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How Accessible Is Accessible: Saguaro National Park

Photography by Randy Martinez

The saguaro cactus are slow-growing succulents that can reach to heights of 75 feet and live to be over 200 years old. Not only are they the universal symbol of the American west, but they can only be seen in a small area of the United States. The biggest threat to the saguaro is human population & poaching, and in Arizona, it is illegal to shoot, deface, steal or kill the iconic cactus or to remove them from parks.

Photography by Denise Vasquez ©2021

I have been waiting to see and photograph saguaro cactus’ for many years, so I am thankful to Saguaro National Park for protecting them for me & everyone else to enjoy!

The saguaro blossom is Arizona’s state flower, and it’s not until the saguaro reaches 35 years of age, when it begins to produce flowers. Blooming season is usually late April through June, so our timing of visiting the park was perfect! These flowers are so beautiful, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The blooms open at night, and begin closing again shortly after noon. I feel very fortunate I got to experience & photograph the saguaro blossoms during our visit.

Photography by Denise Vasquez ©2021

You say sa-GUA-ro & I say sa-WA-ro! OMG, I’ve been pronouncing saguaro the wrong way for the longest time. It wasn’t until I asked the ranger at the visitor station what the correct way of pronouncing it was, that I learned the proper way to pronounce it is “Sa - WAH - ro”.

I recommend stopping at the visitor center when visiting any National Park, and to talking to the rangers or volunteers about any specific questions you may have. They are very knowledgeable and are always happy to help. Being a disabled photographer, I always inquire about the “accessible” trails. I put “accessible” in quotes, because I’ve often found that what is listed on sites, apps, brochures as being wheelchair accessible is not always ADA compliant.

Photography by Denise Vasquez ©2021

The visitor centers here are currently closed Tuesday & Wednesday due to Covid. I visited the park on Monday and Tuesday, and on Monday I found they were open 9-5, are wheelchair accessible, and they have restrooms with flush toilets, sinks and a gift shop.

All the roads, picnic areas and hiking trails were open during both days. The park requires Face coverings to be worn in all federal facilities and when 6' physical distance from people outside your recreating group cannot be maintained (crowded patio spaces, or passing on trails, etc.)

In order to enter the gift shop, we had to take a number and wait outside in line. Visitor centers are at limited capacity of 10 people due to CDC and public health guidance in response to the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

Photography by Denise Vasquez ©2021

Fees are being collected at the visitor center fee collection stations: $25 per vehicle, $20 per motorcycle, or $15 per person/bicycle. *If you are permanently disabled & have a National Park Access Pass, you can use it to get free entry into the National Parks. To learn more about the Access Pass, read my blog here

As a disabled photographer I always have to take precautions, but in this "How Accessible is Accessible" video, I share some tips that work for everyone:

1-Always wear sunscreen

2-Wear a hat

3-Seek shaded areas

4-Always stay hydrated

I stress staying hydrated more than once in the video, because it was extremely hot, the air was really dry, and the temperature reached in the high 90's while we were there on both days. Remember to take care of yourself, always listen to your body, and rest when needed. If you need to get more water, a fountain is available on the patio of the Red Hills Visitor Center. Always carry & drink at least a gallon of water per day. If you don’t have a water bottle, you can purchase a refillable water bottle in the bookstore at the Visitor Center.

Photography by Randy Martinez

The park has over 175 miles of trails, but for this video, I visited the 2 ADA wheelchair accessible trails in the Tuscon Mountain District Saguaro West.

The first trail I visited is called the "Cactus Garden Trail". This beautiful trail offers a Wheelchair accessible walkway through a variety of desert plants, just outside the visitor Center. I'm happy to report, this trail is a paved, flat loop, and there are benches along the trail where you can sit, enjoy wildlife, do photography and take in the views!

Photography by Denise Vasquez ©2021

You’ll see signs along the trail warning you about rattlesnakes. keep your hands and feet in sight at all times and be aware of your environment. If you hear a rattle stop moving and listen to hear where the sound is coming from, stay on the trail and go in the opposite direction of the rattling sound or snake.

If you venture 1 mile North of the visitor center, you’ll find another wheelchair accessible trail called the Desert Discovery Nature Trail. This is another beautiful flat, paved, 0.5 mile loop through a variety of desert plants, and large saguaros.

Photography by Denise Vasquez ©2021

If you’d like to get out of the sun, there are shaded areas along the trail or you can drive through the park. The nice thing about this park is it offers scenic drives along the roads that are designed for sightseeing. Be sure to stay on the roads whether paved or dirt, because off roading is prohibited in the park.

Photography by Denise Vasquez ©2021

If you’re traveling with your pet or service dog, pets are only allowed on roadways, picnic areas (except Mam-A-Gah picnic area in the Tucson Mountain District-west) and paved trails (Desert Ecology Trail & Desert Discovery Trail). Pets must be kept on a leash (no longer than 6 feet) at all times. Pets may not be taken on trails, off road, or inside both visitor centers. Pets may not be left unattended in or outside of a vehicle at any time. In areas where dogs are allowed on the trail please be responsible and pack out any waste your pooch may leave behind. Always be responsible and leave no trace!

The WiFi and cell coverage does fluctuate due to being outside the city limits. So keep that in mind & if you’re using the National Park App, you can actually find your park ahead of time, and save the park for offline use which came in handy more than once on my trip visiting 8 National Parks in 8 days! Again, please be aware that some areas that are listed on the app as being accessible are not ADA compliant. I’ve mentioned that along the way to some parks, and hopefully they’ll take my advice and be more specific and honest in the descriptions on the app.

Remember to respect the parks, just like you respect yourself! Never Pick, cut, dig, engrave, write on or take anything from any of the National Parks. All living and non-living things are protected in the National Park.

Photography by Denise Vasquez ©2021

Sometimes you have to stop and smell the cactus flowers! Big shout out and thank you so much to my amazing partner Randy Martinez who is an incredible artist, check out his website Randy uses his talents to assist me in every way imaginable, he not only helped me design The Disabled Photographer Project logo, he assists me with driving, setting up my equipment, doing sound, shooting the videos and much more, so I can stay focused on researching, scouting, planning, organizing and creating amazing content for you.

Photography by Randy Martinez

None of my videos are scripted. I enjoy improvising, being in the moment, and sharing colorful moments as they occur whether it's making videos, or doing photography!

Thank you again to Saguaro National Park for making your park accessible for everyone to enjoy!

*Contributions help keep The Disabled Photographer Project "How Accessible Is Accessible" series going, and you can support the project by making a donation Here:

The project is also currently seeking partnerships, sponsors, grants, and ambassadorships. For inquiries contact me, Denise Vasquez via email

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