Monday, September 26, 2011

Saguaro National Park

For most people, the Giant Saguaro (pronounced "saw-WAH-roe") is the universal symbol of the American West even though these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, right on the edge of the City of Tucson. To further protect these cacti, the Saguaro Wilderness Area was officially designated as wilderness in 1976. This large, roadless backcountry consists of 57,930 acres within the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park, bounded on three sides by the 38,590 acre Rincon Mountain Wilderness Area which lies within the Coronado National Forest.

The park's two districts offer more than 165 miles of hiking trails, ranging from a stroll on a short interpretive nature trail or an overnight backcountry trek through the desert wilderness from 3000 feet in elevation to 8000 feet.  But even a drive on the park's paved and gravel roads gives you a good feel for the scenery and topography as seen below...

The oldest saguaros can go taller than a four story building and weigh seven tons. Their arms and main stem expand like an accordion to store water collected through the roots. The saguaro may only be 12 inches tall after 15 years and can take up to 75 years before developing arms. Their life span can approach 200 years and the largest saguaros can reach 45 feet in height and 10 feet in girth. The food-making process of photosynthesis normally carried out by leaves is performed in the trunk and branches.

Rather than a place fostering little life, the Sonoran desert is often described as a "desert jungle" because it is habitat for such a huge diversity of flora and fauna, namely 200+ species of animals and 600+ species of plants dominated by the namesake saguaro. Over 25 species of cacti join the saguaro on the desert floor.

Saguaros are able to support their succulent water-filled bodies and attain tree-like heights due to their internal support structures containing a ring of 12 to 30 vertical wooden ribs that remain standing even after the cactus dies and its flesh has fallen away, as seen below...

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