Saturday, February 27, 2010

Celebrating the Saguaro: a photo essay

Having spent 14 years in Tucson from childhood through college, returning is like seeing a familiar old friend.  One of my favorite members of the desert is the saguaro cactus.  It probably symbolizes the AZ, the southwest and the desert moreso than any other single image, particularly for those who have never traveled to this part of the country.

While many people may believe the saguaro is an omnipresent desert inhabitant, its actual distribution is quite limited.  It is found only within the Sonoran desert climate zone - a region confined to the southern part of AZ, southeastern CA and northern Mexico including the states of Baja and Sonora.  It is bordered by the Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts to the west, north and east, respectively.  Even within the Sonoran desert, its preferred locations are the slopes of rocky hillsides or at the bases of desert mountains. 

One such location is Saguaro National Park.  When I was living in Tucson 20+ years ago, it was a national monument, and it is pleasing to see that it was upgraded to national park status in 1994.  There are two park districts - west (Tucson Mtn. district) and east (Rincon Mtn. district).  My mother recently moved back to AZ, and the road to her house goes through Saguaro National Park West.  It was on my return drive home almost 2 weeks ago, shortly after I left her house, that I took these photos. 

The absence of a tripod, and the usual issue of lighting limited the number of "photo-worthy" images I took, but this handful captures some of the personality of this distinctive and charming member of the cactus (cactaceae) family:

Hillside Celebration
The uplifted arms give these saguaros a whimsical and joyful appearance.  Saguaros don't begin to grow arms until they are almost 100 years old.
Cast Shadows
The curved shadows from this small desert plant across the ribs of this saguaro cactus skeleton produce an interesting contrast.
Abstracted Saguaro
This photo focuses on the strong lines and lines, and simple shapes of this saguaro trunk and its two curved arms.
Young 'Un
This juvenile saguaro, probably 25-30 years old, has been sheltered by an adjacent mesquite tree.
The Cycle of Life
A baby saguaro, probably about 5-8 years in age, grows next to the weathered remains of an old saguaro and its root base in this still life image.  The average life span for a saguaro is 150 years.

For more information about Saguaro National Park, click here.


  1. I think I have never seen a saguaro in person. In cactus?

    My favorite of these is the little plant casting a shadow...beautiful.

  2. Thanks, Jala! That shadow photo is my favorite of the bunch as well.

    It is surprising how *large* saguaros are in person - the biggest specimens are probably 12-15' tall and as big around as the diameter your arms make with fingertips touching. They produce a beautiful crown of white flowers on the tops of each arm in the spring.


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