Sunrise Hike in Saguaro National Park
Fiery Sunrise in Tucson's Saguaro National Park West
An Early Morning Wake-up Sends us Out to Photograph a Colorful Sunrise
After our little dog woke us up a little before 5:00 a.m. on a recent weekend morning my wife decided that, rather than going back to bed for another hour or so, we should head out to Saguaro National Park West to take pictures of the sunrise.
My wife and I both enjoy photography and she has built up a large following on Instagram with her stunning photos.
Sunsets at Saguaro NP are Also Spectacular
Dressing Quickly We Drove Toward Saguaro National Park in the Inky Darkness
On this morning the trip to Saguaro National Park West would be unplanned in contrast to some trips this past summer when my wife would talk me into getting up a 4:00 in the morning to go view the sunrise.
So, after quickly stepping outside and seeing that the sky was mostly clear with a number of big, fluffy cumulus, stratocumulus and cumulonimbus clouds scattered across the sky, I quickly put some coffee on and got dressed.
Taking the coffee with us we set out on the 40 minute or so drive from our home to Saguaro West National Park. It was still completely dark as we headed west from our home along the dimly lit streets of northwest Tucson (astronomy is major industry in Tucson with astronomers from all over the world coming here to study the night sky so outdoor lighting is kept to a minimum in our city) toward the nearby pass through the Tucson mountains.
There Was Enough Light to See the Cactus Covered Desert Ahead of Us
The sun had not yet emerged above the eastern horizon when we arrived but the sky was becoming lighter which meant that we could see our way as we walked through the field of Saguaro and other cacti across from where we parked the car.
This meant that we could see out way and avoid tripping over rocks, get around cacti and other bushy succulents all covered with thorns, as well as the occasional rattlesnake resting in our path (note: while I keep an eye out for them, in the 30+ years I have lived and hiked in Arizona I have only seen, usually at a safe distance, 4 rattlesnakes in the wild).
Despite the sun still lurking below the horizon, its rays were already silhouetting the mountains in front of it and clothing the fluffy clouds hovering above the mountains in bright colors.
Rattlesnake Napping Next to a Log in Saguaro National Park West
When my wife saw the quality of pictures I was taking on my iPhone a few years ago she had me upgrade her to an iPhone and she quickly put it to use taking pictures on our travels. She has a good eye and, until then, undiscovered artistic talent.
It didn't take long for my wife to become an avid photographer who not only knew how to spot, frame and take a good picture, she also became very good at using an app to enhance her pictures.
Both of us have since upgraded to Google Pixel phones and continue to look for interesting things to photograph.
On numerous trips to Saguaro National Park we have built a huge library of photos of Saguaro and other cacti. In the spring numerous varieties of cacti are in bloom. While the flowers vary in size and color the bad news is that most cactus flowers only last for a day or two. They bloom, attract bees, butterflies and other insects who collect and distribute their pollen and then die. The good news is that each cacti generally produce numerous flowers that bloom over the course of weeks or even a month or two.
We have made many trips to Saguaro National Park and other places to photograph these flowers.
Delicate Flower of a Buckhorn Cholla Cactus against Setting Sun
Crested Saguaro Cacti
A little over a year ago my wife heard about crested Saguaro Cacti. Technically known as cristate saguaros these rare saguaros sport a fan-like growth on them.
Plant biologists who study saguaros don’t know what causes this odd growth on a few saguaros. Some biologists theorize that these odd growths on the saguaro are the result of the saguaro being hit by lightning or it having freeze damage to the crested area due to frost. Others speculate that the cristate is due to a genetic mutation.
While the cause remains a mystery, the result in many cases is a spectacular addition to the affected saguaro.
Crested Saguaro Cactus
Crested saguaro cacti can be found wherever saguaro cacti grow. However, because they are rare the odds of finding them are improved in places where there are numerous saguaro cacti. According to the National Park Service there are about 75 known crested saguaro cacti located within the boundaries of the two sections of the National Park.
However, finding the crested saguaros can be difficult as they are a part of a huge forest of saguaros. Even with the maps marking the location of some of the crested saguaros that are available at the visitor centers at each section visitors have to look carefully to spot the crested saguaros.
My Wife Photographing Crested Saguaro Cactus at Saguaro National Park-East
Saguaros Bloom in the Spring
In addition to the sunrises and sunsets and the crested saguaros, there is also the flowering of the saguaros in late Spring followed by the fruit in early summer.
Beginning about late April through the end of June (the length of the main flowering period varies from year to year) the saguaros produce numerous delicate white flowers.
Saguaro Cactus in Bloom
The buds on the Saguaro generally start opening sometime after midnight with most of them having wilted by late afternoon. There are exceptions with some opening shortly after sunrise and not wilting until late afternoon or early evening. However, since many mature saguaros produce numerous buds which open at different times visitors have about a month or more to visit and see flowers on the saguaros.
Saguaro Cactus Flower
Saguaros Produce a Sweet Red Fruit
The flowers of the Saguaro, like other flowers, produce nectar which attracts bees and other insects as well as certain species of birds and bats In getting to the nectar they pick up pollen which they then carry to the next Saguaro flower where it rubs off and fertilizers that flower.
After the fertilized flower dies at the end of the day it begins turning into a sweet red fruit that contains thousands of tiny black seeds. Many birds and desert animals eat the sweet fruit including the seeds which, in most animals pass through their digestive system and begin growing into new saguaros after being excreted.
Humans, especially the native Tohono O'odham peoples who have a long tradition of harvesting and boiling it down to produce a syrup or fermenting it into an alcoholic beverage. The Tohono O’odham were doing this long before the Europeans arrived.
Other locals pick, peel and eat the fruit like any other type of produce. It should be noted that, while citizens of the neighboring the Tohono O’odham Nation have permission to harvest Saguaro fruit in area national parks, harvesting the fruit by others is illegal. Others who wish to pick and consume the fruit have to obtain it from their own property or other areas to which they have legal access.
Saguaro Cactus Fruit
The East and West Sections of Saguaro National Park are at the east and west end of Tucson, AZ
Author Among the Saguaros in Saguaro National Park West
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2018 Chuck Nugent