Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saguaro National Park (again) and Tucson

We meet near Tucson with Jean (French male name, for my new American friends who may not speak French) and Denyse, our friends from Quebec whom we first met in the Mojave National Preserve in California early in January.  Our plan is to visit the Saguaro National Park which we had so much difficulty finding our way around on our way out west, but perhaps if we aren't dragging the trailer around and we Google where to find the Visitors Centre (now that we have access to the internet), we'll be better off.  And we are.  We do find the Visitors Centre and so now we have maps which show us where the hiking trails are.

Marilyn, Brad, Denyse and Jean in Saguaro National Par
We camp on some BLM land southwest of Tucson (making it 23 consecutive nights of free BLM camping between Quartzsite, Why and here by the end of our stay).  With Jean and Denyse, we drive the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive, a short loop dirt road that takes us through the majestic Saguaro cactus.  We also hike the Valley View Overlook Trail, a short walk that provides us with a wonderful view of the valley.  These cactus are so plentiful here, of course, that would be why they made a national park here!  Some of the specimens are 50 feet high.  A Saguaro may be 50 years old before it grows its first arm, although average here is around 60-65 years old.  Usually, a Saguaro will live to a ripe old age of 200 years.  During their life, they may become home to an owl, the Gila Woodpecker or a Flicker, and their holes are evident near the tops of these tall prickly cacti.  Their fruit, which ripen in June and July, will produce a million seeds in its lifetime, but only one seed may grow into a new adult.  The fruit and seeds are also food for desert animals like javelinas, coyotes, foxes, squirrels and birds, as well as native people who make jams, syrup and for ceremonial purposes, wine.  The creamy white flowers grow like little cups from the top of each arm from late April through June.  Each blossom opens after sunset as the evening cools and by the next afternoon the blossoms have wilted.  But during their brief blooming period, they are pollinated by bats, bees and birds.

The Saguaro's flesh is spongy since they absorb water, as much as 200 gallons of it, enough to last all year.  Their roots may only be three inches below the surface of the desert floor, but may spread as far out as the Saguaro is high.  Like many other cacti, a Saguaro may start life under a nurse tree like a Mesquite or a Palo Verde.  But as the Saguaro grows, it will often take over the nurse tree which will die from lack of water as the Saguaro extracts all nutrients and elements from the environment.  The landscape here is certainly dominated by their humanlike stance.  The natives, either ancient Pueblos or current natives (I really should pay closer attention to the Visitors Centre's videos) use the same word for "people" and "Saguaro".

After Jean and Denyse leave and head off to Tombstone, Brad and I visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  It's not really a museum, but more like a zoo and we arrive just in time for the raptor flight show.  This is an excellent show, focusing on indigenous birds of prey like owls, hawks, falcons and ravens.  An announcer provides detailed information on each bird as it flies from perch to perch where meat is placed by handlers.  The birds swoop over our heads, often within inches and we can inspect them close up on their tree perches.  This is not done in an indoor setting; we are outside in the open desert, but these birds fly obediently from tree to tree where the meat is placed so we all get a good look and then miraculously fly back to their building, perhaps as a result of some sort of call we can't hear.  We also see wild cats - a Bobcat, two Mountain Lions and an Ocelot (all sleeping like good kitties, of course), a pair of Mexican Wolves, and other desert dwelling animals like various snakes, spiders, insects and rodents.  But the highlight of the morning is the hummingbird cage.  The hummingbirds are so familiar with people that they buzz by and hover close to us.  They particularly like my purple sweater, and one tiny green hummingbird hovers only an inch or two from my chest for several seconds.  Unfortunately, Brad doesn't get a photo!  I hold my arm out for 5 minutes at a time and stand like a statue, and she keeps returning and almost perches on me, but some small movement from another person, or another hummingbird entering the "territory" always makes her fly away.  She also hovers at my ankles for several seconds, and another photographer is able to snap the photo.  There are several other people waiting for this little bird to land on me so they can snap a pic, and although she never lands, she does come close.  The other photographer gets that photo too and I've been trying to get ahold of her to get them sent to me.

Saguaro National Park
For the afternoon, Brad and I hike a park loop trail that takes us up the Gould Mine trail, across the Sendero Esperanza trail and back to the parking lot on the King Canyon trail through the wash.  The landscape is much like our other hikes, and the view of the Sonora desert valley below is beautiful, although it's a bit hazy today.  Perhaps if we have more time and hadn't spent so much time at the Desert Museum, we might hike the longer, full King Canyon trail up to Wasson Peak, but not this trip.

AusRox - third largest gold nugget in the world
Our other purpose for coming to Tucson is to attend the Gem and Mineral Show.  The Main Event at the Convention Center is the biggest show displaying gems and minerals, at least in North America.  There are about 40 different shows around the city displaying rocks, meteorites, fossils, etc.  At the Main Event, we see the third largest gold nugget in the world (the largest owned privately).  It is from Australia (as are the first and second largest) and weighs 51 pounds!  It is worth over one million dollars.  Brad is, once again, in his glory looking at metals and minerals, especially the gold displays.  We spend almost four hours walking around the displays.  Even at that, it's a rushed day.  But it is why we have come to Tucson, and it is our last stop in Arizona before we move on to southern Texas.

1 comment:

  1. I particularly like the picture of Marilyn behind the huge gold nugget!