On a cold January day in 2013, we discovered the Rainbow Valley Trail in Estrella Park. One of our favorite trails, Rainbow Valley is on my list to hike annually. Less than a mile from the trailhead, at a sharp bend in the trail stood two giant saguaros. These giants are among the largest we’ve seen. Since then, I’ve learned much about the iconic succulent that lives only in the Sonoran Desert. They live some 200 years or more and don’t start developing those characteristic “arms” until the latter half of their first century of life. Given the size of these two, they certainly must have reached the second century mark by now.
With that much age, one can expect imperfections. The desert plant is often home to the gila woodpecker, the purple martin, and other birds who dig into their hard wooden skeletons and soft skin and interior structure. The one on the left back then appeared to be losing its exterior skin at the base.
On the hike in 2017, I was saddened to discover that the one on the left had toppled over during the summer sometime. It broke off just above the darker area at the base that still stood maybe 5 feet (1.5 m) or so. It must have happened early in the summer as most of the meat had dried up leaving only the wooden skeletal structure.
This year, on New Year’s Day, Lynn and I headed for Rainbow Valley Trail again. We were surprised to find that the second saguaro had also succumbed during the summer. As with its partner in life, what remained was mostly skeletal by the time we saw it. The once mighty giant was apparently felled by high winds. Saguaro cactii have a very shallow root structure for the size of the plant. In death, this one lay with its roots exposed.
For those who wonder why they aren’t “cleaned up” and removed by park workers, the parks are kept in a natural state. It’s a violation of state law to deface or remove the remains of the saguaro in a public park. In the cycle of life, they are allowed to return their nutrients to the soil and help to layer the desert floor naturally. Further, removing or moving a live saguaro, even on private property, requires a permit. For more information about this beautiful symbol of the old west, look here.