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Home National & State Parks Other NPs Saguaro National Park: Arizona's Desert Wilderness Wonder Turns 75

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park: Arizona's Desert Wilderness Wonder Turns 75

This 91,000-Acre Park, With Tucson Right in the Middle of it, Is Home to the Giant Saguaro Cactus, an Icon of the American West

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Saguaro National Park-adjacent to Tucson, Arizona-celebrated its 75th anniversary on March 1, 2008, and since the park is one of the more unusual destinations in the National Park system, we thought we'd spotlight for you the park and its desert beauty.

The park is one of the most unique properties within the National Park System. For one thing, the 91,000-acre park has a major U.S. city right in the middle of it. The population of greater Tucson is nearly 1 million persons.

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For another, it's home to the Giant Saguaro cactus, an icon of the American Southwest. Many a Hollywood B-movie cowboy or Indian bit the dust at the base of one.

The saguaro (pronounced sa-WAH-ro, the "g" is silent) only grows naturally in the Sonoran Desert-southern Arizona, southeastern California, and Sonora, Mexico. Saguaro National Park has around 1.6 million saguaro plants growing within its boundaries.

An adult saguaro is generally considered to be about 125 years of age. It may weigh 6 tons or more and be as tall as 50 feet, according to the National Park Service. The average life span of a saguaro is probably 150 to 175 years of age. However, biologists believe that some plants may live more than 200 years.

The park dates back to 1933 when President Herbert Hoover signed a proclamation creating Saguaro National Monument. In May of 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered that 16 national monuments be transferred to the National Park Service, and Saguaro was on its way to becoming a national park.

"The value of Saguaro National Park to local Tucsonans, as well as all Americans is immeasurable," said the park's superintendent, Sarah Craighead.

"In 1933 Congress and the President were amazingly far-sighted in preserving this place in perpetuity. Their efforts ensure this unique piece of the Sonoran Desert, and the icon species of the American Southwest, the saguaro cactus, is protected for this and future generations," added Craighead.

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When the park was created, the Rincon Mountains were fairly remote - nothing like today where urban development extends to the park's boundary in both districts.

"While the park's proximity to a large metropolitan area presents some management challenges, it also provides our visitors and community with extraordinary educational, scientific and recreational opportunities," Craighead said.

Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District.

The Tucson Mountain District lies on the west side of Tucson, while the Rincon Mountain District lies on the east side of the city. The Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park ranges from an elevation of 2,180 ft. to 4,687 ft. and contains two biotic communities: desert scrub, and desert grassland. Average annual precipitation is approximately 10.27 in.

Common wildlife within the Tucson Mountain District include the coyote, Gambel's quail, rattlesnakes and desert tortoise.

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The Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park ranges from an elevation of 2,670 ft. to 8,665 ft. and contains six biotic communities. The biotic communities (starting from the lowest elevation) include desert scrub, desert grassland, oak woodland, pine-oak woodland, pine forest and mixed conifer forest. Average annual precipitation is approximately 12.30 in.

Because of the higher elevation in the Rincons, animals like the black bear, Mexican spotted owl, Arizona mountain king snake, and white-tailed deer live in this district.

Since Saguaro National Park is in the Sonoran Desert, weather and high temperatures are a major factor for visitors.

Summers can be extremely hot with daytime temperatures exceeding 105 degrees in the shade, and evening lows averaging 72 degrees. Rangers stress to summer visitors that they should always wear a brimmed hat, use sunscreen while hiking and drink plenty of water. Visitors should drink at least one gallon of water per person, per day, rangers say.

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Winters are usually pleasant with mild warm days averaging 65 degrees and cool nights averaging 40 degrees. Sometimes it even snows at the park. Spring and fall are transition periods, and can bring good weather for hiking the many trails.

With spring upon us, however, the focus is on desert flowers. Right now visitors can see a variety of wildflower color, including the Mexican Poppy, the Arizon Pestemon, and the Fairy duster. Of course, there are also cactus flowers as well.

In fact, growing at Rincon Mountain District are more than 1,162 species of plants ranging from desert vegetation such as cacti, ocotillo, and creosote in the lower elevations all the way to ponderosa pine, oak, and Douglas-fir in the upper elevations of the Rincon Mountains.

The Tucson Mountain District is home to 512 species of plants.

The park also offers hiking, bicycling, and horseback recreational opportunities, so be sure and consider those options when you go there.

Editor's note: We wish to thank Saguaro National Park for providing much of the background material for this story.

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Saguaro National Park

Directions:
3693 South Old Spanish Trail
Tucson, AZ 85730
Headquarters Telephone:
(520) 733-5100

Visitor Information:
Rincon Mountain District
(520) 733-5153
Tucson Mountain District
(520) 733-5158

Operating Hours & Seasons
Both districts of the park are open from 7 a.m. to sunset daily. Both districts of the park offer a visitor center with operating hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except closed on Christmas Day.

Seasons
Tucson is known for its mild winters and hot summers. Tucson has two rainy seasons, the summer rainy season, which generally runs from July through August and the winter rainy season, which generally runs from December through January. Because of the temperate winter climate, the heaviest visitation generally comes between November and April.


 
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