Four Corners, USA

When I decided to start including our adventures in the Four Corners region in my blog, I discovered that people who live here have a rather innate sense of what “Four Corners” means or maybe simply a sense of what it means to that individual. However, there is really no distinct circle you can draw on a map and say “this is it.” Four Corners Map

The Four Corners is a region consisting of the southwestern corner of Colorado, southeastern corner of Utah, northeastern corner of Arizona, and northwestern corner of New Mexico. The Four Corners is the only location in the United States where four states meet and is marked by the Four Corners Monument.

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Much of the Four Corners region belongs to semi-autonomous Native American nations or is public land managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), the National Forest Service or the National Park Service.

Although the Four Corners region is mostly rural, rugged and arid, it does actually include diverse ecosystems encompassing forests, grasslands, and deserts. As a result, it offers a variety of exploration possibilities. Our hikes have taken us through desert canyons, up forested mountains, along rushing streams and down dry arroyos.

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Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Pueblo Bonito5

Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico

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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

North Window

Monument Valley, Arizona

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

La Sal Mountains, Utah             Wolfman Panel, Butler Wash, Utah

Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico

Posted in Arizona, Bisti Wilderness, Canyonlands National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Colorado, Four Corners, La Sal Mountains, LaPlata Mountains, Mesa Verde National Park, New Mexico, San Juan Mountains, Southwestern U.S., Utah, wilderness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Arches of San Juan County, New Mexico; part 2

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Posted in arch hunting, hiking, natural arches, Nature Photos, New Mexico, rock formations, San Juan County New Mexico, scenery, Southwestern U.S., Western U.S., wilderness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Arches of San Juan County, New Mexico

IMG_5304In this time of social distancing, Tom and I are fortunate enough to live in a place where there is a lot of open space. We’ve been getting our exercise by arch hunting. It feels good to get out and hike, just us and our dog. We decided it was time to share some of the photos of arches we’ve found.

IMG_5454We’ve been hunting arches on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) public land. The roads we’ve been using are oil field roads and range from poor to bad to worse. You don’t travel very fast on those roads so there is plenty of time to look around and determine where we want to start hiking.

More than 400 natural arches have been documented in San Juan County, New Mexico. A natural arch is defined by the Natural Arch and Bridge Society as “a rock exposure that has a hole completely through it formed by the natural, selective removal of rock, leaving a relatively intact frame.”

We started with a brochure (http://www.aztecnm.com/arches/Aztec/ArchesBrochure.pdf) from the Aztec New Mexico website  showing several “arch tours” with photos of arches, directions, and coordinates. Since then, we’ve moved on to hunt for additional arch sites listed on the website. We’ve also found numerous other arches in our hiking around – many quite small.

Basically, we’ve been out wandering around looking for holes in rocks. There is an added dimension to the hunt in that it depends entirely on the angle and the light at any given time as to whether you even see the arch or not. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight and sometimes we are sure we’ve spotted another one and it turns out to be an illusion created by light on rock. Mother Nature loves to be a bit elusive.IMG_5426

 

 

Posted in arch hunting, geology, hiking, natural arches, Nature Photos, New Mexico, rock formations, San Juan County New Mexico, scenery, Southwestern U.S., Western U.S., wilderness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

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In November, we went to St. Louis to add Gateway Arch National Park to our list of national parks we have visited. While there we also went to the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. The day we were there was cold and rainy and we were the only visitors. As such we had the volunteer guide all to ourselves. The site itself is very small and the Grants only lived there a few years but the museum housed in the horse barn was extremely well-done and presented a quite complete picture of Grant the man.  Hence the following “history lesson.”

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This 10-acre historic site in suburban St. Louis offers a glimpse into life in Missouri prior to the Civil War. This plantation, known as White Haven, originally encompassing about 850 acres, was established by Grant’s father-in-law, Colonel Frederick Dent. This historic site tells the story of the collision of diametrically opposing viewpoints concerning slavery as well as the story of the enslaved people themselves.

One of the first questions we (and apparently most other visitors) had for the volunteer who took us on a tour was – the plantation is called White Haven so why is the house painted a very bright green? We were told that originally the house was a cream color but was repainted several times and this particular green, called Paris Green, was the color of the house during the Grant family’s ownership and Grant’s presidency. Paris Green was popular during the Victorian era and was rather expensive so could be seen as a symbol of the prosperity of the owner. As a side note, Paris Green was also quite toxic made with an arsenic-based compound.

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From our history courses, we knew Ulysses S. Grant as the commanding general of the Union forces who  brought the Confederacy to surrender. We knew he was elected president after the war and was not a very effective president. We had been told that Grant was a perpetual heavy-drinker. However, in the museum we learned much more about the man himself and it was a very different perspective.

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Ulysses S. Grant was from Ohio, a free state, and born Hiram Ulysses Grant into a family of abolitionists. His father, Jesse Grant, was a tanner but Hiram had no interest in that profession. At age seventeen, his father arranged for him to enroll in West Point. A clerical error there listed him as Ulysses S. Grant and, not wanting to be rejected, he changed his name right then and there.

After graduation from West Point, Grant was stationed in St. Louis where he met his future wife, Julia Dent. Julia was born and raised in the slave state of Missouri and her father, Frederick Dent, owned at least 30 enslaved African Americans, vital to the success of his plantation. Julia was raised to believe that the Dent slaves were ”family” and content in their servitude.

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Grant and Julia were married in 1848. Over the next six years the couple had four children and Grant was assigned to a number of posts in the west while his family stayed in St. Louis. During that time, his fondness for alcohol seemed to become a problem and in 1854 he resigned from the army. Grant and his family moved to White Haven where he unsuccessfully attempted to become a farmer. The opposing viewpoints of Grant and his father-in-law on the issue of slavery had to make things very difficult at times. The Grants lived at White Haven until 1859 when they moved to Galena, Illinois.

A part of the story at White Haven was the story of the Dent slaves, their daily labor, struggles and longing for freedom. Slavery remained legal in the border state of Missouri and the state was exempt from Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Dent never freed his slaves but by early 1864 all of them simply fled the plantation.

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Shortly after the Civil War started in 1861, Grant became a soldier again. After four long years the Civil War ended and Grant was considered a hero. In 1868, Grant was elected President of the United States.

Unfortunately, he was not nearly as good a president as he had been a general. He worked to implement Reconstruction and supported both amnesty for Confederate leaders and civil rights for former slaves. He worked for ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. However, his administration was plagued by numerous scandals and those scandals have become the best-remembered features of his time in office.

After retiring from the Presidency, Grant’s business ventures failed. After learning he had cancer of the throat, he started writing his memoir to pay off his debts and provide for his family. That memoir, published by his friend Mark Twain, ultimately did that. Soon after completing the last page, in 1885, Grant died.

The real takeaway from visiting Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in Missouri was a better understanding of Grant as a man and the characteristics that actually defined him.

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For more information: https://www.nps.gov/ulsg/index.htm

Posted in Civil War, History, Missouri, National Historic Site, National Park Units, Travel, U.S. National Park Unit, Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gateway Arch National Park

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We decided to visit our 55th National Park (in our quest to visit all 61 -now 62) in November. After all, at 91 acres with no backcountry, hiking or outdoor activities, it doesn’t really matter if it’s November and cold so we headed to St. Louis to visit Gateway Arch National  Park. We had great reservations about Gateway Arch being designated a National Park before we went and our visit there, although completely enjoyable and pleasant, did nothing to change that viewpoint.

Our feeling is that making Gateway Arch a National Park dilutes the true meaning of the Park Service’s flagship National Parks. According to the definitions set out by the National Park Service, “a National Park contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.” Gateway Arch does not meet these criteria at all. There is no significant natural feature, variety of resources or large area.

The National Park Service operates 419 different sites with different designations. Originally this park was Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and meets the National Park Service’s definition of a memorial – “ used for areas that are primarily commemorative. They need not be sites or structures historically associated with their subjects.”  On February 22, 2018, this small, 100% man-made park’s designation was changed to become Gateway Arch National Park. Gateway Arch National Park includes the Arch, an underground visitor center and museum, the Old Courthouse, Mississippi riverfront, and landscaped green space.

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The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial began in 1935 with the idea of a national historic site to commemorate the role of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States. Forty blocks of St. Louis’ historic waterfront were demolished in the 1940’s to make room for the memorial. In 1947 a national competition for the design of a memorial was issued and Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch was chosen from 172 entries. Saarinen’s design presented some unique challenges to the engineers and contractors. Nothing like this had ever been built or even attempted. Actual construction of the arch began in February of 1963 and was completed in October of 1965.

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We purchased tickets for the tram ride to the top and the documentary movie Monument to the Dream.

Each tram car is a small pod with seats for five people and would not be good for someone who is claustrophobic (stairs to the top 1,076). The ride takes four minutes to the top of the arch and you are allowed to remain as long as you would like. The shape of the structure and the small windows provide a completely unobstructed view below. The ride back down takes three minutes. It was foggy and rainy the day we were there so we couldn’t see too far but it was still impressive.

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The movie was extremely well-done and well worth the ticket price. The engineering, materials, technology and construction were amazing. The arch is 630 feet in height and 630 feet in width and is designed to sway 18” in a 150 mph wind. The outer skin is stainless steel and it weighs 17,246 tons. When construction began, they expected to lose 13 people in the process and incredibly there was not one life lost. This is particularly surprising as the footage in the movie showed that they worked with no safety harnesses and most didn’t even have hard hats. The Arch is truly an engineering marvel and fascinating.

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The Museum of Westward Expansion houses an extensive collection of artifacts. In a well-designed format, it explores the history of St. Louis from 1764 when Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau selected a site to build a commercial village named St. Louis for King Louis IX of France and located near the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers through the modern day. Thomas Jefferson’s vision for the expansion of the United States and the westward movement are highlighted. We spent several hours in the museum and could have spent more but you can only absorb so much at one time before getting “museum head”.

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The Old Courthouse is also a part of this national park and was really interesting. The Dred Scott case was heard there. Dred Scott sued for his freedom after having been taken, as a slave, to live in free states. The case was decided in the Scott family’s favor but was later overturned by the Supreme Court. It took eleven years before the Scotts finally gained their freedom. The displays in the Old Courthouse provided a great deal of insight into the personal trials and political turmoil of the period leading up to the civil war.

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We happened to visit the opening weekend of Winterfest which is held in the park immediately behind the Old Courthouse. The lighted Christmas trees, performers, ice skating pond and free food provided a nice intro to the holiday season.

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For more information: https://www.nps.gov/jeff/index.htm

Posted in Civil War, Gateway Arch National Park, History, Missouri, National Park, National Park Travels, St. Louis, Travels in the U.S., U.S. History, U.S. national parks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gates of the Arctic National Park return

 

IMG_4164Six years after our first visit to Gates of the Arctic National Park we returned. This trip was in August as opposed to July. The colors of the tundra were turning and the variety of berries was amazing. The hope of this trip was to be basically in the middle of the caribou migration. The remote cabin at the headwaters of the Alatna River is on a caribou migration route.

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Of course with Mother Nature in command, things are not on a set schedule. It was an unusually warm summer in Alaska and unfortunately the migration was not in full swing through the Alatna valley. We saw several caribou and grizzly bears but not the thousands of caribou we had hoped to see.

Once again John Gaedeke was a wonderful host and guide. His knowledge and understanding of this magnificent wilderness is broad and his love and concern for it apparent.

The vastness of this land is impossible to truly capture in photos. There is beauty on so many levels. Fall and approaching winter were apparent in the diversity of ripe berries, the different colors in the low-growing plants and the snow that fell on the high mountains while we were there. The changing light throughout the days and even by the hour afforded a different view.

 

In keeping with fall, the days were very cool, often cloudy and damp. Hiking the tundra in a different direction each day we truly got to experience Gates. On one of our hikes, we watched a grizzly meander across the tundra and enter one of the side canyons.  Before long, we heard the strangest combination of sounds – a bear-like growl and a wolf howl. We watched the canyon mouth and John did spot a wolf emerging and moving away. Once again silence reigned.

Taking the canoe across the lake on a very still morning, the reflections in the water were amazing. Slowly making our way across the lake and down the river a ways afforded so many chances to appreciate the beauty.

 

We found two sets of caribou antlers – one which had been naturally shed and one that obviously had not been given up willingly. The interconnectedness and balance of nature at work.

We experienced first-hand the reality of all things in Alaska being “weather permitting.” On the day that the bush pilot was to return with the float plane to take us out, we woke up to fog so thick we couldn’t see across the lake. We had to be ready to leave in case the weather lifted but it set in to rain heavily during much of the day. By the time it cleared it was too late for the pilot to fly so we spent an extra night at the cabin.  The next morning he was able to come get us but by the time we got back to Bettles there was no flight from there to Fairbanks the rest of that day. Pat Gaedeke had made arrangements for us to stay in a cabin there that night and fly out to Fairbanks the next day.  So our trip was extended by two days and we had to make all new arrangements to get home. All part of the adventure!

There is something very special about Gates of the Arctic National Park. It grabs you and doesn’t let go. We would go back again.

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Posted in Alaska, Gates of the Arctic National Park, hiking, National Park, National Park Travels, Nature Photos, scenery, Travel, U.S. national parks, Western U.S. National Parks, wilderness, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

New Items in Online Store

I’ve added some new items to my online store. Ornaments, mugs, coasters and more featuring National Parks as well as nature in general. I’d like to ask you to take a look. You may find the perfect gift for someone on your list or perhaps for yourself. Have a wonderful day!

Go to https://www.zazzle.com/store/here2where/collections or click on the button to the upper right.

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Congaree National Park

IMG_2880In our quest to visit all 61 National Parks, Congaree National Park in South Carolina became our 54th National Park. “Congaree Swamp” is a large floodplain swamp on both sides of the Congaree River, in the heart of which is the 26,000+ acres of Congaree National Park. Originally established as Congaree Swamp National Monument, Congaree gained national park status in 2003 at which time the word “swamp” was dropped from the name. The number of visitors increased significantly without that unappealing appellation, but the park is rather off the beaten path and the day we were there, we had the trails very nearly to ourselves. Congaree is one of the 15 least-visited national parks, having only 145,929 visitors in 2018.IMG_2896

Being a floodplain and flooding about ten times a year, the park is truly a swamp much of the time. A 2.4-mile elevated boardwalk loop trail from the visitor’s center allows access during times of high water. When we visited  the area had been experiencing a drought so water depth was not an issue at that time.IMG_2883

We took the boardwalk trail and added the Weston Lake Loop Trail to make a good 5-mile hike.  The trail was easy to follow with no elevation change and surprisingly few mosquitoes. It was very warm and humid and we luckily finished our hike and were back in the car when it started to rain heavily.IMG_2895

Congaree includes the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.  There are 93 species of trees in Congaree. Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain with nutrients and sediments that support this ecosystem and the growth of national and state champion trees. Having seen the Redwoods and the Sequoias, I’m afraid we weren’t as impressed with the sizes as we could have been but the diversity and density was fascinating. As Tom said, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”IMG_2894

The Loblolly pines and the Bald Cypress are easily identifiable. The pines tower above forming a super-canopy. One of the few needle-leaved deciduous trees, the bald cypress with its Spanish-moss covered limbs, its buttressed base and its weird knees epitomizes the image of a swamp. Cypress knees are  distinctive structures forming above the roots but the function of the knees is unknown.IMG_2900

Congaree is home to nearly 200 bird species including 8 species of woodpeckers. I was really hoping to see a red-cockaded woodpecker and, even though we could hear the rat-tat-tat nearby, we never caught a glimpse of the bird itself. Similarly, there are 40 species of mammals in the park and 45 known species of reptiles and amphibians but we only saw a small black snake and a lizard – the green anole.IMG_2892

Every year, Congaree National Park hosts synchronous fireflies for approximately two weeks between mid-May and mid-June. Only three out of 2,000 species of fireflies experience synchronous flashing.  We were a little too late to take part in the Firefly Festival (organized by the park not the fireflies). The ranger told us there were still some fireflies in the park but not many and not synchronously flashing.IMG_2898

People have been using this floodplain for over 13,000 years as a home and a refuge. From prehistoric natives to Spanish explorers (DeSoto and the conquistadors in 1540) to Revolutionary War patriots (including Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox”) to escaped slaves (establishing maroon communities) to loggers and conservationists, people have played a role here.

 

This old-growth forest was actually saved by an unlikely source – a lumber company.  In the 1880’s Santee River Cypress Lumber Company, founded by Francis Beidler, acquired large tracts of swampland for the purpose of harvesting the virgin cypress. The lumber operation did not prove to be profitable. For some reason, the Beidler family kept much of the swampland they owned, the so-called “Beidler tract” of Congaree,  and it sat idle for decades.  Through the efforts of journalist Harry Hampton and local conservationists, the Congaree Swamp National Monument was created in 1976.

 

We only saw a small portion of Congaree National Park as much of it is wilderness but we enjoyed its old-growth forest, trees standing in ponds of water brown from tannins, variety of flora and its solitude.IMG_2904

For more information:

https://www.nps.gov/cong/index.htm

Posted in Congaree National Park, hiking, National Park, National Park Travels, Nature Photos, scenery, South Carolina, swamp, Travels in the U.S., U.S. national parks, wilderness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grand Canyon National Park -the “Big Reveal”

IMG_2744We’ve been to the Grand Canyon a number of times but this spring we took two grandkids who had not been there before. Of course in describing the Grand Canyon, it is always “no matter how many pictures you’ve seen it’s not the same as seeing it in person.”

I told Grand-daughter that I was excited about seeing her face when she saw it for the first time. Her response was classic – “We’ll drive by it, won’t we? So it won’t be like somebody opens a curtain and it’s the big reveal, right?”  I responded, “Oh, it’s the big reveal all right.”

We entered the south park entrance and on the way to the village, there are a couple of glimpses of the canyon, but we warned her not to look and she didn’t. So when we walked to the canyon rim behind Bright Angel Lodge, it was the “Big Reveal” and she was totally impressed, as was Grandson.IMG_2707

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the crown jewels of the National Park system. It became a National Park on February 26. 1919 and in 2018 was the second most-visited national park with 6,380,495 visitors, over 90% of them to the South Rim. The park encompasses 1,217,403 acres or 1904 Square miles.IMG_2762

The size of the canyon is hard to comprehend, even standing there on the rim. The canyon in the park is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep.IMG_2769

Viewing the Colorado River from the rim, it appears to be maybe 10 feet wide. In reality, its minimum width is 76 feet and the average width is 300 feet. Average depth is 40 feet and greatest depth is 85 feet. It’s a big river!IMG_2758

The Grand Canyon has to be a geologist’s dream come true.  Rock dating back 1.8 billion years lies at the bottom and layers from numerous geologic eras are exposed above that. For a photographer, the unique combinations of geologic color and eroded forms present vistas that change with the changing light.

As inhospitable as it is, the canyon has had human activity for over 3000 years. Prehistoric artifacts and ruins have been found throughout the canyon. The first recorded view of the Grand Canyon was as a part of the 1540 Coronado expedition. After an unsuccessful attempt to reach the bottom, they reported that the canyon was immense and the river big. In 1776, there were two Spanish expeditions led by priests in this general area but the Grand Canyon remained largely unexplored until the late nineteenth century. The Ives Expedition in 1857 attempted to travel upstream from the Gulf of California in a 54-foot steamboat. They made it several hundred miles and then traveled overland a bit further at which point Ives declared the region “altogether valueless” and wrote “Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality.”IMG_2751

In 1869, John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran, became the first known man to descend the Colorado River through the canyon with ten men and four tiny wooden boats. They covered a distance of over 1,000 miles in a little over three months. Powell was the one who called the place Grand Canyon. His journal and numerous other books chronicle this expedition and Powell’s many other accomplishments.IMG_2724

In the 1880’s prospectors came to the canyon where they mined copper and asbestos even though it was not easy to access. By the early 1900’s tourism became the main commercial venture on the South Rim. Even though there were earlier efforts at preservation, it was not until 1919 that Grand Canyon National Park was established.IMG_2732

The Hermit Road west of the South Rim Village is closed to personal vehicles but the shuttle bus system works well. It is free and you can get off and back on at various places. We rode the bus and then got off at several stops and hiked along the rim trail to the next stop. The road ends at Hermit’s Rest which serves as the obligatory souvenir and quick food shop.IMG_2765

Hermit’s Rest, a limestone building with an amazing fireplace, was designed by Mary Jane Colter. Ms. Colter, an early female architect, also designed Bright Angel Lodge, Hopi House, Lookout Studio, Phantom Ranch and Desert View Watchtower. The main Bright Angel lodge features a “geological fireplace” made of layers of stone repeating the layers found in the canyon from river to rim.IMG_2828

There are various lodging possibilities in the park and we stayed at the Yavapai Lodge – reservations are necessary and, even more than a month before our trip, there was extremely limited availability. We also made reservations well in advance for dinner at the El Tovar, which is always a treat.IMG_2783

The Grand Canyon is wondrous, beautiful and dangerous. Each year there are fatalities in the park, most because someone is trying to get the “perfect picture” and plummets over the edge. In this day of “selfies” that has become even more of a problem. Much of the rim does not have guardrails and even when there are guardrails and warning signs, people often venture beyond them. An amazing place in which common sense needs to prevail.IMG_2742

There are several adventurous ways to see the Grand Canyon including raft trips on the Colorado, mule trips to Phantom Ranch at the bottom, and hiking down and back or rim-to-rim. All of these require a certain degree of fitness as the canyon can be very unforgiving.IMG_2743

Grand Canyon National Park is one of our premier parks which, unfortunately, is being “loved to death.”  The National Park Service is exploring ways in which to deal with continually increasing visitor numbers while maintaining the “wow” experience. The South Rim is overcrowded, parking is difficult, the walkways are crowded and long lines are typical in gift shops and restaurants.

The North Rim has somewhat fewer of these issues since, even though the average distance across the canyon is only 10 miles, it takes five hours to drive the 215 miles between the park’s South Rim Village and the North Rim Village.  The South Rim is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The North Rim is only open May 15 through October 15. The North Rim is more difficult to get to and has a much shorter season but is our favorite as there are far fewer people and it is incredibly beautiful.North Rim Grand Canyon National Park resized

For more information:  https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm

Posted in Arizona, Colorado River, geology, Grand Canyon National Park, History, John Wesley Powell, Mary Jane Colter, National Park, National Park Travels, National Park Units, Nature Photos, scenery, Southwest History, Travels in the U.S., U.S. national parks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saguaro National Park

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We visited Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona years ago before we embarked on our quest to visit all the U.S. National Parks. We happened there when the desert was in bloom and it was incredibly beautiful. With that in mind and an extraordinarily wet winter, I called the park to see if the wildflowers were in bloom, and was told that they were “popping” so we set out to see. We were somewhat disappointed in the flower display, or lack thereof, but even so we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the park.

In 1920, interest was first expressed in preserving the “cactus forest” in southern Arizona. Members of the Natural History Society of the University of Arizona as well as academics, local businessmen and politicians worked to try to obtain land for preservation and future study.

Finally, March 1, 1933, President Herbert Hoover signed a proclamation establishing Saguaro National Monument 15 miles east of Tucson (now Rincon Mountain District). Since that time, an additional area west of Tucson (now Tucson Mountain District) has been added and in 1994 Congress officially elevated Saguaro National Monument to Saguaro National Park. It currently encompasses 91,445 acres.

Fairy Duster                                                                      Brittlebush

The saguaro is an iconic symbol of the American West. In reality, it will only grow in the Sonoran desert, primarily southern Arizona. The saguaro will grow from sea level to about 4000 feet in elevation so its range is rather limited. Further north or higher in elevation, it is restricted to warmer, south facing slopes.

Saguaro and Ocotillo

In the 1937, Tucson suffered record low temperatures and a few years later many saguaros started dying. After another killing freeze in 1962,researchers figured out that temperatures below freezing for more than 20 hours could kill saguaros. In combination with grazing and consequent trampling of young saguaros by cattle, it was feared that saguaros would go the way of the Old West and die out. In 1979 the National Park Service acquired grazing rights and halted grazing. Young saguaros began to sprout under palo verde and mesquite “nurse trees.”  In general, it seems the saguaros are younger and smaller in the east Rincon Mountain district than in the west Tucson Mountain district.

Occasionally a saguaro, rather than rising in a straight column, forms a crest in which the tip spreads outward in a large fan. These cristate (crested) saguaros are abnormal but not diseased. They are not common and no one really knows why they do this. We saw two of them during our visit.

Saguaro National Park is home to 25 species of cacti.

Engelman’s Prickly Pear                                      Staghorn Cholla & Brittlebush

Three of the young cacti (saguaro, pincushion and hedgehog) resemble each other enough that you have to look closely to discern the difference. The saguaro spines emerge from a long ridge, pincushion has fish-hook shaped spines and hedgehog has a series of knobs. They all take advantage of the shelter of the nurse trees. Other cacti are more independent.

Saguaro                                                       Pincushion (top)  Hedgehog (Bottom)

Chain Fruit Cholla                                                 Ocotillo and Teddy Bear Cholla

Staghorn Cholla and Prickly Pear                                               Fishhook Barrel

The saguaro germinates from a tiny seed and takes about twenty-five years to grow to about a foot tall. They don’t produce flowers until they are seven or eight feet tall and are fifty to sixty years old. The growth rate slows and at the age of seventy-five to a hundred years it may be twelve to twenty feet tall and arms begin to appear.  The new arms begin to produce flowers within two to three years. The arms give each saguaro its own individual identity and no two look alike.

There are a number of trails in Saguaro National Park but, since we had our dog with us, we were a bit limited as to where we could go and take him along. Some national parks limit dogs to parking lots and tethered in campsites. Saguaro does have several trails that we could take him on a leash so we took advantage of that. He enjoyed our hikes and was a perfect gentleman.

Phainopepla                                                                                   Cactus Wren

March is a nice time to visit Saguaro. Although our first day was very windy and quite chilly, the second day was sunny and very pleasant. The east and west districts of the park are about 35 miles apart with the city in between so it was nice to visit them on separate days. The variety of cacti and desert plants we encountered on our hikes provided plenty of photo opportunities. A summer visit to this park would certainly be a different experience with temperatures well over 100°.

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For more information: https://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm

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