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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

Secrets Of Saguaro National Park

The name doesn't say it all: Arizona's premier cactus preserve conceals a cool mountain escape.

by: David Pidgeon

Saguaro NP is home to 50 species of cacti. (Mark Lisk)
Saguaro NP is home to 50 species of cacti. (Mark Lisk)
Map by International Mapping Associates
Map by International Mapping Associates

Few people know that southern Arizona has a national park, too. And that's the way locals like it. Saguaro (sah-WAH-roh) pulls in 93 percent fewer visitors than the Grand Canyon, most of them dayhikers, and its sky islands–verdant mountain ranges rising dramatically from the barren valley floor–are as much as 30 degrees cooler than the surrounding desert. Translation: easily attained solitude, a welcome break from triple-digit temps, and no elbowing for choice campsites. On this three-day, 28.5-mile reverse lollipop route, you'll accumulate nearly 10,000 feet of elevation gain as you rise and fall through six different ecosystems of cacti and pines rife with mountain lions and bears, and vistas so long you'll swear you can see the curvature of the earth. Mica Mountain, the highest sky island on the trek, is so close to Tucson and its 515,000 people that it might as well be considered another skyscraper. What's more startling is how easy it is to rise above it all.

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