Only a two-hour drive south of my (happily) snowless winter stopover in Phoenix and the “Valley of the Sun” is Tucson, the state’s second-largest city and home of the University of Arizona. Tucson holds one of three exceptional national park sites dedicated to great plants of the desert: Saguaro National Park.
The larger section of the park is at Rincon Mountain District, home to the park headquarters, a traditional visitor center and the scenic 8-mile Cactus Forest Drive. To the west is the Tucson Mountain District, which has a newer-style visitor center and 12 miles of paved roads, plus a number of Native American petroglyphs.
Drives and short hikes in both districts feature impressive stands of the majestic giant saguaro and other diverse vegetation native to the Sonoran Desert, as well as views of the surrounding mountains. The saguaro cactus itself grows to a height of 30 to 40 feet, occasionally even taller. It blossoms each year in late spring and can have a life span approaching 250 years.
Although a single admission fee admits visitors to both districts of the park, most group tours will likely have time to visit only one. I would choose the specific site to include based on the other attractions that your group is planning to include in the Tucson area, or on the specific day that you plan to make your visit to the park.
The Eastern (Rincon Mountain) District is likely to be more convenient if you are arriving (or departing) the Tucson area via I-10 from (to) the east, or if you will be visiting Sabino Canyon, the Pima Air & Space Museum or Fort Lowell, or dining at Pinnacle Peak. Alternately, the Western (Tucson Mountain) District will be the logical choice if you are arriving (or departing) the Tucson area via I-10 from (to) Phoenix or California, or visiting the adjacent Tucson Mountain Park, home to the great Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Old Tucson Studios, or the International Wildlife Museum or Mission San Xavier del Bac.
Bob Hoelscher, CTC, CTP, MCC, CTIE, is a longtime travel industry executive who has sold his tour company, bought a motorhome and is traveling the highways and byways of America. He is a former chairman of NTA, and was a founding member of Travel Alliance Partners (TAP).
Well-known in the industry as both a baseball and symphony aficionado, Bob is also one of the country’s biggest fans of our national parks, both large and small. He has already visited more than 325 NPS sites and has several dozen yet to see. He is currently traveling the country to visit as many of those parks as possible. His blog, “Travels with Bob,” appears periodically on The Group Travel Leader’s blogsite, “Are We There Yet”.
Bob is available for contractual work in the industry and may be reached at email@example.com or by calling (435) 590-1553.