Saguaro National Park-Red Hills Visitor Center
Backstory and Context
Saguaro National park is in Tuscan Arizona and is the home of the nation's largest cacti. The saguaro cactus is one of the leading symbols of the American Southwest and protected by the National Park Service.
For thousands of years, humans have inhabited southern Arizona, from the prehistoric Hohokam to homesteaders and ranchers in the 19th century. Ancient Native people created petroglyphs by using rocks to scrape designs into the dark patina found on the surface of sandstone and other rocks. The petroglyphs are the park's leading historical attraction. This ancient art can be found in several other parts of the Southwest but the art found throughout Saguaro National park was unique because it was created by the prehistoric Hohokam. There are 435 known archaeological sites in the park.
The park also tells the story of early homesteaders who established farms and ranches throughout the Tucson Basin. Army units also patrolled this area, supporting settlers as they moved into the valleys around Rincon and Tanque Verde creeks. The park interprets the history of early settlers such as Fermin Cruz, who established a farm within the area that is now part of the park as well as early institutions such as Rincon Valley School.
Safford Freeman had 600 acres in 1933. His family’s house consisted of a rope-and-bucket, open-air kitchen, and a fenced corral. Today the house is available to visitors to walk through and get to see the shade tree, which was many planted years ago.
Visitors may encounter a variety of desert animals, such as the desert tortoise and a variety of lizards and snakes. The desert tortoise is unique in that it can live for 50-100 years. The desert tortoises have thick skin and shells that are up to fifteen inches thick, which helps to prevent water loss, while they can store large amounts of water internally.