Everybody's National Parks

Everybody's National Parks

ENP 15.4 Saguaro: Symbol of the American West

June 18, 2019


Join Bryan and Park Ranger Jeff Walner on an adventure into the wild history and culture within Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona. As the only full-time, year-round ranger in Saguaro National Park, Jeff shares his insight into the origins of Saguaro National Park, its history, and its inextricable and enduring connection to American culture, Hollywood, and the world.


Discussion includes the following:

  • Ranger Jeff Walner shares his background with Saguaro National Park (3:21)

  • Jeff describes how immigrants led to the unique western ranching culture and history of Saguaro National Park. (4:46)

  • Jeff describes the rise of traditional “cowboy” within Saguaro National Park (6:10)

  • Jeff explains the impact of the arrival of the railroad in Tucson, Arizona (8:03)

  • How did the mix of Mexican, Native American, and American culture influence cowboy culture in Arizona? (9:01)

  • We learn what exactly the cattle were grazing out in the desert (11:04)

  • How did the homesteaders using the lands of the Saguaro National Park live, build, and survive? (13:42)

  • The origins of how homesteader generosity eventually gave us the gift of Saguaro National Park (16:15)

  • Is there any truth to Hollywood’s depiction of John Wayne’s iconic feats using the Saguaro and barrel cacti?

  • How does Hollywood and pop culture fit within the Sonoran desert and Saguaro National Park? (21:56)

  • How Hollywood, Peanuts, and pop culture helped make the Saguaro cactus iconic throughout the world (22:26)

  • How people view the symbol of the Saguaro differently. (24:12)

  • Why is Saguaro National Park significant to American and Native American culture? (25:23)

  • Jeff’s favorite story from Saguaro National Park. (27:35)

Tips for your Travels:

  • Pair the following tips with the sample itineraries from our recent family adventure to make the most of your Saguaro National Park visit:

  • Always check the weather!

    • If you come during the summer for the biodiversity, be wary of the heat!

  • Allow for extended time to complete more challenging “elevation” hikes in Saguaro.

  • Carry more water than you think you need!

  • If traveling in the summer, map your hikes so you finish early - before 9am! - and save trips to visitors centers for midday when the temperatures climb

  • Winter is an amazing time for backcountry camping

  • November through April are the busiest months and parking is limited so consider coming later in the day and plan sunset hikes

  • Leave your pets at home as encounters with wildlife can be deadly

  • Loop drives offer great views with pull-offs for picnicking and trails for quick hikes

  • The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a short drive from the park and features historic collections, live plants, and desert animals such as the javelina in a zoo-like setting


    • Visit Saguaro National Park for more information.

    • Review the park’s safety guidelines especially when visiting in hotter months.

    • For the life of the workers on large area ranches, read Patricia Preciado Martin's oral history books: Beloved Land and Images and Conversations. The latter has reminiscences of Frank Escalante, well-known as a cowboy/vaquero in the Rincon valley and mountains.

    • The Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, adjacent to Saguaro East, has a history that is unpublished. You may see their website for a highly rated "dude ranch" that still hires "cowboys" and is a park concessionaire.

    • Become a Patron to continue our great journey through these beautiful parks.

    • Make sure to listen to the previous episode on Saguaro National Park for more great information.

    • Explore more adventures through beautiful parks.

    • Contact us to tell us about your family adventures or ask a question.