THERE’S NO BACKDROP THAT SAYS DESERT quite like 100 square miles of towering saguaro cacti
By: Josephine Matyas & Craig Jones
Park ranger Jeff Wallner has seen changes over the years in his workplace, Saguaro National Park on the outskirts of Tucson. “I call this the Arizona rainforest because this is a desert dominated by trees,” he says. But with rainfall and weather patterns shifting due to climate change, desperately needed moisture is scarcer than ever. “If this continues this desert may change from a tree dominated desert to a cacti dominated desert. As far as animals go, this is a kind of forest. This is home to javelina, coyotes, coati, mountain lion, Gila monsters and 20 types of snakes.”
Saguaro cacti – the multi-armed sentinel of the West – are only found in the Sonoran Desert, a region that stretches from northern Mexico into southern Arizona and parts of California. It’s just one of the unique features that make Tucson a singular destination.
In its history, Tucson has been at a crossroads; in addition to the one-off desert ecology it was a route travelled by Spanish conquistadors and American settlers, both seeking riches of different kinds, both leaving their own marks on the region. Much later along the arc of history, astronomers and scientists discovered that the dark, clear desert skies are a key that opens doors to the stars and planets.
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