We visited the western portion of the Sonora National Park, called the Tucson Mountain District, after going to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum on the road from Tucson, which makes a good ‘double header’ for the day. Situated in the unique Sonoran desert, it is home of its namesake, the world’s most recognizable cactus--the majestic saguaro.
These huge cacti are fascinating, especially their complex relationships with other desert life. The cacti provide their sweet fruit to hungry animals and also provide homes to a variety of birds, such as the Harris’ hawk, Gila woodpecker and the tiny elf owl. Despite their seeming invulnerability, the saguaro require other desert plants for their very survival during the first few years, needing the shade and protection of a nurse plant such as the palo verde tree. With an average life span of 150 years, a mature saguaro may grow to a height of 50 feet and weigh over 10 tons.
Red Hills visitor centre, near the entrance is very informative with a large diorama depicting the natives species, and a viewing platform that allows you to see ‘Sensitive Resource Area’ of the park. Stop here for maps, information, and suggestions about the scenic drives, bird watching, photography, hiking, and participating in guided walks. There is also a bookstore with a great selection of books on the Sonoran Desert and the Southwest. Numerous guided walks are also offered.
My favorite sight was Signal Hill, which has ancient Native American pictoglyphs at its summit.
The Park is open daily, 7:00am to sunset. Visitor centers are open daily, 8:30am to 5:00pm and the best time to visit is winter when the weather is very pleasant with mild, warm days averaging 19 degrees Celsius. Summers can be extremely hot with daytime temperatures exceeding 41 degrees Celsius, even in the shade. Always wear a hat and use sunscreen while hiking and drink plenty of water. If driving, carry extra water and remember to leave windows slighty open to prevent the glass from shattering.
Check out the Saguaro National Park website for further details.