No image of America’s southwest is more recognizable than the Saguaro (sah-wah-ro) cactus. However, the large succulents are only found in the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona. To see these majestic beauties, I head south to Tucson, AZ, and the Saguaro National Park. I’m traveling south from Williams, AZ on I-17. I stop at that Sunset Point rest stop outside of Phoenix with no saguaros in sight. However, shortly after leaving this stop the large cacti start to dot the landscape. I have never seen one of these giants and they fascinate me. At the first chance, I pull off the road to examine the monsters a little further. They tower over me. I’m anxious to get to the park to see more.
Saguaro National Park
As I enter the park, the road is lined with saguaro and well as the mountainside and as far as I can see. The temperature is 106 degrees. I have Murphy with me and it stresses him just to walk on the hot pavement. The park offers over 165 miles of hiking trails, but I’ll have to limit any hiking to within eyesight of the truck that I’ll keep running with him cool inside.
Near the visitor center is the Desert Discovery Nature trail. Here are numerous species of cacti and wildlife. I see birds, lizards and a couple of jackrabbits bringing life to a pretty desolate place.
Usually, the cacti only bloom at night but I’m lucky to catch a few in bloom. White Winged doves are atop many of them taking advantage of the nectar bar that is open late.
Maybe it’s just the heat but kind of like finding shape in the clouds, I begin to see the cacti take on human forms. I see the cheerleader, the naturing mom, the touchdown referee, and some are just waving as I drive by. Each has its own personality some stand tall and proud others looked tired and weary.
A saguaro’s arms usually begin to grow only after it is about 15 feet tall and around 75 years old. It can also have many arms.
A typical saguaro can live between 100-200 years.
A full-grown saguaro can reach 40 feet tall.
A fully-grown saguaro can weigh several tons due to the water it stores.
Many saguaros have holes burrowed in them by Gila Woodpeckers who nest in them.
It’s against the law in Arizona to harm a saguaro cactus: landowners need a special permit for any construction that will affect a living plant.
The cactus bloom, Arizona’s state flower, only appear on the saguaro when the cactus is 35 years old.
Not heavily promoted but also in the park is Signal Hill. Just north of the picnic area is the largest petroglyph site in the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. These petroglyphs were created from between about 550 to 1550 years ago. The petroglyphs at Signal Hill were made by the Hohokam, a people who lived in southern and south-central Arizona from about 450 to 1450 A.D.
What do the petroglyphs mean? What were the Hohokam trying to tell say? Some meanings were not meant to be known or understood except by the person who made it. While some meanings were not meant to be known or understood by the uninitiated. Some images were possibly made for religious purposes.
They probably all have a deep spiritual significance and may be considered prayers by some people. Current speculation has led some researchers to believe that some petroglyphs or pictographs may tell a story, mark a trail, or commemorate an event. Some images may have been made to ensure fertility or successful hunting, or may have also been used to keep track of the season.
Regardless of their meaning, It amazes me that I am so close to ancient history. I find myself questioning the authenticity of it all. This site is such an added bonus to an already amazing place.