Thursday, January 24, 2008

Saguaro NP East

Forget what I said earlier about how difficult it is for Saguaro Cacti to reproduce. I have the straight scoop via the information I obtained from the parks service. They produce the same amount of seeds I said earlier. But here’s the really difficult part. After they drop their seeds, they require 1 ½ inches of rain within the next day. Not enough, and the animals will eat them. Too much and they will wash away. If they get the amount of rain necessary, they still have a difficult ride if they germinate. After one year, they are only ¼-inch tall. After five years they are one INCH tall. And after 15 years, they will be only 1 foot tall. It’s amazing any of them exist at all.

We saw pictures of the density of the saguaros from 1933 through the present. The density has decreased drastically. However, now that they are protected, they are making a comeback. The decrease was due to building in the area, but that wasn’t the only problem. The literature I had didn’t specify anything beyond that, except to say that there were other problems. In any event, I think I am falling in love with the desert. The variety of cacti and animals is truly impressive, and the scenery is spectacular. Today the lighting was just right and the sky was filled with puffy white clouds. The air seems clean here, and the sky a beautiful turquoise blue.

We drove the Cactus Forest Loop, which is eight miles. There are several turnouts that give views of the surrounding mountains. It is a beautiful valley. We hiked the Cactus Garden Trail, which was about two miles. When we were finished, we felt we’d seen everything the landscape had to offer. I would have liked to have seen more wildlife. As it is, we will have to settle for what we saw in the museum—and that was quite a treat.

As we understand it, the Saguaro is something of a multi-story condominium with many different kinds of animals living in pecked out holes within them. There is a particular kind of owl called an Elf Owl that I would dearly have liked to have seen. I kept my eyes peeled, but to no avail. The literature tells us that the environment within the Saguaro is 20 degrees cooler in the summer and 20 degrees warmer in the winter. After a rain, they are able to absorb 200 gallons of water—enough to last them an entire year. They don’t have a long tap root like the mesquite do. Rather, they have a network of roots that spread out just under the surface of the sand at least as wide a radius as they are tall. It’s quite an impressive story of adaptation.

So that’s about all I have to say about the Saguaro. Tomorrow we are going to see the photography museum at the University of Arizona and also the aviation museum. I don’t know if we will have time to see the mission since we are moving on Saturday. We have enjoyed our week in Tucson, and we enjoyed just stopping and staying in one place for a while. As I write this I don’t know where we are headed next, except to say that we will be in New Mexico.

Here is the link to the pictures I took today. Enjoy.

Saguaro NP West

We spent most of yesterday in the West side of Saguaro NP. What a fabulous place! Put aside the visions you have of the Saguaro cactus for a moment. There is an incredible amount of diversity among the plants and animals of this part of the world. It was set aside as a protected area during the Hoover administration—during the Great Depression. Many of the roads and structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) under the FDR administration. The park was designated as a national monument until it was re-designated as a national park under the Clinton administration in 1994.

The best part of the park (in my humble opinion) is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is very much like a zoo and botanical garden put together. The museum is actually funded by private donations and possibly some state funds. It is just outside the border of the national park. We have been there twice now—once on a hot and busy weekend—and then today with cloud cover and fewer people. The cloud cover kept it cool and so we were able to see almost all of the animals that live in the zoo. I should say here that any animals you see among the pictures I will post were all captive, with the exception of a few birds--maybe. This is such a wonderful zoo/garden/museum that it is worth driving quite a way out of your way to see it. If you ever make a trip near Tucson, I can highly recommend making this a stop.

Before stopping at the museum, however, we made a short hike to Signal Hill where we were able to see some petroglyphs made by the Hohokam Indians. I learned something I didn’t know. Petroglyphs are made by chipping or grinding away the desert patina that coats most of the rocks around here. Also known as desert varnish, it is caused by minerals coating the rocks and then a substance in the rock acts like cement holding it fast to the rock surface. Pictographs, on the other hand, are made by coloring the rock using some substance, such as powdered minerals, plant substances, charcoal, and even blood. Also, they differ from hieroglyphics in that each picture of a hieroglyphic stands for a word or sound (both Egyptian and Mayan), while petroglyphs and pictographs cannot be read in this way. I will post pictures of some of these as well.

So with that as my intro, I will start working on posting some pictures. Here is the link:

This morning, Mike is mounting a back-up camera on the back of the truck. We had one, but in the storm in California, it filled with water and then stopped working. Obviously, this one is better quality. When he's finished doing that, we will go visit Saguaro NP East where we can drive a loop drive through the saguaro cactus forest.