east of town. First designated as a National Monument in 1933, the monument was officially made a National Park in 1994.
Sher and I went to the Rincon Mountain District one afternoon when we were checking out some antique and art stores on the far est side of Tucson. We stopped at the Visitor Center to pick up some information brochures and a map of the park. We did not have to pay the entrance fee because we have the America the Beautiful Senior Pass.
Fish hook barrel cactus
The beauty of the desert
The scenic loop drive is an 8 mile one way paved road that winds through a portion of the huge park. This will give you an up close view of the amazing cacti and other plants that populate the remarkable desert environment. You cant help but feel a connection to the marvels of the desert as you take this drive. There are many pulloffs and some “scenic” views. Get out, smell the air and take a little walk.
One thing that stood out to us was the individuality of each of the Saguaro catcti. The younger ones had a simple stalk. The Saguaro doesn’t start to grow the iconic “arms” until it is over 6 feet tall and at least 60 to 75 years old. Those old timers with several arms are in the 150 + age group!
“The Chief Trumpeter”
Fort Lowell Park is now a large city park northeast of downtown Tucson. It is home to several ballparks and soccer fields. The ground is also the site of a former frontier Army fort. The original military post was opened in 1860 on the outskirts of the then tiny town of Tucson. This location was abandoned several years later and moved to the Fort Lowell site, seven miles northeast of downtown Tucson. The fort remained until it was decommissioned and abandoned in 1891.
The Fort was used as a staring point for several Army expeditions chasing down “renegade” Apache bands. Perhaps the most famous event that began at Fort Lowell was General Crook’s expedition that led to the “surrender” of Geronimo.
Today little remains of the original buildings. The old hospital building remains are the largest reminder of the original fort. The mud brick walls are now protected from the weather by a large shed roof. A fence now surrounds these ruins to keep them safe from vandalism.
The old fort hospital ruins
The Commanding Officer’s quarters has been faithfully reconstructed and houses a small museum. The museum houses fascinating displays covering the life and times of life on a frontier military post. Military uniforms, saddles and weaponry are there for up close examination. Civilian history is also told.
Take time to visit Fort Lowell. As you walk the old parade grounds you can imagine the cavalry troopers in formation as the infantry marches into place for the sounding of the evening gun. Look at the large statue of a mounted bugler: let your mind travel back to Tucson in the 1880’s.
Once a year the old fort is the location of the Fort Lowell Day Celebration. Normally the second Saturday in February, this event is packed with activities including Cavalry drills, period bands, walking tours and of course lots of food vendors. Visit the Arizona Historical Society website for details.
About 10 miles south of Tucson, Arizona you will find the “White Dove of the Desert” also known as the Mission San Xavier del Bac. This magnificent Spanish mission was completed in 1797. The first Spanish missionary, Father Eusebio Kino, arrived at the site in 1692. Throughout the years the location has been part of New Spain, Mexico, and finally a part of the U.S. after the Gadsen Purchase of 1854.
When you enter the church you cannot help but be amazed by the incredible amount of 18th century statuary and murals. The impact varies for everyone who walks the interior of this powerfully spiritual place. Candles are always lit and displayed. A shrine to St Francis is a prominent feature and one of solemn devotion.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
The edifice is still a functioning Catholic Church that primarily serves the Tohono O’odham tribe, formerly known as the Papago. There is a museum the shows the history of the church however it ws under construction during our visit so we missed much of the displays. There is also a gift shop.
Being one of the most popular tourist stops in Tucson, we were fortunate to visit when there were very few people there. It was almost as if we had the place to ourselves. This is a site that is filled with history as well as a sacred place for contemplation, meditation and prayer. Do not miss a chance to visit San Xavier. You will be moved.
The San Xavier website is packed with information for your visit planning assistance.
Prayer chapel and garden