In addition to checking out the city of Tucson, we made sure to get out into the Sonoran desert garden. Tucson is in the Sonoran Desert and is surrounded by mighty saguaros and many other fabulous desert plants. During this visit,we were super excited that we were going to be in the desert during the springtime bloom for the first time ever.
Tucson Mountain Park is a 20,000-acre county park that is adjacent to Saguaro National Park West (there is a Saguaro National Park East on the other side of town). Offering many outdoor opportunities on the West side of town. Hiking and biking are popular.
Our friend Jean knows a TON about the native plants and we always learn new things from her about the diverse vegetation that is everywhere. Our problem is we can’t remember it all! But we are getting better at it.
Gate’s Pass is a mountain pass in Tucson Mountain Park that has lots of scenic overlooks and is a popular sunset spot. Several trails lead from the main overlooks to higher points for wider vistas.
We headed up there one afternoon with Angel and walked up to a couple of higher points to take in the views. Although it was a pretty evening, it was not a very intense sunset (compared to other desert sunsets we have seen). But there were already lots of flowers and lots and lots of buds waiting to open. And we got a peek at the moonrise as well.
Another afternoon we drove to Saguaro National Park West. Once again the sunset was not too intense. We were not having great luck with the sunsets, but the desert garden did not fail to amaze us once again with more beautiful blooms.
And lots and lots of wise old saguaros. Saguaros are the largest cactus in North America and can live to 175-200 years old and 70 feet tall. The first branches or arms only start to grow after they are about 75 years so most of these giant ones with many crazy arms waving all around have been around a very long time.
We returned to Saguaro National Park West on the evening of the full moon to watch the moonrise. That evening we spotted a gorgeous kestral on a saguaro skeleton, lots cactus wren and other birds flitting about. And even more flowers.
Just before we left Tucson we visited Sabino Canyon, part of the Catalina Mountains, which are located in the Coronado National Forest. There is a gravel road that you can hike easily, but we had a short amount of time so we took their tram – which can drop you off at various points – to the end of the line at the top.
The desert and mountains were all around us. We saw lots more water than we had seen in these parts, pools of water collect there after rains, and there were rivulets and flowing streams. Which makes for a lush desert garden. And there are lots of great little picnic spots along the path. We hiked a bit at the top and walked part of the way down the path.
This was our last time in the Sonoran Desert for a while and we could not have made a better choice. Sabino Canyon has it all – cactus, trees, flowers, birds, mountains, water – a stunning little piece of the vast and colorful Sonoran Desert garden.