There is only one place on earth where you can see a forest of Saguaro cactus – the Sonoran desert. Covering 100,000 square miles of Arizona, eastern California and northern Mexico, this is a relatively young desert – just 10,000 years old, but vibrant and complex.
Sonoran DesertMany visualize a desert as sand, but the Sonoran desert is green and lush, with plants and animals you may find nowhere else. You will see prickly pear, ocotillo, hedgehog cactus, cholla, fishhook barrel cactus, buckhorn cholla, yucca, brittle bush, desert marigold, globe mallow, creosote, mesquite, palo verde, ironwood, jojoba, and more. The largest and most stunning of all of these uniquely adapted plants is the Saguaro cactus, found only in the Sonoran desert and protected in the Saguaro National Park.
Saguaro National ParkThere are two parts to the Saguaro National Park – one to the east and one to the west of the city of Tucson, Arizona. The eastern part is a bit more difficult to get to, but it is amazing. This is the “Rincon” district, established as a National Monument in the 30’s to protect the valley and the mountains to the southeast of Tucson, preserving habitat from the desert floor – home to javelina and cactus – up to the tallest peak of over 8,600 feet with ponderosa pine trees and bears.
Running in the ParkWe came to this part of the park specifically to do a run through the saguaros. There is an 8-mile one way loop road that provides an amazing experience. When we went there, we saw more cyclists, runners and walkers on the road than we saw cars. It was so quiet out there – other than the birds and the sounds of the quail, all you could hear were your own footsteps. A perfect place to run!!!
Hint: Go early before the visitors start to drive through. Park at the visitor center. Be sure to take water. Be warned. It is hilly but worth the trek!There is a visitor center with nature trails and the drive is well worth it. There are also miles of hiking trails on this side of the park from flat desert trails to back country back packing and camping.