Southern Arizona’s National Parks and Forests: Treasures of the Desert (Part One)

The days are long, the air is warm, and the outdoors are calling to us all once again. There is no better time of year to take advantage of the astounding landscapes that surround us here in Southern Arizona than to pull on our best hiking boots, fill our water bottles, and don our hats and sunscreen for a fantastic outdoor adventure at one of our fabulous national parks and forests.
There are so many fantastic parks to enjoy, but if you are looking for the ideal desert experience, you simply cannot beat a tour of one of these popular national parks and forests. They are truly gems in the desert and are a part of what makes living here in Southern Arizona so terrific.
Saguaro National Park
As the crown jewel of the Tucson landscape, the mighty and impressive saguaro cactus is a symbol of the resilience and fortitude of desert flora. The saguaro is also the largest cacti in the nation. Named for these beautiful cacti, Saguaro National Park is comprised of two separate districts, one in east Tucson in the Rincon Mountains and the other to the west in the Tucson Mountains.
Saguaro National Park, established in 1994, is comprised of more than 90,000 acres. To the east, the park has an elevation as high as 8,000 feet, making it a cool retreat in the summertime heat. The park also hosts events throughout the year and is a local favorite camping and hiking spot. Saguaro National Park is brimming with all types of plants, and photographers love to grab shots of the incredible flowers that bloom in both districts.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is not only a sight to behold, it is also a part of the International Biosphere Reserve because it is home to a large variety of flora and fauna. Once regarded as the “most dangerous national park,” Organ Pipe closed to the public not that long ago. Today, Organ Pipe’s 517 acres are once again open to the public, and the sights could not be more breathtaking.
Bring your camping gear and lots (seriously, lots!) of water and be sure to not leave the designated paths and campgrounds. Organ Pipe is a beauty and is visited by thousands of tourists every year, but there is a dangerous risk of both dehydration and the natural elements to those who venture too deep into this desert.
Tumacácori National Historical Park
To the south of Tucson, in the Santa Cruz River, tourists in the know head to Tumacácori National Historical Park, the setting of a unique and historic cultural site. It is here that three Native nations, the O’odham, the Apache, and the Yaqui, intersected with European missionaries and other foreign settlers.
The most notable missionary was Father Eusebio Kino, the Spanish Jesuit priest, who founded the mission at Tumacácori in 1691. Visitors come to see the national monument as it is the site of a collection of buildings spread across five acres, all centered on a single church. Check out the walking tour and enjoy beautiful sights, a museum, and courtyard, and of course, learn a lot about the early settlements and conflicts that helped shape Southern Arizona.
For more National Parks and Forests, check out Part Two of this blog (coming soon)!

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