SURVIVAL UNDER THE SUN
Gently sloping alluvial hills below the Tucson Mountains create ideal habitat for saguaros, which grow in stands so dense they're called cactus forests. Seedlings have the best chance of survival when sheltered by "nurse trees" like mesquite, ironwood, or palo verde.
Saguaros grow very slowly at firstan inch or so during their first six to eight years. It may be 70 years before they sprout branches, or arms. They reach full height, 40-50 feet, at about age 150. The tallest may reach 75 feet. Long, woody ribs support their multi-ton bulk.
Saguaros collect water through shallow roots extending about as far outward as the main trunk is tall. As saguaros soak up water, accordion-like pleats in the trunk and arms expand to allow for storage in the spongy flesh. Waxy skin reduces moisture loss. Spines shade the plant, shield it from drying winds, and discourage damage from animals.
Cream-colored flowers appear in early summer. White-winged doves, lesser long-nosed bats, honeybees, and moths feed on nectar and pollinate as they go. In July the deep-red fruit ripens, food for animals and humans. Doves, bats, javelina, and fox are among the animals that eat the fruit, while pack rats and jackrabbits eat the flesh of the cactus.
Birds find not just food in saguaros, but homes as well. Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers make nest holes in the trunks and large limbs. Others occupy abandoned holes or build nests in upper branches. Raptors perch on the tallest branches to spot prey.
Saguaros usually die of old age, but lightning, freezing, wind, and drought can kill them. Other threats are loss of habitat and invasive species like buffelgrass, which increases the threat of deadly fires.
DESERT FLOOR TO MOUNTAIN FOREST
Saguaro National Park ranges in elevation from 2,180 feet in the low-lying areas of the Tucson Mountain District to 8,666-foot Mica Mountain in the Rincon Mountain District. This remarkable range, along with sun and wind exposure and access to water, creates widely varied habitats.
Cactus species often have names that help identify them: hedgehog, barrel, staghorn, and fishhook. One cholla is called "teddy bear," but don't try to cuddle! The low desert also has creosote, catclaw, ocotillo, and trees like mesquite, ironwood, and palo verde.
This multicolored landscape is even more showy when winter rains bring blossoms like the gold poppy, blue lupine, and daisy-yellow brittlebush. In summer, people and animals search out prickly pear and other cactus fruit.
If you venture into the Rincon Mountains, you climb through grasslands, oak-pinyon-juniper woodlands, and eventually to coniferous forest dominated by ponderosa pine, with southwestern white pine, Gambel oak, aspen, white fir, and Douglas firall typically found much farther north.
The high elevation and increased moistureit can snow over 100 inches annuallysupport species not usually associated with the Sonoran Desert. Among the 200 bird species are year-round residents: the Steller's jay, bridled titmouse, and pygmy nuthatch. White-tailed and mule deer are more common than black bears, mountain lions, and the white-nosed coati.
PEOPLE OF THE SONORAN DESERT
Like the plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert, people have found ways to cope with its extremes for thousands of years. People of the Hohokam culture left their mark on what is now the parkliterally in the form of petroglyphs3between 450 and 1450 CE. They gathered and hunted food and devised irrigation systems for farming. Designs they pecked and scraped into rocks are still visible.
Today, the Tohono O'odham ("Desert People") continue to harvest ripe saguaro fruit using a pole called a kuipad fashioned from long saguaro ribs. From the bright red pulp they make syrup, jelly, and ceremonial wine.
Newcomers came to southern Arizona in the 1500s. Spanish explorers sought riches and missionaries sought converts. Their mission and presidio in the native village of Stjukson eventually grew into modern Tucson. Some native groups resisted the encroachment: Apache raids on local communities continued to the end of the 1800s.
Southern Arizona became a US territory in 1854, and the 1862 Homestead Act opened up land for those willing to settle here. The dry, rocky bajada of the Tucson Mountains wasn't suited to farming, but prospectors worked silver and copper mines. Most were just exploratory holes in the ground, long since filled or fenced for safety.
Settlers also established cattle ranches on their land claims. By the early 1900s most ranches were consolidated into large holdings. You can hike through the site of the Freeman Homestead in the Rincon Mountain District.
In 1933, with pressure from local conservationists, a 62,000-acre section of the Rincon Mountains became a national monument. From 1933 to 1942 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed picnic areas, roads, and water control dams in the park. See many of these structures at the Tucson Mountain District, added in 1961.
Saguaro became a national park in 1994. East and west of Tucson you can experience the Sonoran Desert, getting to know its past and presentand helping to protect its future.
YOUR GUIDE TO SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK
WATER, RESTROOMS, AND PICNIC AREAS
FOOD, LODGING, CAMPING
COLLECTING AND FIREARMS
SAGUARO EASTRINCON MOUNTAIN DISTRICT
CACTUS FOREST LOOP DRIVE
Horseback Riding is allowed on most trails. Before hiking or horseback riding in the Rincon Mountain District, check on trail status and conditions with a park ranger. Backcountry camping is permitted only at designated sites. Get backcountry use permits at visitor center before taking an overnight trip. Camping permit fees apply.
SAGUARO WESTTUCSON MOUNTAIN DISTRICT
CACTUS GARDEN TRAIL
DESERT DISCOVERY NATURE TRAILWHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE
BAJADA LOOP DRIVE
Along the drive is the Valley View Overlook Trail, 0.8-mile roundtrip with views of the mountains, desert, and saguaro forests.
Source: NPS Brochure (2018)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
2006-2007 Saguaro Cactus Census, Saguaro National Park (Eric Ahnmark, Mark Holden and Don E. Swann, October 2007)
A History of Desert Tortoise Research at Saguaro National Park (Erin R. Zylstra and Don E. Swann, August 2008)
A History of Desert Tortoise Research at Saguaro National Park Version 4 (4/6/2009) NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SODN/NRR-2009/100 (Erin R. Zylstra and Don E. Swann, April 2009)
A History of Desert Tortoise Research at Saguaro National Park Version 5 (2/2/2010) NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SODN/NRR-2009/100 (Erin R. Zylstra and Don E. Swann, February 2010)
A History of Saguaro Cactus Monitoring in Saguaro National Park, 1941-2007 NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/SODN/NRR-2007/0XX (November 2007)
A History of Saguaro Cactus Monitoring in Saguaro National Park, 1939-2007 NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SODN/NRR-2009/093 (Eric B. Ahnmark and Don E. Swann, February 2009)
A Repeat Survey of Vegetation Plots Established to Evaluate Grazing Effects at Saguaro National Park, 1976 and 2007 Final Report (Don E. Swann, J. Andrew Hubbard, Adam C. Springer, Kristen Beaupre and Bethany Hontz, March 2012)
A Socioeconomic Atlas for Saguaro National Park and its Region (Jean E. McKendry, Cynthia A. Brewer and Joel M. Staub, 2003)
Acoustic Monitoring Report: Saguaro National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/NSNSD/NRR—2016/1347 (Jacob R. Job, December 2016)
American Black Bears (Ursus americanus) in Saguaro National Park: Status and population estimate using genetic analysis (Cora Vargas, Don E. Swann, Jose-Luis Camerena, Melanie Culver, Todd Nelson and Erin Zylstra, March 2010)
Arizona Explorer Junior Ranger (Date Unknown)
Barriers to the Wilderness Next Door: Recreational Preferences and Behaviors of Hispanics in Tucson, AZ - Revised NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/EQD/NRR—2013/614 (Yen Le, Nancy C. Holmes and Colleen Kulesza, January 2013)
BioBlitz Inventory of Saguaro Cacti (C. gigantea) in Section 17 of Saguaro National Park (Theresa Foley, January 2012)
Case Study of Research, Monitoring, and Management Programs Associated with the Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) at Saguaro National Monument, Arizona NPS Technical Report NPS/WRUA/NRTR-93/01 (Joseph R. McAuliffe, September 1993)
Cattle, Copper and Cactus: The History of Saguaro National Monument, Arizona Historic Resource Study (A. Berle Clemensen, January 1987)
Climate Change and the Saguaro Cactus, Saguaro National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SAGU/NRR-2018/1583 (Don Swann, Joshua Conver, Daniel Winkler and Carolyn Harper, January 2018)
Creating Stewardship through Discovery: A Comparison among Visitors that Participated in three National Park / National Geographic BioBlitzes NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/BRD/NRR—2016/1270 (Gerard T. Kyle, Jee In Yoon, Carena J. van Riper and Jinhee Jun, August 2016)
Creating Stewardship through Discovery: Visitor Participation in the Saguaro National Park / National Geographic BioBlitz NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SAGU/NRR—2016/1269 (Gerard T. Kyle, Jee In Yoon, Carena J. van Riper and Jinhee Jun, August 2016)
Dynamics of Rare and Sensitive Waters in Saguaro National Park Final Report (Jennifer Aldred, Sylvana Bendana, Alexandra Bijak, Jesper Devantier, Megan Haserodt, Heather Lancaster, Gregory Luna Golya, Derek Schook, Daniel Winkler, Don E. Swann, Colleen Filippone and Joshua Conver, March 2014)
Ecology of the Saguaro: II Reproduction, Germination, Establishment, Growth, and Survival of the Young Plan (HTML edition) Scientific Monograph Series No. 8 (Warren F. Steenbergh and Charles H. Lowe, 1977)
Ecology of the Saguaro: III Growth and Demography Scientific Monograph Series No. 17 (Warren F. Steenbergh and Charles H. Lowe, 1983)
Effects of Post-Wildfire Sedimentation on Leopard Frog Habitat in Saguaro National Park USGS Fact Sheet 2005-3140 (John T.C. Parker, January 2006)
Epidermal Browning and Population Structure of Giant Saguaro Cactus (Carnegia gigantea) in Saguaro National Monument, Arizona Final Report (Dan M. Duriscoe and Sandra L. Graban, May 1991)
Fire History of the Rincon Mountain Wilderness, Saguaro National Monument Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 29 (Christopher H. Baisan, August 1990)
Foundation Document, Saguaro National Park, Arizona (April 2014)
Foundation Document Overview, Saguaro National Park, Arizona (January 2015)
General Management Plan: Saguaro National Monument, Arizona Final (May 1988)
Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Saguaro National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2010/233 (J. Graham, August 2010)
Infrared-Triggered Photography of Mammals in the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park, Arizona Final Report (Sandy A. Wolf and Don E. Swann, August 26, 2002)
Inventory of Terrestrial Mammals in the Rincon Mountains Using Camera Traps (Don E. Swann and Nic Perkins, extract from USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-67, 2013)
Junior Arizona Archeologist (2016)
Landscape Dynamics of Saguaro National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/NRR-2013/615 (William B. Monahan, Don E. Swann and J. Andrew Hubbard, January 2013)
Landscape of Desert Waters (J. Gaun, et al., 2018)
Landscape Dynamics of Saguaro National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/NRR—2013/615 (William B. Monahan, Don E. Swann and J. Andrew Hubbard, January 2013)
Long-term monitoring of Amphibians and Reptiles at Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain District, Pima County, Arizona: Report of Results, 2003-2008 (Philip R. Brown, Don E. Swann and Matt Caron, 2008)
Lowland Leopard Frog Habitat Assessment and Monitoring Protocol for the Rincon/Catalina Mountain Complex Final Report (Brian Powell and Don Swann, September 3, 2013)
Magnetic Monitoring in Saguaro National Park USGS Fact Sheet 2017-3035 (Jeffrey J. Love and Carol A. Finn, June 2017)
Mammals of the Rincon Mountain District, Saguaro National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SODN/NRR-2011/437 (Don E. Swann, August 2011)
Monitoring the saguaro population in Saguaro National Park: continuing a 70-year tradition Phase I (Don Swann, Adam Springer and Kara O'Brien, August 2011)
Monitoring the saguaro population in Saguaro National Park: continuing a 70-year tradition Phase II: Plant community monitoring (Don Swann and Adam Springer, February 2011)
Monitoring of Sediment Volume in Bedrock Stream Pools (tinajas) in Saguaro National Park, 2005-2010 NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SODN/NRR-2011/xxx (Chris Pruden, Chuck Perger, Don Swann and Kris Ratzlaff, May 2011)
Natural Resource Condition Assessment, Saguaro National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SODN/NRR-2017/1364 (Patricia Valentine-Darby, Lisa Baril, Kimberly Struthers, Colleen Filippone, Don Swann, Allyson Mathis and Nina Chambers, January 2017)
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
Manning Cabin (#9) (F. Ross Holland, Jr., April 1972)
Nocturnal Rodent Populations and Associated Vegetation with Implications of Human Use at Saguaro National Monument, Arizona Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 35 (Douglas K. Duncan, November 1990)
Population dynamics of lowland leopard frogs in the Rincon Mountains, Arizona Final Report (Erin R. Zylstra, Don Swann and Robert J. Steidl, September 17, 2013)
Post-Wildfire Sedimentation in Desert Mountain Streams and Effects on Lowland Leopard Frog Habitat, Saguaro National Park (John T.C. Parker and Don E. Swann, 2007)
Post-Wildfire Sedimentation in Saguaro National Park, Rincon Mountain District, and Effects on Lowland Leopard Frog Habitat USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5235 (John T.C. Parker, 2006)
Proceedings of the Symposium on Research in Saguaro National Monument, 23-24 January 1991, Tucson, Arizona (Charles P. Stone and Elizabeth S. Bellantoni, eds., May 1992)
Recreational Trails Impact Assessment in the Cactus Forest Area and Development of Recreation Monitoring Protocols (Cheryl L. McIntyre and Emily Dellinger, April 2006)
Re-Establishment of Saguaros Southwestern Monuments Special Report No. 26 (Carleton S. Wilder and Judith C. Wilder, August 1939)
A history of saguaro cactus monitoring in Saguaro National Park, 1939-2007 (Eric B. Ahnmark and Don E. Swann, October 29, 2010)
Aerial Spot-Sprayer Demonstration Tech Tips (Wesley Throop, Harold Thistle, Dana Backer and Allen White, September 2013)
Buffelgrass Management (April 2011)
Buffelgrass Reduces Native Plant Recruitment (June 2015)
Cave Bats and Mine Gates (December 2010)
Cristate Saguaros (August 2013)
Inventory of medium and large mammals at Saguaro National Park (Don E. Swann and Brian Powell, October 29, 2010)
Lesser Long-nosed Bats (December 2012)
Lowland leopard frogs in Saguaro National Park (Don E. Swann and J. Eric Wallace, October 29, 2010)
Mexican Spotted Owl (January 2013)
"Pulse study" of the Madrona Pools, Saguaro National Park (Don E. Swann, Margaret W. Weesner, Sarah Craighead and Larry L. Norris, October 29, 2010)
Quaking Aspen (April 2014)
Recent Climate Change Exposure of Saguaro National Park (July 28, 2014)
Restoration of Disturbed Lands (August 2012)
Tamarisk Survey at Saguaro National Park (March 2012)
The Fight to Save Saguaros (April 2010)
The Saguaro Census in Saguaro National Park (August 2012)
What Will the Cactus Forest Look Like in 2050? (December 2013)
Results of the 2010 Saguaro Census, Saguaro National Park Draft Final Report (Kara O'Brien, Don E. Swann and Adam C. Spring, April 4, 2011)
Results of the 2010 Saguaro Census at Saguaro National Park: Illustrated Executive Summary (Kara O'Brien, Don E. Swann and Adam C. Springer, August 2011)
Saguaro National Monument: An Archeological Overview Western Archeological and Conservation Center Publications in Anthropoloy No. 1 (V. K. Pheriba Stacy and Julian Hayden, 1975)
Saguaro National Monument: Natural History Handbook No. 4 (Natt N. Dodge, 1957)
Saguaro National Monument: Natural History Handbook No. 4 (Napier Shelton, 1972)
Saguaro National Monument: Recreational Use by Visitors, Neighbors, and Organized Groups Technical Report No. 15 (Terry D. Shand and A. Heaton Underhill, May 1985)
Springs, Seeps and Tinajas Monitoring Protocol: Chihuahuan and Sonoran Desert Networks NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SODN/NRR-2018/1796 (Cheryl McIntyre, Kirsten Gallo, Evan Gwilliam, J. Andrew Hubbard, Julie Christian, Kristen Bonebrake, Greg Goodrum, Megan Podolinsky, Laura Palacios, Benjamin Cooper and Mark Isley, November 2018)
Status of Climate and Water Resources at Saguaro National Park: Water Year 2019 NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SODN/NRR-2021/2336 (Kara Raymond, Laura Palacios, Cheryl McIntyre and Evan Gwilliam, Decmeber 2021)
Summary of Precipitation at Saguaro National Park (2000-2010) (Rafael Rojas, Don Swann and Tiffany Alvarez, January 2011)
Ten-Year Resurvey of Epidermal Browning and Population Structure of Saguaro Cactus (Carnegia gigantea) in Saguaro National Park Technical Report No. 69 (Dale S. Turner and Carianne S. Funicelli, October 2000)
Terrestrial Vegetation and Soils Monitoring in the Rincon Mountain District, Saguaro National Park, 2008–2009 NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/SODN/NRDS-2010/118 (J. Andrew Hubbard, Sarah E. Studd and Cheryl L. McIntyre, December 2010)
Terrestrial Vegetation and Soils Monitoring in the Rincon Mountain District, Saguaro National Park, 2008–2010 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/SODN/NRDS—2011/216 (J. Andrew Hubbard, Sarah E. Studd and Cheryl L. McIntyre, December 2011)
Terrestrial Vegetation and Soils Monitoring in the Tucson Mountain District, Saguaro National Park, 2009–2010 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/SODN/NRDS—2011/183 (J. Andrew Hubbard, Sarah E. Studd and Cheryl L. McIntyre, August 2011)
The 2010 Saguaro Census (Don E. Swann, Kara O'Brien, Adam Springer, Dana Backer and Becky MacEwen, 2010)
The Exclosure Plots at Saguaro National Park: A 40-Year Study (Adam C. Springer, Don E. Swann and Raymond M. Turner, February 2012)
The Saguaro Cactus in a Sky Island Ecotone Final Report (Adam C. Springer, Chris E. Pruden and Don E. Swann, August 2011)
The Saguaros of "Section 17" in Saguaro National Park: Re-survey of a One-Square-Mile Section First Surveyed in 1941 (Joshua Conver, Irene Weber, Theresa Foley, Don E. Swann, Becky MacEwen, Emma Fajardo and Yesenia Gamez, May 21, 2013)
Three Decades of Ecological Change: the 2020 Saguaro Census Part I: Changes in the Saguaro Population 1990-2020 (Kara O'Brien and Don E. Swann, March 2021)
Two Decades of Vegetation Change in Saguaro National Park, 1990-2010 Final Report (Adam Springer, Chris Hannum and Don Swann, August 2011)
Using historic data to evaluate the effect of climate change on saguaros and associated vegetation (J.E. de Steigeur and Adam Springer, 2013)
Wild Space in an Urban Setting: Wilderness Building Blocks for Saguaro National Park (Jesse Engebrtson, November 2012)
Youth Intern Program, Natural Resource and Climate Change, Saguaro National Park Final Report (Don Swann, October 2010)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 20-Apr-2022