We stayed at Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson. It is right next to the west division of Saguaro National Park, home for the desert giants – saguaros. Saguaros grow exclusively in Sonoran Desert. Landscape of the park is dominated by majestic saguaros. Other major desert plants include various cacti, creosotes, ironwood, velvet Mesquites, foothills palo verdes, and ocotillos.
We didn’t spend much time at Saguaro National Park. What impressed us was the prime view of the park unveiled in front of us when the movie screen retreated. Our eyes were brightened up by the beautiful view of the desert landscape. We learned more about saguaros and other desert plants. Saguaros growth rate is slow and depends on water and temperature. In ideal conditions, they can grow as tall as 60 feet. Saguaros start to bloom after 30 years of age. The white blossoms bloom in May and June. Flowers bloom after dark and close the next day. The first branch won’t appear until their 50s. They grow branches to increase their reproductive capacity. The accordion-like folds expand to store more water. They can weigh several thousand pounds when fully hydrated. Saguaros have significant importance in Tohono O’odham people. They believe that saguaros were once humans and respect them as brothers. They harvest red saguaro fruits in the second half of June. Red fruits are processed into syrup and wines. The end of the harvest ceremony and the beginning of the monsoon mark the New Year. The woody ribs of the diseased saguaros can be used to make roofs, fences, tools, and part of furniture.
We noticed some desert plants had bare branches with spikes and wondered if they were alive. Now we know they are ocotillos. They only leaf out within three days after a rain and shed their leaves in drought periods. Red ocotillos blossoms appear in April and May. Ironwood has wisteria-like flowers in May and June. Velvet Mesquites have yellow flowers from April through June. Dazzling colors of lupines bloom from January through May. Foothills palo verdes have bright yellow flowers from April through June. It seems that April or May is the best time to appreciate desert blooms. But best spring blooms varies and depend on the combination of weather and elevation. They say this year’s desert Spring flower display was brilliant because of the ample rain in winter. Maybe we will come back in spring sometime to marvel the desert blooms.
The campground was quiet and peaceful under the starry night. At dawn, silhouettes of giant saguaros and mountains contrasted with the eastern red sky. And rosy clouds adorned the southern sky. It was another beautiful day for us to travel.