Sunday, March 15, 2009


It was supposed to have been a delightful few hours at Sabino Canyon on the northeast side of Tucson. We had called Thursday to verify that Suzy’s scooter, Big Red, could be hoisted onto the rear of the tram that takes visitors to the top of the paved road, and we hoped to ride / walk much of the way back down as well as take some of the accessible trails.

We packed up a picnic Friday night and got up early Saturday morning, driving to Tucson for an early tram ride. As I prepared to pay for the tram tickets, the volunteer asked if Suzy could get off her scooter because the hydraulic lift was “down.” That ended Sabino Canyon for this day.
Fortunately we had an ace in the hole: the Eastern District of Saguaro National Park, just a few short miles away.

Saguaro National Park Eastern District - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

Saguaro National Park was established in 1933 to protect and preserve the Giant Saguaro, the monarch of the Sonoran desert. The park also serves as a means to educate folks like us about how plants and animals have adapted to survive in this hot and dry region (fewer than 12 inches of rain in a typical year).

Using our Golden Age Pass, we entered Saguaro National Park for no charge then toured the Visitor Center. There we learned that there is only one accessible trail in this part of the park, a paved quarter-mile loop. Nearly all of our sightseeing would be from the 8-mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive.

Along the Loop Drive - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

Those 8 miles took us about 3 hours to navigate, and would have taken longer had the weather not turned cold and windy, threatening rain.

We’ll show you a few of the pictures we took along that loop and at the Mica View picnic area.

Late lunch at the Mica View picnic area - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

For more pictures, click on any of them and you’ll be whisked on a magic carpet ride to our web album. To get back to the blog, click your "Back" arrow.

The park has provided several overlook sites with ample parking, as well as a number of paved pullouts large enough for a car or two.

At one of those pullouts, we were asked by a young man to please take his picture holding a small stuffed cow!

From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

He explained that the cow belonged to his daughter, and everywhere he goes, he has his picture taken with that cow to show her where he’s been. Why? The young man is USAF Staff Sergeant Strang, currently at Davis Monthan Air Force Base for training before being deployed to Iraq. We gladly accommodated him with his own camera, then recorded the event for ourselves as well. We thanked S/Sgt. Strang for his service, then thanked God for capable and willing young men like that serving our country.

About the Giant Saguaro, the largest cactus in the United States, but not in the world:

1. They’re big, and can grow up to 50 feet tall. A large one may weigh 8 tons or more.

A big old healthy specimen - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

2. They grow slowly and can live a long time, as long as 150 to 200 years. In the most favorable conditions it may take 35 years for a plant to reach 6 feet; more commonly it takes 47 to 67 years.

These young'uns have a long way to grow! - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

3. They have arms. More arms equals more surface area for photosynthesis, and more places to grow flowers, thus increasing the number of seeds produced.

From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

The arms, or branches, always grow upward. Occasionally frost or snow will freeze the tissue at the base of a limb and damage it, and the weight of the branch pulls it down. If the branch survives, the growing tip will turn upward again.

A prickly embrace for Suzy! - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

4. Saguaros must start life under a tree or shrub to protect them from drying out and be hidden from herbivores. Saguaros often outlive the “nurse” plants. The palo verde tree makes an excellent nursery, often sheltering many cactus plants.

A palo verde makes a good nursery - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

5. Saguaro flowers are waxy and white, about three inches across. The flowers open at night and are pollinated by Mexican long-tongued and lesser long-nosed bats. Flowers stay open until the following afternoon, allowing birds and insects an opportunity to pollinate them. We were too early in the season to see any saguaro flowers.

6. Gila woodpeckers make nest holes in the stems of saguaros. Because the woodpeckers make a new nest each year, the older nests become homes for cactus wrens, elf owls, mice, spiders and other animals that appreciate the water-cooled cavities in the cactus.

From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

7. When a saguaro dies, its woody ribs that supported it in life soon become visible as the softer plant tissue dries up and crumbles away.

Saguaro skeleton - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

Close-up view of saguaro skeleton - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

8. Saguaros are protected, not only in the National Park, but throughout Arizona. We have learned that poaching in the park takes place, and steps are being taken to reduce it. One step is a penalty of up to $10,000 and six months in prison! Buy your saguaro at a commercial nursery!
There are more than just Saguaro in the Saguaro National Park. Here are some of the others:


Ocotillo in bloom - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

Ocotillo have red "flags" -From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

Fish Hook

Fish Hook barrel cactus at the Visitor Center - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

Barrel (these are babies!)

From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

Engelmann's Hedgehog

From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

Teddybear Cholla

From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

Buckhorn Cholla

The purple on on the right is the Buckhorn - From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

Prickly Pear

From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

From Saguaro National Park 3/14/09

A change of plans led to a wonderful afternoon in … Our Life on Wheels!


  1. Those cacti are amazing! How nice that your plan B worked out so well!

    Good to see you two are having some fun and not just work, work, working!

    Love you both,

    ~N~E~E~ and Boss

  2. What a great trip you just sent my way. I have always found cacti interesting, though I have had little luck in growing them. I usually overwater them. As I think I mentioned earlier, cacti grow in North and South Dakota and are able to grow here. Have yet to try my hand at doing that. I guess the idea of getting stuck is a real putter-offer. However maybe this is the year.

    Am trying to readjust to working again. It's a good thing that the Spring Break was not any longer. I was dead tired at the end of Monday; teaching three classes really took it out of me. Yet with only two classes today I felt just as pooped. Luckily I have but one tomorrow. Then it's back to two on Thursday and three of Friday.

    Will be the weekend priest at one of the Spokane parishes this weekend. I usually help out at Our Lady of Fatima once a month, so I know my way around there and even some of the names of the parishioners.

    Our basketball teams will be playing at least in the first round of the March Madness; the men in Portland and the women in Seattle. Although I could be sued for saying this, it really does make teaching here much simpler if we drop out of the madness early on. But this could be the year, so people are saying (as they have been saying for the past upmteen years) that we could go right up the ladder. Hmmmmmmm.

    Thanks again for the pictures and the commentary and I look forward to the next installment.


  3. How I wish I was right there with ya'll!!!!!!!

    Donna Daniel


Here's your chance to tell us what you think!