Random Shots – Big Daddy Saguaro

Nothing says “desert” like the Saguaro (swor’- oh) Cactus. Although it is associated with all American deserts, it actually has a very small range. It is found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona, southeastern California and western Sonora, Mexico. Even there, its range is further limited by altitude and water. The Saguaro can only survive in a very specific set of environmental conditions.

Saguaro cactus

This is one of the biggest Saguaros I’ve ever come across. We stumbled on to while hiking and geocaching in the back country of Catalina State Park in Oro Valley, AZ (near Tucson). Besides a couple dozen challenging geocaches, this mountainous 5,500 acre park has over 5,000 Saguaros but you’ll be hard pressed to find one bigger than this. It’s a good 50 feet high and is probably close to 200 years old.

Saguaros live to a ripe old age – up to 250 years. They don’t start growing arms until they are 75. Their roots are shallow – typically 4-6 inches with a 2 foot tap root – and spread out as far as the plant is tall. Saguaros store water like a camel’s hump. During the rainy season, it swells as it absorbs and stores water. A full grown Saguaro that has stored up water can weigh up to 5,000 pounds.

Early Native Americans used every part of the Saguaro. It was a source of water, which it stores internally and fruit which is said to be quite tasty. The spines were used as needles. Dead Saguaro are tough and woody. They were used for roofs, fences and furniture.

The Saguaro Cactus is not endangered but it is protected. Both Arizona and the feds have strict laws and severe penalties for unauthorized harvesting, digging or damaging these magnificent plants.

Saguaro also provide homes to a variety of birds and small mammals. We once saw a bobcat sitting on top of one watching the world go by. How he got up there is beyond me. Getting down was probably a bit dicey also. I know it would be for me and Natasha.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

The Day After Winter Came to the Desert

Well, I was right. The sun came out today but it stayed cool enough for the snow to stick around a while. It was an absolutely glorious day to be out – and we were – for most of the day. Destination: Catalina State Park in Oro Valley, AZ, just north of Tucson, for pictures and geocaches. We got plenty of both and had lunch at In-N-Out Burger, our favorite burger chain.

Everywhere we looked today was another picture postcard scene. Mother Nature gave us the luxury of being able to pick and plan our shots. It’ll all be gone tomorrow. I picked out three of the best for the post. I hope you like them.

Winter scene in AZ

This was taken at one of our cache finds today. Did you know it takes 50 years for a Saguaro (swore’-oh) cactus to grow one arm? These big ones are several hundred years old. The 5,500 acre park has 5,000 of them.

The mountains in the background are the Santa Catalinas. They border Tucson on the north and east, leaving the city nowhere to go in those directions. In Tucson, the “foothills” are THE place to live because nobody can build around you and spoil your view. The entire mountain range is part of the Coronado National Forest.

AZ desert winter scene

Another good shot, this time more mountain and less cactus. The clouds rolled on and off the peaks all day and cast shadows on the slopes. Mother Nature put on a real show.

The altitude of the park entrance is about 2,700 feet. These photos were shot between 3,000 and 3,500 feet. The peaks in the photos are up around 7,000 to 8,000 feet. They get higher as you go north and east to Mt. Lemmon at 9,167 feet. There are connecting trails that will take you from here all the way to Mt. Lemmon – a very rugged 14 mile hike one way.

 This is my  favorite shot. A desert landscape with massive snow covered mountains as a backdrop - not something you see every day.

This is a great shot of the mountains. A desert landscape with snow covered mountains as a backdrop – not something you see every day.

This is winter’s last gasp around here. It’s supposed to hit 80 degrees next week.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha