Since we are staying at the Saguaro SKP Co-Op in Benson, Arizona it seemed appropriate that our first excursion would be to the Saguaro National Park which is about 35 miles from where we are parked.
It had rained a fair amount the previous day and there were still some small local showers the day we went. It was actually quite cool and one of the park rangers said that was because it had snowed on Mount Lemmon, about 20 miles away, and cold air was flowing down off the mountain into the park. We had mixed clouds and sun with a few very light showers but the rain had revived all of the cactus and other plants so it was actually a very good time to go.
There is an 8-mile scenic drive through the park that starts next to the park’s headquarters. There were lots of scenic pullouts along the way as well as a handicap accessible nature walk at about the half-way point. We took our time and stopped frequently. There were easily a dozen or more different species of cactus. Although the Saguaro cactus is the largest and most spectacular cactus here, many of the smaller ones were quite striking. None of the cactus were actually in bloom since that usually happens during the monsoon rain season during the summer, but many were very colorful and there were other plants in bloom.
The saguaro cactus were often quite tall and imposing. Photos don’t show it well but many were easily 30 feet and some may have been even 40 feet tall. Many of the older saguaros had holes in their upper trunks that had been dug out by different bird species for nests. Some saguaros had died and left “skeletons” which looked like thin barrel staves that sketched the outline of the saguaro. The saguaro “forest” spread up the sides of the hills and a mountain looked like green pencils in the distance.
We had seen a lot of Ocotillo at Big Bend and it all looked very formidable; all thorns and bare branches. There are Ocotillo here but there has been enough rain at Saguaro National Park for the Ocotillo to put out leaves and it looked a bit more inviting but I still wouldn’t want to tangle with it.
We are in the Sonoran Desert here. When we had been at Big Bend we had been in the Chuhuahuan Desert. There are, of course, some similarities, but they look different because the plants and cactus are mostly different. There is very little yucca here and it was all over Big Bend. As well as the Saguaro cactus there are several other large barrel cactus species here and there were none in Big Bend.
The scenic drive went through many different areas where different species of cactus predominated. Even though it was only 8 miles long it managed to show off flatlands, canyons and (dry) riverbeds. Near the end it climbed about 1000 feet before dropping back to the Park headquarters.
We really enjoyed our visit and saw many cactus here that we had never seen before. We give the park a A- for handicap accessibility. We appreciated the handicap accessible trail and there were a number of handicap accessible bathrooms but the door on the women’s bathroom at the park headquarters was too heavy for Susan to open by herself.