Saguaro National Park

Moving days have not been stressful lately. I think we’ve gotten better at it. Brian is good at getting us hitched up, and the trailer is a little more organized, so it’s easier to get everything put away to travel. Anything that still doesn’t have a spot gets tossed on the bed. Also, lately we’ve been driving around 5 hours or less when we move, which is easier than an all-day drive. Moving from Organ Mountains to Saguaro National Park was easier too, because we didn’t have to deal with check-out/check-in times, since we weren’t staying at actual campgrounds.

We decided to boondock in Coronado National Forest on Redington Pass to visit Saguaro National Park. Redington Pass is a dirt road through the mountains, and there are a few places to pull off and set up camp.  The mountains are covered in Saguaro cactuses! The Southwest has the most public land available for free camping, so we decided to take advantage of that while we are here. We found an RV service place in Tucson where we could dump our tanks and fill our water, so we were ready!

Moving from New Mexico into Arizona, we moved from the Chihuahuan Desert to the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert has some unique species, including the Saguaro Cactus, which is the main attraction in Saguaro National Park. Saguaros are huge! The average Saguaro is 30 feet tall and has 5 arms. They can grow to be over 70 feet tall. The can live to be 200 years old, and don’t grow their first arm until they are 50-75 years old. Adult Saguaros weigh thousands of pounds, because they are mostly water. They are really impressive to see!

Saguaro National Park is split into two parts, one on the east side of Tucson and one on the west side of Tucson. We started with the Rincon Mountains (East park), because it was closer to where we were camping. We did the 5.6 mile Garwood Loop hike on a cooler day, it was in the 60s. The park felt really peaceful, and the desert was colorful! There were yellow brittlebush flowers and desert marigolds and the ocotillo were blooming green leaves and orange flowers. We first saw ocotillo in Big Bend National Park, but they were all sticks and thorns there, no leaves and flowers.

We took our time in the beginning, gawking at all the amazing saguaro cactuses. We gawked especially long at a cactus with a funny-looking top, and a nice couple came by and offered to take our picture with it. It’s called  a cristate or crested saguaro. It’s rare and the cause is unknown, but it’s beautiful!

At one point we heard a “cha-chaaa” sound, and looked a couple feet off the trail to see a diamondback rattlesnake! We didn’t like that it saw us before we saw it, but it was already retreating into a bush.

When the saguaros die, the leave a woody skeleton behind. We saw some on the ground, and others still standing up like scarecrows.

The Garwood Loop climbed up a hill and got a little rocky, but it wasn’t too challenging. We finished it by headlamp after sunset.

We explored the Tucson Mountians (West) side of the park too, but didn’t find it quite as beautiful. The Saguaros were just as impressive, but there were much fewer yellow flowers, so it didn’t have the bright colors of the east side of the park. We saw a big coyote on the road in the daylight. Every time we see a cool animal and I don’t get a picture, it makes me sad! Plants are so much easier to photograph. We noticed that the cholla were blooming in the west park,  which we didn’t see in the east park. We saw red, orange, and yellow flowers on different cholla cactuses.

Even though Saguaros usually don’t flower until late April, we did see a few that were growing buds and starting to flower.

Nearly all National Parks have a Junior Ranger program, where kids can earn Junior Ranger badges by completing activities. Saguaro National Park also offers a Not-So-Junior Ranger program (for ages 13-130), so I insisted on doing it, even though Brian was not into it. I’m proud of my Not-So-Junior Ranger badge!

We took advantage of our proximity to Tucson to do some shopping. We bought trekking poles, so we are one step closer on our transition to hiking nerds. We also went to a great store called Summit Hut and spent a while getting fit for new hiking shoes. We also enjoyed dinner during happy hour at a place called Downtown Kitchen, and we walked around downtown Tucson a bit.

When we were returning from dinner, we found a police barricade blocking off Redington Pass, so we couldn’t get to our Trailer! They told us there was a wildfire in the forest, and they didn’t have any more information. Over the next hour and a half we called the police and fire departments, and checked local news online and got a lot of conflicting information. At one point we heard that the fire was 100-200 acres and at mile 6. We parked around mile 5!

Around 10 pm, they reopened the road. We were planning to go to our trailer, hitch up, and leave, but we saw that they hadn’t even evacuated the people that were up on the mountain. There was a group in the campsite next to ours having a campfire! A ranger came by and told the group to be careful with their fire. Brian asked if it was safe to stay here, and he said yes, and that the fire was like, 15 acres and at mile 14. So, it ended up being a lot of drama for nothing, and we stayed a few more days after that.

Brian has still been cooking Mexican-inspired food, which I love! He made some great enchiladas.

This is the first stop where I’ve had allergies acting up. The first day we were here I had a sinus headache, and through the week I relied on allergy medicine. It’s probably because it is spring, and some wildflowers are blooming. I’m glad we haven’t had more issues with allergies, since we’ve been moving from place to place so much.

On one of our last days in the area we did a scenic drive on the Sky Island Scenic Byway to Mt. Lemmon. It was cool to see how the landscape changed as we went up in elevation. At 4,000 feet we stopped seeing Saguaros. The road went up to more than 8,000 feet and at the top we saw snow and it was 43 degrees!

It seems like cheating to include Brian’s Cactus Corner, since this whole stop mostly focused on cactus! But, we did see Teddy Bear Cholla.

And close-up of Saguaro spines.

Day 186| Mile 18,999

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