In 1933, the Saguaro National Park was created to protect the saguaro, other desert plants and rock formations with petroglyphs made by Native Indians long ago. The park is separated into two sections. The Rincon Mountain District is approximately 15 miles east of Tucson. The Tucson Mountain District is about 15 miles west of Tucson. Both of these districts represent the Sonoran desert and include magnificent stands of saguaro cacti.
Saguaros are unique cacti. They have also been described as the monarch of the Sonoran Desert, as a prickly horror and as the supreme symbol of the American Southwest. Saguaros grow only in southern Arizona, in California along the Colorado River and in northern Mexico. Protection is the key to the success of a saguaro. Palo Verde trees and other shade plants protect a young saguaro. Saguaros can live up to 200 years and can reach the heights of 30 to 40 feet. They are slow growing. It takes about twenty-five years to grow, just two feet. The saguaro arms do not appear until the cactus is 75 years old. The arms of the saguaro have caused people to call them the plant with personality. Saguaros with arms look all too human. They have white blossoms that appear in May and June. The saguaro blossom is Arizona’s state flower.
The Rincon Mountain District houses the park’s headquarters and is located on Freeman Road, south of Old Spanish Trail about 15 miles from Tucson. This district stretches out 66,336 acres. It also contains a visitor center with plant and animal displays. The displays include desert animal skeletons and a cross section of a saguaro. A 15-minute slide show tells about the park’s plant and wildlife. There are nature programs available in the winter. Visitors can also explore the desert by taking a driving tour. The Cactus Forest Drive starts at the visitor center and continues for 8 miles through the beautiful Sonoran desert. There are two picnic spots along the drive. If you would like more information, call 520-733-5153.
The Tucson Mountain District has a visitor center filled with informative exhibits. Here you will see 20,738 acres of desert landscape. The Red Hills Visitor Center is on Kinney Road about 15 miles from Tucson just off of Speedway/Gates Pass Road. There are signs to direct you to the park. There is a driving trail that is located in the area. Before embarking on the drive, you will want to stop in at the visitor center for a map. The Bajada Loop Drives winds for 6 miles through the National Park. There are four picnic areas available at the Tucson Mountain District. For more information you may call, 520-733-5158.
When you make your visit to either of these Districts, is it recommended you come prepared for the adventure. It is advisable to bring water, dress appropriately for the climate and plan on at least a half a day to take in the whole park. During the summer the temperatures can rise past 100 degrees, therefore the best time to plan a trip is during the winter, fall or springtime.
Both districts offer bird watching, photography, hiking and guided walks. You will want to make a stop at the visitor center to find out more.
Both districts in the Saguaro National Park are open everyday from dawn to dusk. The Visitor Centers are open everyday from 8:30 to 5:00 pm, except on Christmas. Admission costs vary depending on which district you would like to visit. Admission to the Rincon Mountain District is by a 7-day permit or by annual permit. The 7-day permit costs $4.00 per vehicle or $2.00 for individuals arriving by other means. The Tucson Mountain District admission is free.
The Saguaro National Park is a one of a kind place to visit. Please remember to leave only your footprints and take nothing but wonderful memories.