Cactus Garden

Round Trip Distance: 0.3 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 2521 - 2546 feet
Cellphone: 1-4 bars
Time: 30 mins.
Trailhead: Red Hills Visitor Center
Fee: $15/vehicle
Attractions: Wheelchair accessible, interpretive trail, Visitor Center

The Cactus Garden trail is a nice short interpretive trail next to the Red Hills Visitor Center in the Tucson Mountain District of the Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona. The trail provides visitors with an easy way to learn more about the unique desert plants and cacti that they will see so much of while visiting the area. Saguaro National Park is split into two sections by the city of Tucson. The Tucson Mountain District lies west of Interstate 10 beyond the Tucson Mountains. By making use of Interstate 10's exits 242 and 257 a loop drive can be followed that will provide access to any of the many trails in the Tucson Mountain District of the park.

The Red Hills Visitor Center is a modern building with an auditorium, gift shop, static displays and flush toilets. Visitors should stop here first to pay the entrance fee and obtain any information and maps they need to better enjoy the park.

The Cactus Garden trail can be accessed from the north exit of the Visitor Center or from several spots in the parking area. The Cactus Garden trail is wheelchair accessible although this post includes a hike through the Javelina Wash that isn't.

Markers along the trail point out useful information about many of the plants. This is a great place to learn the names of many of the plants as well as many facts about each one.

The chain-fruited cholla is one you will want to be sure not to brush up against. Prickly sections of the cactus can break off at the slightest touch and get stuck in your skin and clothing. With all of the needles spraying out in every direction it is almost impossible to find a place to grab it to pull them out. It is best to use a comb or a couple of sticks or pliers to perform the extraction. Another common name for this genus of cactus is jumping jack cholla.

A short loop in the trail meanders through the garden.

Isn't it interesting to see how different plants have adapted themselves to endure the harsh environment of the Sonoran Desert. Needles allow less moisture to evaporate than leaves while photosynthesis can still take place in the pleated skin that expands and contracts according to the amount of water stored within the cactus.

Pencil cholla looks very similar to Christmas cholla. The segments of pencil cholla are almost twice as thick as Christmas cholla.

With a closer look at the fishhook barrel cactus you can see where it gets its name.

After a thorough study of the Cactus Garden trail those that are able may want to add a hike around Javelina Wash.

The trail drops down into the wash behind the Visitor Center and comes out near the restrooms on the opposite end of the building. Who knows what you may see on this short excursion.

Several signs around the Visitor Center and Cactus Garden warn visitors to watch out for rattlesnakes. Arizona is home to 13 different species of rattlesnakes. A ranger in the Visitor Center could probably tell you which ones they usually see in this area. For a chance to see one of them and to enjoy this part of the Saguaro National Park stop at the Red Hills Visitor Center and  'Take a hike'.