on April 20, 2006
When I learned that southern Arizona is only one of three areas in which the Saguaro (pronounced “sah WAH roe”) are found, I decided I had to see them up close and personal. (The other two areas are along the Colorado River in California and in the state of Sonora in northern Mexico.) Saguaro National Park was thus a must-see on our Tucson trip, although I was not expecting the spectacular beauty that the park offered.Saguaro National Park is divided into two parts, Saguaro National Park West and Saguaro National Park East, flanking Tucson on either side. Each section has its own visitor center as well as plenty of picnic areas, scenic drives, and short nature trails. More serious hikers can enjoy longer treks in either part that will take them into the mountains overlooking Tucson. Trail information is available at the visitor centers. There is an entrance fee for both of the park districts. In March 2006, those fees were $10 for private vehicles and $5 for motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The fee is good for 1 week and can be used to visit either or both districts in that time frame. An annual pass is also available for $25. If one person in the party is at least 62 years old and a U.S. citizen and resident, the best deal is to purchase a Golden Age Passport. With proof of age and residency (driver's license or birth certificate), you can purchase a lifetime entrance pass to all the national parks for only $10.Saguaro West is located just north of Tucson Mountain Park. A tour of this region of the park can easily be coupled with a visit to the Wildlife Museum, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, or the Old Tucson Studios, all of which lie along the way between downtown Tucson and Saguaro National Park West. The weather was chilly and rainy the day we went, so we simply enjoyed driving through Saguaro West, stopping at numerous pull-offs to hike a short way down a trail to enjoy the scenery. I did hear a woman in the visitor center telling one of the employees that they had stopped at the Sonora Desert Museum and had enjoyed a lot of really amazing exhibits, but had aborted their tour because of the weather. A stop at the visitor center is highly recommended. I learned a lot from the audio-visual exhibits, and my hard-to-fit husband was thrilled to find a cool hat in his size to protect him from the UV rays. Saguaro East, in the Rincon Mountain district, encompasses a much larger area and has many more hiking trails. The 8-mile scenic drive we took through Saguaro East was along a one-lane paved road that provided more of a sensation of driving through a forest of cacti than did the scenic drives we took through Saguaro West. Both park regions have wheelchair-accessible facilities. There are also some accommodations for the vision- and/or hearing-impaired.
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