After a one-night stop-over at Rockhound State Park near Deming, N.M., we headed for Arizona. On the way to our destination, we took a side trip through Saguaro National Park to get a close-up look at its eponymous cacti.
The park has two sections on opposite sides of I-10. We drove the loop drive in the eastern section. Only a small area of the park is accessible by car. Most of it can be reached only on foot or horseback, but we were still able to see a lot on our short drive.
The cacti are huge, the tallest being 75 feet. They grow slowly at first and get quite old, not reaching their full high until about age 150. They provide food for animals like javelinas, foxes, and jackrabbits and homes for birds, who make nest holes. The cacti blossom with flowers in the early summer and produce fruit that ripens in July. In addition to the cacti, the park has other desert flora, including cholla and agave.
The park faces encroachment from the growing Tucson metro area, with houses visible from the western edge of the park. But Pima County is trying to limit growth in areas closest to park in order to protect the desert. Still, once you leave the park, it’s amazing how quickly you are engulfed by suburban sprawl.
We spent the night in Picacho Peak State Park, about halfway between Tucson and Phoenix, where we found yet more saguaro cacti. The next day we headed for California.