Within Arizona’s Tucson Basin is The Saguaro National Park. This park provides the ideal conditions for sustaining dense stands of the famous saguaro cactus.
**The most important factors for growth are water and temperature. If the elevation is too high, the cold weather and frost can kill the saguaro. Although the Sonoran Desert experiences both winter and summer rains, studies show that the Saguaro cactus obtains most of its moisture during the summer monsoon season.
There are dozens of varieties of cacti; short, tall, stout, delicate but none quite as magnificent as the Giant Saguaro cactus.
Quick Saguaro Facts:
Saguaros have one deep tap-root but most of this cactus’ roots are 4-6 inches deep and span out as far as the desert plant is tall.
The saguaro is the largest cactus in the US.
After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.
The Giant Saguaro can live to be 200 years old.
In the Sonoran desert the saguaro cactushas a boundless variety of towering armed shapes.
Water makes up 75 to 95 percent of the saguaro cactus’ weight. During periods of drought the pleats of the saguaro cactus contract. During Arizona rains the saguaro expands as it soaks up moisture.
Saguaros, like many desert cacti, grow excruciatingly slow. Arizona cactus experts estimate that a forty-foot tall saguaro is about 150 years old. Arm buds begin to appear when the saguaro is 75 years old.
Many saguaros now standing in cactus forests germinated in the mid-1800s !!
To survive their early years, saguaro seedlings must be sheltered from the elements, whether it be under the canopy of other plants or in the crevices of rocky outcrops. Saguaro seeds can be deposited in droppings of birds roosting on branches of shrubs and trees.
Lightning, powerful winds, harsh winter freezes and the rotting of dead tissue kill saguaros. Their woody ribs stay on the desert floor until they are consumed by termites or decay and return to the soil.
This cactus species is not currently listed as threatened or endangered. Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of the saguaro cactus.
You can find the majestic giant cactus in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexica.
Before entering Colossal Cave it was essential to educate ourselves and obtain some “cave basics”. The facts and information we learned about limestone cavesmade our trip profoundly interesting!
Colossal Cave is an archaic KARST CAVE (meaning erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, caverns and underground streams).
Karst caves have 3 categories: limestone, gypsum and quartzite.
Colossal Cave is limestone and considered dormant, “dry”. A dry cave is without drips of water, streams or pools. How was the cave formed? Here is a short, simple answer:
Precipitation mixes with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and decaying organic material in the soil.
When Carbon dioxide is dissolved in water it forms carbonic acid. The carbonic acid begins to form holes in rocks, seeps into crevices and dissolves the rocks, especially limestone; but very slowly. (Thousands of years)
rock crevices and joints.
Cavities form and further sculpting can occur from water and chemical weathering.
After passing through limestone, the acid water contains a dis-solvable calcium carbonate. As this solution de-gases through exposure to air by way of splashing, dripping or flowing, it loses carbon dioxide and deposits a solid mineral called calcite.
Calcite is the main mineral component in CAVE FORMATIONS, (speleothems).
The SPELEOTHEMS in Colossal Cave no longer grow. This cave formed by water depositing limestone that has NOW disappeared. Close by, in the same mountain park, are Arkenstone and La Tetera Caves with active growing formations.
The most abundant mineral in limestone is calcite (calcium carbonate). The majority of limestone formed on ANCIENT ocean floors.
Calcite is a main component used by echinoderms, like sea urchins, starfish, and sand dollars to make their spines and skeletons. Calcium carbonate (calcite), is found in the shells of marine organisms and truly is one of the MOST abundant minerals on earth!
In the marine environment, if the conditions are right, calcite is stable enough that it can cement together sediments and overtime make limestone.
On occasion another element may be present while calcite is being formed (ex: magnesium) and take the place of a calcium atom.
A less stable aragonite is a polymorph of calcite. They are both calcium carbonate but have different crystal shapes and symmetries. The calcium, oxygen and carbon atoms in aragonite bond together differently creating a unique crystal structure.
Ok this is plenty of background information so now journey with us to Colossal Cave Mountain Park!
The elevation of Colossal Cave Mountain Park is about 3,500 feet. The temperature of the cave averages 70 degrees Fahrenheit. No extra clothing is needed but feel free to carry water or a camera.
Frank Schmidt was monumental in the improvements and preservation of Colossal Cave by handing over his leases to the State of Arizona. You can find information and historical photographs at La Posta Quemada Ranch Museum.
In 1879, Solomon Lick, the owner of the nearby hotel, was searching for stray cattle and discovered the entrance to this cave.
Thousands of years ago Colossal Cave was used by Hohokam, Sobaipure and Apache Indians. Travel down the road to the ranch museum for a fascinating display.
Most crystals are found in areas, like caves, because they take thousands of years to grow. The growth continues until the saturation is stopped or the cave dries out. Most crystals in a cave are calcite or aragonite.
Your tour guide will tell the story of the bandits who hid out in Colossal Cave. These outlaws even played cards in the Colossal Cave Living Room. Legend has it that the gold from the train robbers is still inside the cave!
Stay with the tour group. Our guide really wasn’t kidding when she said the group might go left and you’ll go right and be lost for hours in Colossal Cave.
Tectonic activity is noticeable. Your guide will point out a fault in the earth’s crust.
Cave’s formations, speleothems, are created by the same water that dissolved the calcite in the limestone —- then deposited the calcite in other areas of the cave.
Stalactites – “c” for ceiling – hang from the top of caves like icicles
Stalagmites – “g” for ground – emerge from the ground like a traffic cone
Because Colossal Cave is DRY; the appearance of these speleothems is different than living caves.
Layers of calcite build up into fluted curtains.
Layers of calcite build up into fluted curtains.
In the 1930’s, a Civilian Conservation Corps designated by President Roosevelt worked tirelessly building the retaining wall outside and improving the inside of Colossal Cave.
The CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, constructed the stairs, bridges and handrails.
While visiting this cave do adventure down the road to La Posta Quemada Ranch.
Colossal Cave and the historic La Posta Quemada Ranch are listed on the National Historic Register. When you visit be sure to enjoy a Desert Spoon Burger!
While traveling Arizona we stopped at Saguaro National Park, in Tucson. The park is located in the Sonoran Desert.
The giant cacti, called Saguaros, are protected and preserved within the park.
After a single rainfall, Saguaros can soak up to 200 gallons of water through their huge network of roots that lay just 4-6 inches below the desert surface. That is enough water to last this giant cactus an entire year!
A saguaro expands like an accordion when it absorbs water which can increase its weight by up to a ton.
In 1931, The Saguaro’s Blossom became the Arizona State Flower.
The Saguaro Cactus blooms April through June. Its flowers are creamy white and numerous. Up to a hundred flowers can bloom on one Saguaro Cactus!
The saguaro blossom opens after sunset and by the next afternoon the flower is wilted. The white cactus flower repeats itself night after night. During the few hours the saguaro flower is open birds, bats, and honeybees pollinate them.
Later in the summer, the cactus flowers that were pollinated will become red-fleshed saguaro fruits that are enjoyed by the local bird population. The saguaro cactus is also known as the pitahaya, sahuara and giant cactus.
The Saguaro often begins life with a nurse tree or shrub which can provide shade and moisture for the germination of life. This Saguaro grows slowly — only about an inch a year — eventually becoming very tall; reaching heights of 50 feet. The largest saguaro cacti, with more than 5 arms, are approximately 200 years old.
Our Arizona travels brought us not only to a gentle bird refuge; but the historical Fort Lowell Park in Tucson. This wildlife oasis streaming with ducks, cormorants, turtles and dragonflies was an United States Army post from 1873 till 1891.
The most prominent building at Fort Lowell was the hospital, the adobe remnants still stand under a protective structure.
Ft. Lowell lay in ruins for numerous years. The City of Tucson eventually converted the bulk of the former post into Old Fort Lowell Park, which features ball fields, tennis and racquetball courts, a large public swimming pool, and the Fort Lowell Museum dedicated to its days as an active military installation.
**This is a superb choice if you are looking for Tucson activities.
A lane lined with cottonwood trees, aptly named Cottonwood Lane, glorified the area in front of the officer’s houses.
Following World War II, the Fort Lowell area grew into a small village which the predominantly Mexican local residents called El Fuerte.
The Fort Lowell Museum is located in the reconstructed Commanding Officer’s quarters.
Stroll from the remains of the Ft Lowell Hospital towards the wildlife pond to enjoy crestedducks with the latest updos.
Catch a glimpse as a pigeon tries to remember the secret code to get passed the duck security.
Dedicated community members adopted Fort Lowell Park to keep it clean and build a protected area for birds.
During our visit we spoke with some of the impressive volunteers with “Friends of FortLowell Park” as they were planting trees and tidying up the nesting area.
A regal Neotropic Cormorant bird was standing by to make sure we didn’t decide to jump in and go swimming.
Many species of cormorants make a characteristic half-jump as they dive and under water cormorants propel themselves with their feet.
Thanks to the collaboration of The Friends of Fort Lowell Park and Tucson Parks and Recreation for giving residents and guests a place to enjoy outdooractivities and wildlife in the Sonoran Desert.
Local historians have found evidence that Fort Lowell Park sits on a site endowed with a continuous supply of underground water and has been occupied by humans since ancient times.
As many of you know, Agua Caliente Park is experiencing the full force of the extended drought and change in the water table level.
There were originally two springs at Agua Caliente, one a “Hot Spring” and the other a “Cold Spring”. The two springs produced a water flow of up to 500 gallons per minute.
Agua Caliente’s springs were blasted in the mid-1930’s reducing the water flow to 150 – 300 gallons per minute. The spring was again blasted in the early 1960’s which cut the water flow down to 100 to 125 gallons per minute!
During Tucson’s drought of 2003-4, the water flow from Agua Caliente’s spring fell as low as 14 gallons per minute. Pima County Parks and Recreation put in a supplemental well. Arizona Department of Water Resources limits the water withdrawal to 55,000 gallons of supplemental well water for the pond each day.
The exposed mud at the park is due to increasing natural sedimentation in the pond, declining spring flow from the ongoing drought, and insufficient recharge from rainfall.
Pima County is working to stabilize Agua Caliente’s pond system and minimized ecological impacts to the system.
Evaporation from the pond surface and transpiration from the cattails and palm trees growing around Agua Caliente’s pond contribute to extra water loss.
Analysis is ongoing for the framework for the long-term actions to address the low water conditions at Agua Caliente.
Over the years, the water holding capacity of the pond has changed. Renovations will need installation of some type of liner system. Contouring the pond is a main focus for long-term stability.
RECENT HEAVY RAINS !! Sept 2013
This is a complex issue that needs the public’s understanding and acceptance as Tucson gives new life to the aging historical pond.
Pima County hopes to include improvements to Agua Caliente Park in the next bond election.
For more interesting information about Agua Caliente in Tucson see the links below:
We make it a point to take visitors to Agua Caliente Park. This is an amazing lagoon; a get away from the prickly pear cacti and saguaros. It’s hard to tell that you’re even in Tucson. Agua Caliente presents you with an abundance of mature shade trees and lush backgrounds for picnics, weddings and even Plein-Air paintings.
Roy P. Drachman Agua Caliente Park has a natural hot spring that flows through faults between gneissic rock and has been a long-inhabited settlement.
What is gneissic rock? This type of rock has minerals arranged into layers which seem to be bands that alternate darker and lighter colors. The banding is developed under high temperature and pressure conditions.
Ok now, is Agua Caliente a park, a lake, or a wildlife habitat? Well this natural spring is a bit of everything! Pack a picnic, hang out and be sure to bring a camera.
If you enjoy bird watching then Agua Caliente Park is worth a visit. The Tucson Audubon Society is housed in the original Ranch home.
Take a look inside this historic building and enjoy the gift shop and gallery.
The eccentricity of the mountains and mature palm trees are reflected with vibrant color in the water.
Here you can picnic at a 101 acre aquatic / riparian habitat surrounded by the Sonoran Desert.
At Agua Caliente you will see a variety of wildlife including herons, Arizona turtles and a variety of ducks.
The natural spring flow fluctuates at various times during the year due to drought. While visiting Agua Caliente you many see the lower ponds dry.
Relax on a bench and watch dozens of turtles sunning themselves. While visiting the park it feels like we arrived in some exotic place hidden in the Sonoran Desert.
The ducks, birds and turtles entertain us at our picnic table while we wait for the Tucson sunsets.
It is a wonderful reprieve from the heat and definitely not what you would expect to find in Tucson, Arizona.
Adding to its charm, professional photographers frequent Agua Caliente with clients who want a stunning background.
There is a huge mesquite tree east of the ranch house estimated to be over 250 years old!
To sustain this elderly mesquite tree, Agua Caliente’s administration use brick columns and steel poles to support the enormous branches.
Agua Caliente Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This extreme east Tucson park is truly an oasis in the desert and is highly recommended for you, your family and friends.
Drive northeast of the Tucson city limits and you will discover a natural spring surrounded by wildlife, palm trees and native vegetation. Agua Caliente Park transports a visitor from the Sonoran Desert to a 101-acre hidden oasis.
Agua Caliente, (hot water) is named for the warm water spring that supports several ponds within the park.
Agua Caliente Park has an open lawn edged by tall Date Palms, and a stream bank lined with mature California Fan Palms close to 100 years old.
Human habitation at Agua Caliente has been found to date back about 5,500 years. I’d like to share a simple history and insights into the rich farming and ranching of the unique desert oasis called Agua Caliente.
From A.D. 600 to 1450, the prehistoric Hohokam constructed one of the largest and most advanced irrigation networks ever created using pre-industrial technology.
This technology would eventually give form to the unique prehistoric culture of southern Arizona known as the Hohokam.
Around 1150 AD, a Hohokam village, referred to as the Whiptail Site, was established that extended into a portion of Agua Caliente in the Tucson basin.
Deserving of our respect, the incredible Hohokam were able to sustain life in the area of Agua Caliente for nearly 1,500 years.
The hot spring at the Whiptail Site at Agua Caliente Park has attracted native settlers since about 2500 B.C. These facts are what has helped put the Tucson Basin on the map as one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in North America.
About 1853-1870s, Agua Caliente Spring was used as an army encampment following the Gadsden Purchase. What is the Gadsden Purchase?
**James Gadsden was the U.S. Minister to Mexico who was sent to renegotiate a border with Mexico that provided a route for a southern railroad in exchange for U.S. financial obligations.
In 1873, Peter Bain filed the first formal claim to 160 acres surrounding Agua Caliente Spring. He began a dairy cattle operation by bringing cows north from Sonora. Bain built a house, several outbuildings and corrals at Agua Caliente.
In 1875, James P. Fuller purchased “Agua Caliente Rancho” and established an orchard and cattle ranch on the property.
In 1881, Fuller’s Hot Springs Resort was advertised as a medicinal and recreational destination. He promoted the curative properties of the natural warm springs.
1880s-1920s. Various owners operated Agua Caliente as a cattle ranch and resort. The ranch bunkhouse, which dates back to the 1920s, was used by the ranch hands.
The ranch house, caretaker cottage, now known as Rose Cottage, and the bunk house have been restored. The ranch house depicts the home as it may have appeared in the 1920s.
In 1935, Gibson DeKalb Hazard purchased Agua Caliente and operated it as a working ranch while also growing fruit and alfalfa.
In 1951, the Filiatrault family took over the ownership of Agua Caliente consisting of three large lakes. They also grew alfalfa for their cattle and horses and maintained the fruit orchard Fuller established in 1875.
In 1984, local businessman Roy P. Drachman donated over $200,000 toward the purchase of Agua Caliente. The donation provided the incentive for Pima County to acquire the property and establish Agua Caliente Park.
Agua Caliente Park, a Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Facility, opened on January 19th, 1985.
March 1, 1997. Agua Caliente’s expansion areas were opened for public use. The park improvements included a paved entry drive and parking lot, accessible trails, interpretive signs explaining the waterfowl and history of this unique park, and a new maintenance building.
April 17, 2004. The grand opening of the newly restored Ranch House and Rose Cottage.
The ranch house was built around 1873 and is currently a visitor center and an art gallery. Call 520-749-3718 for more information.
July 9, 2009. Agua Caliente Ranch Historic Landscape was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.