Volunteer Vacation: Saguaro National Park

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I first visited the state of Arizona on a girl’s trip in the fall of 2008.  I was a mountain girl, in love with Colorado, and hadn’t spent much time in the desert. Much to my surprise, I fell in love!  As soon as I got home, I started researching my next visit, and I decided on Saguaro National Park.  I signed up for a Sierra Club service trip, which involved a week of trail maintenance in Saguaro Park Tucson.  For around $500, Sierra Club provides camping, meals and transportation to the job site each day.  Volunteers provide their own camping equipment, transportation to the campground, and muscle power for the tasks at hand!

Saguaro Camping

This trip would officially be the longest camping trip I’d ever done.  Up to this point, camping had consisted of one or two nights over a weekend.  This time, I’d be in a tent for the whole week at the Gilbert Ray campground, which is not in Saguaro National Park. Sierra Club is pretty experienced at running these trips, so everything was well organized. We had two trip leaders plus a camp cook, who provided breakfast, sack lunches and dinner, often made with organic, local ingredients.

We all met at the campground on a Sunday and had the whole day free – several of us decided to explore the nearby Sonoran Desert Museum. This is a beautiful outdoor museum showcasing the local flora and fauna. My favorite was the tiny little hummingbird nest! At 34, I was the youngest person on the trip by decades, so there were lots of birders and gardeners in the group.

Hummingbird Nest

The week was split between two work sites – one in Saguaro National Park, and the other on county land. It was hard work, and you had to cover up in long pants and sleeves to keep from getting stabbed by the cactus, not to mention lugging our tools in and out from the trailhead each day! We had frequent rest breaks to drink water and find shade. Even in early March, it was pretty hot by mid-day.

Saguaro National Park Trail Maintenance

In the middle of the week, we had a free day to spend as we wished and several of us chose to go hiking at Mt Wilson. We also had some guest speakers and presentations in the evenings, so it was a really well rounded trip, not all hard work!

I have to say, this was a fun experience, and this mountain girl definitely fell in love with the desert! Falling asleep each night to the sound of coyotes was an awesome experience. I definitely hope to return to the Tucson area someday, and would absolutely consider another Sierra Club service trip. Check out the list of offerings – there is quite a wide variety of trips, from restoring historical sites in Philadelphia to wildlife encounters in Hawaii.

Saguaro National Park

For more photos, click here!


Saguaro Park Tucson

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28 thoughts on “Volunteer Vacation: Saguaro National Park

  1. Wow thank you sharing. I have never heard about this place before but it looks and sounds very nice! I also enjoy volunteering so camping and volunteering sound super interesting!

  2. This is a great idea. I majored in environmental science in college, so i have always loved the idea of going on vacation and giving back with a great organization like the Sierra Club. And camping in the desert sounds like an amazing time. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I heard the desert is magical! Holland doesn’t have any but I am looking forward to my trip to Namibia this year and finally see the endless deserts myself. Your little tent looks really comfortable and cosy 🙂

    • I don’t know yet, but I’m sure I’ll make at least one trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this year!

  4. I’ve never camped so kuddos to you for doing it for a week straight! This does seem like a fun yet rewarding vacation to take! Maybe one day when I’m an experienced camper, I’ll consider this trip 🙂

    • Desert camping can be pretty sweet, if it’s not too hot. The nights are usually nice and cool, though, unlike the humid Midwest!

  5. A wonderful way to give back and also camp in Saguaro National Park. By telling your experience this will encourage others to help out the Sierra Club and keep our National Parks clean. How exciting to also hike Mt. Wilson. Great photos and thanks for sharing 🙂 #weekendwanderlust

  6. Sounds great! I would like to do something like this in the future. I have heard about the Sierra trips in California’s Parks but have never dig deeper. By the way, I love Saguaro! It is a great park! #WeekendWanderlust

    • It’s a nice way to stretch your travel budget and do some hard work, which is a nice change from cubicle life!

  7. What a great idea! Growing up as a Boy Scout in the Tucson area, I spent some time doing service projects in Saguaro National Monument, too. It definitely left me with a love of the desert. Spring is a good time to be there, too, when the cacti bloom. Beautiful! It’s been a long time since we’ve been there…a Sierra Club volunteer week seems like a great reason to return! – Rob.

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