Exploring Saguaro National Park
Two Districts to Saguaro National Park
Being surrounded by endless numbers of saguaro cactus might not be the best way to spend an afternoon in your mind. But exploring Saguaro National Park shed some nature enlightenment and history for me. Allow me to take you on a journey as I take a closer look into the West District of Saguaro National Park. We stroll through these interesting lush plants and cactus filled lands. There are two areas or districts that make up this beautiful diverse national park; East and West.
There is Saguaro West-Tuscan Mountain District, and Saguaro East-Rincon Mountain District. We start our exploration in the West district near Tuscan. The distance between the two park districts is about 33 miles so plan your visit accordingly.
We begin our day of exploring Saguaro National Park early around 9 a.m. and arrive at the Saguaro East-Rincon Mountain District park to find a handful of cars parked at the Visitor Center.
Unfortunately, the Visitor Center front doors were locked and a note was taped on the door indicating they were closed due to the 2018 government shutdown. Which has since now been resolved and all parks are open again.
But we did not allow this to discourage us on this beautiful day planned for adventure and exploration. Of course, there was no one to collect the entrance fee, although we already have our annual pass now; restrooms were also closed and locked. (As of June 2019; parks are now open).
We began on the Cactus Forest Drive, which takes you along an 8 mile scenic one way paved road with many curves and points of interest pull outs where you can stop and take in the views or go hiking and exploring.
This road will take you through a saguaro forest and offers an opportunity for you to take in the vast Sonoran Desert.
Here is a list of easy hiking trails you will encounter along the Cactus Forest Drive:
- Desert Ecology Trail (1/4 mile round trip on paved trail)
- Freeman Homestead Trail (1 mile round trip)
- Cactus Forest Trail (2.5 mile one way inside loop drive)
We made many stops along the way throughout exploring Saguaro National Park, of which one of them was the Desert Ecology Trail.
A very easy, short walking path through a desert garden full of cactus, small trees, and various other plant life. This trail path is wheel chair accessible.
Did you know? Saguaros usually die of old age, but can die from lightening, freezing, and windy conditions.
Desert Forest Trail Hiking
We continue our journey on this beautiful curvy scenic drive until we came upon a hiking trail. The Desert Forest Trail. Here are a few highlights of our hike in this area.
This hiking trail is an easy path through the Sonoran Desert forest land as well as the historical lime kilns.
Historical Lime Kilns
Did you know? Saguaros take a long time to grow early on. They grow about an inch or so during the first six to eight years. It can take several years before it grows one arm.
We were very fortunate to have this hiking experience that led us out to the remote back country here, because you can only get to it by foot or horseback.
The Lime Kilns played an important part in the original framework of this desert area, and nearby city of Tuscan. Many materials were needed in the 1880s as described on the information signs nearby the sites of the lime kilns. The Adobe mud walls need whitewash, plaster is needed for dusty rooms, and the need for modernizing and new structures in a growing city; mortar was in demand.
We found the kiln history to be very interesting, as we continued on with our hike. We then came across a dried stream that apparently has waterfalls. The waterfalls form when the rain comes to the desert.
This trail is quite lovely and easy to hike as we take in the serene surroundings and appreciate the many beautiful large saguaro cactus. Plant life in the desert is very abundant. Take a look.
Plant life thrives in this diverse wild desert and mountain terrain. You might find these and many more cacti and plants including
saguaro, barrel and prickly pear, less-common species including the Bisbee beehive cactus, the rainbow cactus and the exotic night-blooming cereus.
As we proceed on the hiking trail, we came across a concrete slab. We ask ourselves, well what is this? We learned that this location was a ranger residence at one time. The Cactus Shack was formerly a storage shed used in support of the Saguaro National Monument.
We conclude our day at the Saguaro West side of the park as we made our way back towards Scottsdale. This side of the park contains several roadways that are unpaved and gravel. We finally proceed to finish the scenic Bajada Loop Drive and then made our way back to I-10 heading West.
Although, a day in the desert strolling through giant cactus may not be your cup of tea, you might be surprised at how peaceful and serene this place is. It is also one that is full of western history, plant life, and lovely trails galore. I recommend a visit to Saguaro National Park to anyone visiting Arizona, it is a perfect place for interesting exploration, learning, and family time.
Saguaro National Park (Directions)
3693 South Old Spanish Trail
Tuscan, AZ 85730
Horseback riding is allowed, as well as backcountry camping at designated areas.
Entrance Fees: Weekly Pass:
Entrance fee paid for admission to Saguaro National Park is valid for seven days. You paid fee admission is also good at both East and West district parks.