Friday, November 15, 2013

Saguaro National Park

     Saguaro National Park guards the city of Tuscon, Arizona from the East and West.  The biggest cacti in the nation, the Saguaro has become a symbol of the American Southwest with its towering stature and personable arms that reach up towards the sun.   

     The average Saguaro reaches a full height of around 40 feet.  This doesn’t happen until it has reached its 200th year.  

     It can take 10 years for a Saguaro to grow an inch in height.  The comparison of a baby Saguaro to a fully formed adult is incredible.  Check out this little guy; it’s hard to believe he might be 20-30 years old already:

     A teenage Saguaro, around 50 years old and 4 feet tall:

     I am a lover of deserts.  From the stunning orange rock of Southern Utah, to the lonely monoliths of Monument Valley, from the colorful slot mazes of Antelope Canyon, to the always breathtaking drops at the Grand Canyon, I am constantly surprised at the diversity of the American Southwest.  Each desert has its own eco-system with unique sets of animals, plants, and rocks.  Even the sky seems to change according to which piece of land you’re standing on.

     The Sonoran Desert is no exception.  What I found most endearing about this park wasn’t just the Saguaros, but the endless tangle of other plants that live below them.  There are over 1,600 different species of plants protected by this park.  As you meander through the trails, you’ll find yourself surrounded by green, yellow, red, purple... branches, spines, leaves, spikes, limbs.  More plants than you ever imagined could possibly survive in the desert.  

     Spring would be a lovely time to visit this park because of all the blooming plants and kinder weather.  We were there in July.  Temperatures soar into the 100’s this time of year, but we were fortunate enough to experience a nice rainstorm which cooled everything down considerably and made for a very easygoing experience.

     The Saguaro can weigh up to a ton when it is full of water, which it can store for months at a time.  As I walked along the dirt paths that lead innocuously through the desert, I liked to inspect the Saguaros closely.  The individuals seem very different from each other from up close.  Some turned to wood in places where others were waxy.  Some were a deep hue while others were bright green.  Many were riddled with holes and there were many that were nearly flawless.  Though I’m certainly no expert, my guess is age plays a significant role in the colors and textures of the Saguaro.  Like all things desert, time makes itself visible.

     A bird perched on top of a young Saguaro:

     I was lucky to have this horned toad pose for me long enough to get a few photos of him:  

     Night moved in quickly as the clouds from the recent storm still hung about.  

     This park is famous for its sultry sunsets, the Saguaros making elegant silhouettes in the firey air.  Because of the thick storm clouds, I wasn’t fortunate enough to witness a typical sunset but I stood and watched as the pink ball of the sun dipped down below the horizon.

     The sky threatened more rain as the sun disappeared entirely.  The sky was a deep, bright blue and the Saguaros turned into ethereal silhouettes.

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