Saguaro National Park, dedicated to protecting the saguaro cactus, consists of two separate areas on the east and west sides of Tucson, Arizona. Like Sequoia National Park and Redwoods National Park, Saguaro National Park was created for showcasing the natural wonders of a towering American plant species. Saguaro cactuses, known for their large size and their arms that extend outward and upward, occur frequently in iconic images of the desert southwest's contribution toward Americana. These massive desert plants are the largest cactus species in the United States and the second-largest in the world; they are second to the elephant cactus found only in northwestern Mexico, just to the south of this American national park. Fully grown saguaros can be 40 to 60 feet tall, but it takes decades and decades for a single plant to reach this height. That is one reason the National Park Service sought to protect these natural wonders; destruction of a "forest" of saguaros would take decades and decades of restitution. Saguaro National Park is home to a variety of different hikes with varying levels of difficulty. The terrain isn't exactly flat, but it isn't the most dynamic in terms of elevation, either. Bring lots of sun protection when you come here; a hat and sunscreen prove very useful here! I did a few easy hikes when visiting here, having come here with family members of a variety of different ages. These short hikes were sufficient for getting to view a variety of different desert landscapes dotted with the titular towering cactus plants we came to see. I was only in the western unit of the park, though. Our trip to this park in early December, 2022, started with a stop at the Red Hills Visitor Center. The visitor center had some nice views of the saguaros, plus a bathroom, gift shop, and museum. Then we set out to check out some outdoor sites.
Part 0: Visitor Center
Before we even get to our first hiking trail, we saw a pleasant view of saguaros from the Red Hills Visitor Center!
Part 1: Desert Discovery
Now, we embark on our first hiking trail. The Desert Discovery Trail is a very short trail near the Red Hills Visitor Center. The saguaros are so numerous in this park, and they're a legendary type of plant! They're some of the largest desert plants in the world, second only to a species found a mere hundred miles away!
Here's a large prickly pear cactus along the trail that looked like a nice photo opportunity. When in Saguaro National Park, it's cactus appreciation day I guess!
Here's a nice little barrel cactus with a sort of chunky flower on it?:
Part 2: Signal Hill
Signal Hill is reached by a very short trail stemming from a trailhead and picnic area. It features a collection of ancient petroglyphs, found on the rocks at the top of the hill.
Here are the rocks bearing petroglyphs, which sit alongside you as you marvel at the vista from the top of the hill:
Part 3: Valley View
The Valley View Trail and the Wild Dog Trail leave from the same trailhead, and they are often hiked in tandem. But we just walked to the overlook offered by the Valley View Trail. It was quite an overlook too! It exceeded my expectations. Note: Both the Signal Hill trailhead and the Valley View trailhead leave from the Bajada Loop Drive. Don't do what I did and hike these trails in this order. Part of the Bajada Loop Drive, and only part of it, is a one-way road running in the counterclockwise direction. Getting to the Signal Hill Trail from the Valley View Trail is much easier than to do the opposite.
Our hike back to the car was toward the east, away from the setting sun, during the "golden hour". Don't go following what I did, though; finding yourself in the wilderness in the pitch dark is a very dire situation to end up in, just because you didn't give yourself enough time to complete a trail: