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Sonoran Desert Featured Destination:

Saguaro National Park
Tucson, Arizona

There probably isn't a more iconic symbol of the West than the prickly cactus plant. Saguaro National Park, named for the giant saguaro cactus, was created just to protect this North American icon.

There is no other place in the U.S. where you can stand in a forest of tree-sized cacti, as tall as 50 feet and weighing up to eight tons. The park is home to 25 cactus species and the wildlife that live off the Saguaro like the American cactus bee. The bees use blossoming Saguaro flowers as an aphrodisiac, setting off a violent mating display and ending with the fastest bee egg-to-adult maturation in the world-- just two weeks.

Besides bees, Saguaro National Park attracts all manner of wildlife from the desert tortoise to black bears. This is because this part of the Sonoran Desert isn't so desert-like. In fact, it is one of the wettest deserts in the world, getting 12 inches of rain each year and making it possible to hike or bike past cacti and oak trees all in the same lush place.

Best Time to Visit:

The park is open year round and the staff says there really isn't a bad time to visit. If you are interested in joining ranger-led tours, November through March may be best to take advantage of peak winter season. But if you want to experience a cacti-filled desert, the summer is your best bet. But be prepared for temperatures ranging from mid-80s to low-100s.

What to Do:

The park is divided into two districts on either side of Tucson--Rincon Mountain District to the east and Tucson Mountain District to the west. Hike the Hugh Norris Trail on the west side of the park to trek through the densest part of the park's Saguaro forest, a dip between valley and mountain. Continue along the trail to Wasson Peak for a gorgeous view of the sun setting over interesting rock formations and 150-year-old cacti. In the backcountry of the Rincon Mountain District, you can camp in a cool spot, 25 degrees cooler, surrounded by ponderosas and oaks. Get Directions

Other Sonoran Desert Destinations:

  • Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. The Kofa and Castle Dome Mountains dominate the landscape of the refuge, which is home to wildlife such as desert bighorn sheep, American kestrels and orange-crowned warblers. Visitors can also view the rare native palms of Arizona while hiking through Palm Canyon. Get Directions
  • Ironwood Forest National Monument. The easternmost point to view bighorn sheep, the Ironwood Forest is comprised of eight mountain ranges, two valleys and the densest stands of desert ironwoods in the world. Get Directions
  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Take in the landscape on scenic drives and bike rides, hike along one of the area's many paths, view the clear open night skies, and keep an eye out for plants and animals unique to the Sonoran Desert. Get Directions
  • Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Sharing a border with Sonora, Mexico, this refuge is the third largest in the lower 48 states. Sonoran pronghorn, desert bighorns, lesser long-nosed bats, and elf owls all make their home in this harsh environment. Get Directions
  • Sabino Canyon & Coronado National Forest. Easily accessible from the city of Tucson, Sabino Canyon - located in Coronado National Forest - offers abundant opportunities to view wildlife ranging from javelin and tarantulas to road runners and several types of snakes. Get Directions
  • Kartchner Caverns State Park. Kartchner Cavern began forming over 200,000 years ago. Today, visitors can explore a number of sections within the cave, including geological spectacles such as "Kubla Khan," as well as cave-dwelling animals like the cave myotis bats. Get Directions

Explore the Sonoran Desert:


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