Yesterday was day two of our Epic Road Trip- Our Late Start to Summer. We drove 10 hours total yesterday. We traveled from Alamogordo, New Mexico to Joshua Tree, California. We stopped about 4 hours into the trip to spend a few hours at Saguaro National Park located in Arizona. This National Park is what I would call a preservation site for the largest Cacti in the Unites States.
It is the history of this National Park that makes it quite interesting. It is a small National Park in comparison to many of the other National Parks we have visited, yet it has a great deal of rich history that was recorded and photographed from the late 1800’s until today. Basically, this location was settled by a number of Mexican families in the late 1800’s. It was a tough life in the dessert and especially the extreme summer conditions of this area in Arizona, yet these families survived for many generations. From the video I watched at the visitor’s center, I learned that many Apache Indians had been living on that land, and because of conflict with the new settlers including Mexicans (soon to be Mexican Americans) and other Americans coming from the East, the government subsequently relocated the Indians to Florida. These families who settled in this area became ranchers. Crops did not survive well, so cattle was what they raised. By the time the great depression came in the 1930’s most of the Saguaro Cactus (the giant Cactus trees that are the largest in the US and are synonymous with the Southwest) were wiped out in this region because of the cattle trampling the baby plants and seedlings, settlers using the Cacti for building materials, and severe drought for several years. President Hoover made this land a National Park in the final days of his Presidency. I am thankful that he did, as we can see actual Saguaro Cacti forests today in this National Park.
It is a cool and interesting place to visit! Once President Hoover made it a National Park hundreds of people were given jobs at this park to bring it back to life. They cleared out the old abandoned homesteads, they filled in 30 gold mining locations on the property, they created a road going through the property for future visitors, and they helped the Saguaro Cacti population increase and flourish in this land once again.
It is no easy feat for a Saguaro Cactus to grow. In 10 years they grow approximately 2 inches! These slow growing Cactus trees may live to be 200 years though. I don’t recall where I read it, but someone referred to them as the redwoods of the desert. It is a great comparison, because these Cactus trees can grow over 50 feet tall and weigh over 2 tons.
Here are my tips for visiting this National Park:
- This National Park can be visited in one day or less. Many of the National Parks are best seen in numerous days and visits. This National Park is an exception and basically can be seen, hiked, and educated about in a day or less. We spent a few hours and were able to do a hike, go to the visitor’s center for the educational video, take the scenic drive, and take a number of group photo opportunities during the visit. Here are some pics from our time at the visitor’s center:.
- Be sure to stop into the visitor’s center for the video. They have a free video in their mini theatre at the visitor’s center that is about 20 minutes in length. It really helps you appreciate the vision and importance of this National Park. I am so glad we watched the video, because I learned a lot and it was really very interesting (and I am not a real history buff, so it has to be interesting stuff).
- Take a hike, even if it is 100 degrees. We stopped and did a 1/4 mile hike called the Desert Ecology Trail. It was over 100 degrees, but worth it! We got to see the plants and Cacti up close and personal. It was an easy paved path. Just be sure to bring water with you and stay hydrated. Don’t do a long hike if the temperatures are too high. Be realistic and go for a shorter hike if the heat index is high. Here are some pics from our hike:
- Drive the scenic loop. They have an 8 mile scenic drive and a 5 mile scenic loop. You can truly appreciate the land, the vegetation that can actually survive brutal conditions, and the people who once lived here as you take one of the scenic drives in the park.
- Learn about the Saguaro Cactus tree while you are there, as it truly an amazing creation!
Some photos from our time at Saguaro National Park: