ENP 15.2 Saguaro: Diversity in Nature and Community
05/20/2019Photo: Saguaro National ParkPhoto: Community Engagement Coordinator Cam JuarezDanielle chats with Saguaro National Park’s Community Engagement Coordinator Cam Juarez about the desert’s spectacular beauty and what he’s doing to ensure that Saguaro’s worldwide popularity has strong roots in the multicultural communities that surround it.
You’d expect everyone in Tucson - a city sandwiched between Saguaro’s east and west districts - to be well acquainted with every inch of the park’s 91,000 acres. But Cam had never set foot in the park before becoming a ranger. Neither had many of his fellow Tucsonians. Since joining Saguaro four years ago, however, he’s extended park awareness by creating relevant and diverse programs that better reflect the region’s population.
Inclusivity is another aspect of Cam’s mission to bridge the gap between the park and the people who live in its midst. To that end, Saguaro recently held a ceremony to posthumously award a civilian arrowhead to a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation. “We’re happy to be in partnership with them,” he says, “because it’s that close connection to First Nation peoples, but also to honor traditions that are millennia old.”
Photo: Gila monsterThe park’s diversity isn’t limited to humans. “We're probably one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world,” says Cam. From dense stands of Saguaro cactus to Ponderosa pine forests to wildflower super blooms, there’s a broad range of flora to explore. The same is true of the birds, mammals, and reptiles that call the park home.
“Sometimes we'll take it for granted,” Cam says of Saguaro’s painted skies and verdant desert floor. But the more the local community interacts with the park he says, “It becomes something you want to protect.”
Pair the following tips from Cam with the sample itineraries from our recent family adventure to make the most of your Saguaro National Park visit:
- Always check the weather!
- Carry more water than you think you need!
- If traveling in the summer, map your hikes so you finish early - before 9am! - and save trips to visitors centers for midday when the temperatures climb
- Winter is an amazing time for backcountry camping
- November through April are the busiest months and parking is limited so consider coming later in the day and plan sunset hikes
- Leave your pets at home as encounters with wildlife can be deadly
- Loop drives offer great views with pull-offs for picnicking and trails for quick hikes
- The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a short drive from the park and features historic collections, live plants, and desert animals such as the javelina in a zoo-like setting
Danielle and Cam discuss the following:
- What is a Community Engagement Coordinator and why is Cam’s position important to the future of Saguaro National Park? [3:11]
- East vs West: What’s a rincon anyway? [7:02]
- Saguaro’s sky island ecosystem: what it is and how rangers protect it [7:37]
- The desert’s amazing biodiversity [9:15]
- Black bears, elf owls, and the occasional monster [10:38]
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum [13:18]
- What the Wild Kratts saw - or didn’t see [13:53]
- All about jumping cholla [16:09]
- Amazing facts about the park’s signature saguaro cacti [17:17]
- How desert creatures and humans use the saguaro while it’s alive and after it has died [20:04]
- Saguaro “boots” [21:40]
- Birds, bats, and bees help pollinate the cactus [23:15]
- Ceremonial uses of the saguaro fruit by the Tohono O'odham peoples [23:55]
- Remembering Stella Tucker, keeper of traditions at the Saguaro Fruit Harvest Camp [24:33]
- Waterfalls, washes, and tinajas: perennial water sources in the bimodal desert [25:40]
- Cam’s tips for taking in all that the park has to offer [29:28]
- How much water should you take with you? It’s more than you think [32:30]
- Cam shares his favorite park memories and invites everyone out to the desert before climate change has irreversible effects on Saguaro [35.15]