Tucson, AZ

Seeing the Rare Lifeforms of Saguaro National Park

Rene Cizio

Tucson is a rare and beautiful place, and they have a lifeform you won't see almost anywhere else. You know a place is spectacular and unique when it has its own lifeform – the Saguaro cactus, I mean, come on! Saguaro cactus’ only grow in the Sonoran Desert – here in the United States, that means only in and around Tucson and Phoenix. A little further in any direction, and you won’t find them anymore. So, it’s an area worth exploring.

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Saguaro National ParkRene Cizio

Saguaro Cactuses are an icon of the old American West. The tall tubular cactus’ stands tall and green and looks like it has two arms. Put’em up, pardner. Seeing these cacti was my reason for coming to Tucson. I’d glimpsed them briefly a few years before driving from Phoenix to Sedona, and I knew I had to come back.

You don’t have to do anything special to see the Saguaro’s while in Tucson, they’re everywhere, but still, you should go to Saguaro National Park, so you can see them in their full glory, taking over an entire desert. Just watch out for those pesky Javelinas.

The most important thing you should know about this park is that it is broken into two sections on opposite sides of town. The Rincon Mountain District is a 91,716 acres park also called Saguaro East. There you will find the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center, gift shop, nature trails and other amenities common to most national parks. About 10 miles away, you’ll find the other half of the park called the Tucson Mountain District. It’s where you’ll find a lot of backcountry and desert wildlife. It’s comprised of 25,000 acres and is often called Saguaro West.

Between the two parks, there are over 150 miles of designated trails where you’ll see near millions of Saguaros giving life to the phrase “grow wild.” They are wild. Many are just tall stalks, some thick, some thin but up to 60 feet tall. A Saguaro can weigh up to 4,800 pounds. Just imagine that. These things are as big as what … a bus? If you’ve never seen one in real life, you’ll be shocked by how big they grow. I always assumed they were just taller than your average cowboy. But some are as big as six cowboys stacked up.

When you see one wide and tall with many arms, you better respect it. They grow at an exceptionally slow rate and the first arm typically doesn’t appear until between 50 and 70 years – they’re not even adults until they’re 125 years old. Those arms when they grow, don’t just grow in the classic, “hands up” formation either, they grow in all sorts of directions, making each one unique. Many, if humans don’t interfere, can live 200 years. Also, call me crazy, but I swear they have a soul. In my next life, I’m probably going to come back as a Saguaro. At least I hope so, and I hope it’s in a national park where I’ll be protected.

Javelinas

But look out for those darn Javelinas. I hiked in the parks several times, but one day, while hiking a 4-mile trail in Saguaro West, I encountered trouble.

I was enjoying the end-of-the-day hike so much. There wasn’t anyone else around (Saguaro West is much less populated) and I was walking through the trail in awe. I was so thrilled with the cactuses and the setting sun casting all the colors of a rainbow. It was so beautiful, and I couldn’t believe I was there. Then I saw some dog tracks and thought I heard a bark. After a few minutes, I saw a little blackish animal I assumed was a dog. I’m always cautious around strange dogs, so I slowed to a stop. Then I saw another animal exactly the same size and shape and then another. As my eyes focused, I realized they were pigs, not dogs! They didn’t seem to notice me, though they were only about 50 feet ahead on the same trail. Because it was that time of night when it’s hard to see I couldn’t tell if they were boars, or dangerous, so I just backed up, turned around and, once I was out of sight of them, jogged back to the trailhead. It was a quick two miles since I was already halfway through the trail. Bah!

After, I looked it up and learned they’re called Javelina and they’re not really a pig. They live in Saguaro National Park and travel in packs up to 20. They’re not immediately dangerous, but they might fight a dog, or bite a human if a mama feels the need to be aggressive with her children. So, not knowing how many of those suckers were out there I did the right thing in turning around and you should do the same if you’re lucky enough to spot them in the wild too. But I probably didn’t need to run. I wish I would have gotten a picture, but I was too scared, ha. Regardless, either section of the park is well worth a trip to see a lifeform (The Saguaros, not the little non-pigs) you won’t see anywhere else.

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Digital nomad, solo traveling full time. I write about travel, adventure, universal energy, and the journey through life. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL
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