Let’s start with this: it’s pronounced “sa-WAH-ro.” These cacti are only found in the Sonoran Desert, and only up to a certain elevation (they can’t survive the colder temperatures).
The saguaro sprouts from a tiny black seed.
A 6-foot tall saguaro is around 35 years old. They often sprout their arms when they reach about 10–15ft.
Which means saguaros that are super tall, and have lots of arms, are really old!
We took a guided walk (they’re free!) with Park Ranger Jeff, who took us off the trail to see the giant above. That cactus is around 150 years old! The ranger program was very informative! We learned a lot about the saguaro, and also other cacti, local trees, and the impact people and the changing climate have had on this area. We’re now very good at spotting the state tree of Arizona, the Palo Verde:
After the ranger program, we did the Mica View Loop. It was an easy walk that gave us plenty of opportunities to admire the saguaros (and all those other plants we learned about, too).
There are lots of trails and they often intersect. The markers are helpful, but I’d recommend reviewing the trail map with a ranger before you set out.
The saguaro is supported on the inside by woody ribs. When the cactus dies, the ribs sometimes remain standing.
To access some of the trail heads, you have to take the Cactus Forest Loop Drive. This is a one-way 8-mile road that begins and ends at the visitor’s center. It’s a very pretty drive with great views of the desert and surrounding mountains. There are some overlooks along the route for checking out the views or taking a walk to see the Javelina Rocks.
Welcome to Cool Trees and Rocks: Desert Edition! Our day at Joshua Tree National Park was spent on the Mojave Desert side of the park. We entered the park at the Oasis Visitor Center, drove down to the Cholla Cactus Garden, then back up to Keys View and Hidden Valley.
In addition to long day hikes and backpacking trails, Joshua Tree has several nature trails. These were easy walks and were a nice way to experience different areas of the park. The picnic areas and campground pull-offs were also great spots to stop and view scenery (and watch rock climbers).
Have you guys been watching Westworld? This way to the maze!
Of course we saw the famous Joshua trees, too…
At an elevation of 5,185 feet, Keys View is a great spot to look out over Coachella Valley — including the San Andreas Fault, which was right below us!
Were we in Mount Tamalpais State Park or the Golden Gate National Recreation Area? I have no idea! But we found an excellent route for an afternoon of scenic driving and pretty walks along the Pacific.
From 101, we took the curvy Shoreline Highway (Rt 1) towards the coast. First stop: picnic at Muir Beach Overlook.
We then continued on Shoreline Highway up to Stinson Beach. This part of the road hugs the coastline and there are some overlooks for checking out the view below. Stinson Beach was really long compared to other beaches around here, so we took a nice walk along the chilly sand. It was a breezy 70 degrees! FYI, the Parkside Snack Bar has excellent soft serve.
Next up, the Panoramic Highway, another twisty turny road. This road and the Shoreline Highway felt like car commercial roads. In fact, we saw a small film crew! They were filming a vintage station wagon driving around. Maybe we will be in the background! Anyways, the Panoramic Highway took us to Muir Woods National Monument. We visited the woods several years ago and were both happy to visit again. Plus, I got stamps for my National Parks Passport!
It’s hard to capture in a photo, but these trees are giants! I know we’re just talking about trees, but they really are amazing. Dare I say, majestic!
Kenan found the entrance to the Upside Down!
At some of the parks in this area we found these neat models of the landscape. Doesn’t it remind you of the Game of Thrones opening credits?
Muir Woods Road took us back down to the coast for sunset at Muir Beach. This place gave me a “whoa, we are definitely in California” vibe. There were people playing frisbee, dogs running wild, a bunch of groups huddled around bonfires…and a guy playing bongo drums!
We began our day at Point Reyes with a walk along the Earthquake Trail. Yup! The San Andreas Fault runs right along the peninsula. Thankfully it was a peaceful walk and we didn’t feel any tremors.
Our next stop was the southern end of the park to visit the lighthouse. Here’s a recap in two words: foggy and windy! “Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent.”
A short walk through the fog brought us to the top of a steep set of 308 stairs. It was so foggy that we couldn’t even see the lighthouse at the bottom!
Of course after we climbed down 308 steps, we had to climb back up! But along the way there were some nice views of the ocean.
Then we headed to the northern end of the park, to hike the Tomales Point Trail. This trail was also foggy and windy! It winds through the Tule Elk Reserve and we spotted a big herd in a valley.
Our last stop in the park was the McClures Beach Trail. It was a little under a mile, pretty steep, and took us through a ravine to the Pacific Ocean. I’m a fan of the beaches around here: cliffs, big rocks, tide pools, crashing waves. It was very scenic.
We walked along the sand towards the rocks and Kenan found a hidden path to a secret beach — so cool! And we were able to catch the sun breaking through the fog just in time for a pretty sunset.
After a quick shuttle boat ride across Jenny Lake, we started our hike up to Inspiration Point. The trail goes through Cascade Canyon, and we got to cross the mini-rapids of the creek several times. Going up through the forest, we had glimpses of the Teton mountains high above us, and the lake down below.
At some points the trail was wide and gently sloped, but other parts were very rocky and steep.
Another hiker on the trail had jingle bells attached to her pack, our B&B caretaker had given us bear spray when we headed out that morning, and the hand stamps from the shuttle boat said “be bear aware.” I was pretty relaxed about the situation, except for a few outbursts of clapping and yelling “Hey bear!” (Ok, so it was more like a handful of outbursts.) (Ok, ok, more like regular intervals up and down the trail.) But, hey, being paranoid works! No bear sightings!
We reached the dock just in time to catch the last shuttle boat, and enjoyed a nice sunset ride across the lake.
Our 10-mile float trip down the Snake River was just beautiful. This part of the river is inside Grand Teton National Park, so we got to learn about the surrounding forests as well as the ecology of the river. We saw a deer with its fawn, and a couple of bald eagles.
Geysers, hot springs, mudpots. Osprey, coyote, moose. Upper Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin, Midway Geyser Basin, Black Sand Basin. The Continental Divide! And that’s all in one day! The landscapes are so pretty and strange, and often make you feel like you’re visiting another planet.