Photographing Saguaros in Tucson, AZ

We had a great sunset our last night
We had a great sunset our last night

If you like cactus, especially the majestic Saguaro, Tuscon is the place for you.  There are three parks full of Saguaros – Saguaro National Park East and West, as well as the Catalina State Park.  They are all a bit different, but we loved them all.  Here’s why:

Saguaro National Park

The Tucson Mountain District is west of Tucson.  The Red Hills Visitor Center is the right place to start.  There are quite a few hikes here.  This area is more hilly than the east and has more Saguaros.  We really liked the Hohokam Road Loop grated dirt road.  There is a short, but scenic Valley View Overlook Hike and Signal Hill Trail hike to petroglyphs.


A different take on the mighty Saguaro
A different take on the mighty Saguaro

The Rincon Mountain District is located east of Tucson.  Start at the Rincon Visitor center and take the mostly one-way Cactus Forest Loop Drive paved road.  There are numerous hikes and trails depending on how long and how high you want to hike.  We did the Loma Verde Loop Hike.  There are three other ways into the Rincon District at the Broadway trailhead on Broadway which opens to the paved Cactus Forest Trail and the Wildhorse trailhead which leads to a host of hikes – Bajada Wash, Wildhorse, Deer Valley Wash.  Finally at the end of the road is the Douglas Spring trailhead on Speedway.


If you want to hike flat land, you can here, but they are mostly washes with fairly deep sand.  If you want to climb a little, you can get some elevation pretty easily, too.

Catalina State Park

As good as these two parks are, I think Mary and I like the Catalina State Park better.  It is 17 miles and 35 minutes from downtown Tucson and 10 miles and 15 minutes from where we stayed in the Catalina Foothills.  It is anchored by Mount Lemon, which in the winter throws a shadow over much of the park.  We did the Romero Ruins Trail, the Romero Canyon Trail to the Montrose pools, and the Canyon Loop trail which you can make as short or as long as you want.


The main reason we liked Catalina better was the Saguaros where above us and gave a great perspective.  It also snowed one day, so Mount Lemon was a great white and brown backdrop.  Finally, you can shoot in all directions and not see any houses.  The Rincon District is very accessible, but is also surround by houses and neighborhoods.


Photo Tips

We shot mostly infrared/monochrome/back and white most of the days and color just at sunset.  Even if you do not have an infrared camera, think black and white most of the time during the day with the bright sunshine.


We also tried to capture whole cactus, fields of cactus, and also portions of them.  It was much more fun to see the natural abstracts sometimes, rather than try to get an entire cactus into our frames.


When we found one we liked, we walked around it if we could to get it from all angles and exposures.  Sometimes full front sun worked and sometimes side-lighting or back-lit worked.  If you like the shape of the cactus try all of theses options.

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One last note, Tucson is surround on all sides by mountains so you will never see the sun really crest or set over the horizon.  It rises and sets behind mountains so adjust your times accordingly.

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