If you ask a child to draw a cactus, they draw a towering Saguaro. It has a very definitive shape and they’ll draw the giant cactus with upturned limbs over a yellow desert landscape.
However, the Saguaro is far from a common cactus. While cactus like the prickly pear will grow all in hot arid landscapes, the Saguaro grows only in southwest Arizona, a bit of northern Mexico and a couple counties in California.
Saguaro National Park is pretty unique. Not only does it have forests full of the giant Saguaro, but it is located almost inside the city of Tucson. Unlike many of our national parks, it is easy to access. Truly it is a urban oasis.
It also has an interesting history. It is one of our newest National Parks, being designated as a national park in the 1990’s. While Hoover first set about to protect it in the 30’s, it took over 60 years to rise from a national monument to a full fledged national park.
It is one thing to read about a desert or to see a Saguaro cactus on TV, but it is another thing entirely to be in the middle of a forest of them. I’ve found that despite living in an area of frequent drought, the desert was a pretty abstract idea to the kids before we visited. Now, they understand and have a fascination with the ecology of the area and how flora and fauna have adapted to such a harsh habitat.
It’s also a fascinating study to see the inside of a Saguaro, and to figure out the science and mechanics of how it supports such weight and soaks up so much water. Also, the amount of time it takes for them to grow is amazing! To look at one and to calculate how long it has been growing, then figure out what was going on in that time period is a fun look back into history.
There are also hikes for every age group. I suggest going in the winter, especially with little ones. The harsh desert heat in the summer will make hiking difficult for them, even with the flatter hikes. You can still learn from the experience, you just won’t be able to interact with the environment as much as if you choose a cooler time to visit. Make sure you have water with you no matter what time of the year it is.