History & Culture

Hoover Declaration

Land Designation

Herbert Hoover declared this land a National Monument on March 1st, 1933. Here is the historic document showing that very declaration (left). Learn more about our history and establishment.

Becoming a Park

Congress officially elevated the area known as Saguaro National Monument to the current designation as a National Park in 1994. The land addition on the southern border of the Rincon Mountain District occurred that same year and with gracious land donations from time to time we have increased to our current land area.

Saguaro State Park
1935 Saguaro Forest State Park Map

NPS Photo

Saguaro Cactus State Park

By 1930 the ill-fated Papago Saguaro National Monument was no more and the area was turned over to the state. The National Park Service was now in search of a new monument for the protection of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. Local Tucson conservationists and scientists, such as U. of A. President Homer Shantz, were already looking to preserve a portion of unspoiled Sonoran desert along with its iconic saguaro cacti. In 1928-29, one priority of the Tucson Natural History Society was the preservation of the locally known Tanque Verde Cactus Forest. The forest occupied over a dozen square miles on the bajada at the foot of the Rincon Mountains. By 1930 University of Arizona President Homer Shantz felt the time had come to push the agenda through the private avenues of land purchase. By August 1931 the University had an investment of twenty one thousand dollars and had a lease on four and three-quarter sections. By 1935 The University either owned or leased from the State of Arizona 10.5 sections (6,560 acres) of land in the Cactus Forest of the newly established Saguaro National Monument. At that time the monument was a tapestry of federal, state and private land.
Because of the Great Depression, the university decided it needed to recoup the money it had spent on its so-called Saguaro Forest State Park. The University approached the Park Service about the prospects of them purchasing the land but the Park Service had no money for such purchases. Arizona Senator Carl Hayden introduced several bills in the U.S. Senate that would authorize acquisition of state, university, and private land. Hayden introduced the first bill in 1937, and introduced similar bills again in 1939, 1941, 1943, and 1945. The bills failed because it was again thought that the cost of the land was too high. Finally, in 1948 the U.S. Government and the state entered into land exchange negotiations by which the state and University would exchange their land within the monument for other federally owned land. By early 1956 the exchange was finally completed except for half of the University land (240 acres). The last of the University land was acquired by trade in 1959.
Tucson Mountain Park Brief-2019
Tucson Mountain Park Summary Map

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Tucson Mountain Park

On November 15, 1961, the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) (15,360 acres) was added to Saguaro National Monument (made a National Park in 1994). Prior to its transfer to Saguaro National Monument, this area was part of Pima County’s Tucson Mountain Park. In the 1920s the Tucson Game Protective Association headed by C.B. Brown became fearful that the encroachment of homesteads in the Tucson Mountains would leave no place of natural beauty for the area residents to enjoy. The Association, backed by many prominent people, started a movement to have the area withdrawn from homesteading and set aside as a park and game refuge. They were successful when on April 29, 1929 the department of the Interior issued Recreation Withdrawal Order 21 on 29,988 acres, preventing mineral and homestead entry. Pima County obtained a lease on 15,787.90 acres of that land on December 15, 1930; a supplemental lease provided the remainder on May 4, 19311 . A formal opening was held for the Tucson Mountain Recreation Area on April 10, 1932.

Tucson Mountain Park was a mix of county owned and county leased federal lands. Pima County’s lease of these federal lands ran out in 1957 (Arizona Daily Star 1959) and based on an August 6, 1955 request from the Banner Mining Company a decision was made by the federal government not to extend the lease. In response to the 1955 request from the Banner Mining Company (Arizona Daily Star 1959) to the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced on September 9, 1959 (Arizona Daily Star 1959) the withdrawal, for mineral exploration, 7600 acres of federally owned land that comprised part of Tucson Mountain Park. At once an intense debate began regarding whether or not the withdrawal should be allowed to happen and what the impact of renewed mining would have in this part of the Tucson Mountains. Bowing to public pressure, the decision to rescind the order came on December 17, 1959 (Arizona Daily Star 1961) but the debate of what to do with the federal lands continued. It was eventually decided that the federal lands that made up the northern portion of the park would be transferred to Saguaro National Monument, and by Presidential proclamation, dated November 15, 1961, the Tucson Mountain District was added to Saguaro National Monument.
Saguaro National Park sign, Petroglyphs, Homesteaders, CCC camp, & Signal Hill.

NPS Photo

Symbol From Culture Resource Brief
Petroglyph at Saguaro West

NPS Photo

What Are Cultural Resources?

Types of Cultural Resources

Cultural resources can be defined as physical evidence of past human activity: site, object, landscape, structure; or a site, structure, landscape, object or natural feature of significance to a group of people traditionally associated with it.

Types of cultural resources often found in national parks include:

Archeological resources: The remains of past human activity and records documenting the scientific analysis of these remains.

Historic structures: A building or other structure (such as a bridge, mine, canal, ship, or locomotive) that is significant because of its link to an important period in the past.

Cultural landscapes: Settings humans have created in the natural world.

Ethnographic resources: Sites, structures, landscapes, objects or natural features of significance to a traditionally associated group of people.

Museum objects: Manifestations of human behavior and ideas.

Cultural Resources at Saguaro

The archeological sites at Saguaro National Park span more than 8,000 years of prehistoric and historic-period occupation. The prehistoric sites are primarily Archaic (3500-2100 BCE [before Common Era] and Hohokam (500-1450 CE [Common Era]) artifact scatters with low surface visibility and expression. The artifact scatters represent villages, campsites, farmsteads, and stone quarries. Other prehistoric sites include rock art (petroglyphs and pictographs), rock shelters, and bedrock milling sites. The one prehistoric site that is accessible to the park visitor is Signal Hill. This is a small but distinct hill with petroglyphs on the many boulders that cover the hillside. Access to the site is from the Signal Hill picnic area.

Historic-period sites include ranching related sites, mining sites, limes kilns, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures and features, and historic-period trash scatters. The Freeman Homestead and two of the six lime kilns are on the Arizona State Register of Historic Places. Many of the CCC historic structures are in excellent condition and are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The Manning Cabin and the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center are listed in the National Register, as are all of the archeological sites in the Rincon Mountain District (RMD) below 4,000 feet, which are contributing elements of the Rincon Mountain Foothills Archeological National Register District.

Examples of the park’s historic structures can be found along several of the park maintained trails. The visitor can view two lime kilns along the Cactus Forest Trail in the RMD. Also along that trail are the remains of the first permanent building in Saguaro National Park that served as both residence and contact station. The Freeman Homestead can be found along the Freeman Homestead Trail. The RMD Visitor Center is an example of Mission 66 architecture. Manning Cabin, dating to 1905, is only accessible to those hearty individuals who can hike the 12 miles up the mountain; this does requires a back country permit.

Preservation in Action
Preservation in action.

NPS Photo

Managing Park Resources

Saguaro National Park’s (SNP) Cultural Resource Management Program (CRM) is responsible for the protection and preservation of the park’s cultural resources, compliant with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) (among others). Cultural resources include archeological sites (both prehistoric and historic), buildings and structures, landscapes, museum objects, and historic documents.

The NHPA requires the Park Service to inventory the historic properties under our control, evaluate them in terms of eligibility for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and nominate those that are determined eligible for the National Register. Section 106 of the NHPA requires that we consider the effects of our actions on historic properties and provide the regulatory agencies an opportunity to comment on potential impacts from those actions. This requirement safeguards against inadvertent impacts to historic properties from park actions. Under this requirement Cultural Resource staff consult with the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office as well as affiliated Native American tribes. The National Register of Historic Places is the Nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and archeological resources.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act describes the rights of Native American lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations with respect to the treatment, repatriation, and disposition of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony, with which they can show a relationship of lineal descent or cultural affiliation

This statute provides greater protection for Native American burial sites and more careful control over the removal of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and items of cultural patrimony on Federal and tribal lands. Saguaro National Park’s cultural resources include over 450 archeological sites, over 60 historic structures, one cultural landscape (the Cactus Forest Drive), one traditional use area (for the collection of saguaro fruit), as well as many museum objects. The park's museum collections include cultural collections that document both prehistoric and historic human activity in the park and include archeological holdings, history collections and ethnology collections. The collection totals 12,469 cataloged objects and includes written documentation, photographs, and oral histories.

king canyon road repair

NPS Photo

A Case Study in Stabilization

The Cultural Resource Program at Saguaro National Park (SNP) has the responsibility of performing regularly scheduled condition assessments for both prehistoric and historic resources. These assessments document environmental and structural changes, including vandalism to cultural resources in the park

These reports provides the Park the necessary information to allocate funds and personnel to rectify conditions that might otherwise lead to the loss of a resource. The King Canyon Road is a 1.5 mile long cut and fill road built along the steep slopes of King Canyon Wash and connects Mile-Wide Mine to Kinney Road. The first 0.9 miles of road, from traihead to Mam-A-Gah picnic area, was worked on by the CCC in the base of the collapsed wall, was used to fill in behind the reconstructed walls. The work area was restored back to its natural condition and no evidence of the work remained for the visitor to see.

Photos documenting the condition of the walls, before and after stabilization, were taken. Photos documenting the work itself were also taken. Safety protocols were reviewed each day before work began and were stringently adhered to throughout the work day. No injuries were reported during this project.

moving a saguaro
Before image of Saguaro relocation

NPS Photo

A Case Study in Preservation

A four foot tall Saguaro cactus growing within the ruins of one of the adobe structures at Camp Pima threatened the integrity of the adobe walls. Knowing that the structure has a concrete floor and that Saguaro roots tend to be fairly shallow it was felt that the roots of the cactus would eventually travel along the floor and infiltrate the adobe, thus impacting the integrity of the walls. To protect the adobe brick walls from the invasive roots it was decided to remove the saguaro and transplant it to a more appropriate location.

In May of 2015, biological technicians and the archeologist from SNP transplanted the saguaro. Its new home is the ring of saguaro cactus at the entrance of Camp Pima. The ring of saguaros is itself a significant cultural feature that was created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Undoubtedly, the ring was created during the construction of the camp in 1933 when a number of good sized saguaros had to be removed in order to make room for the buildings. Those saguaros were transplanted to form a circle at the entrance to the camp.

Over the past 80 years 10 of the 21 mature saguaros that make up the ring have died. By transplanting the saguaro from the adobe structure to the ring of saguaros, we have protected the structure while insuring the survival of the ring of saguaros. If the occasion should arise where another saguaro needs to be moved, the ring of saguaros will be there waiting for the new member to join their small community.


Last updated: December 2, 2023

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3693 S Old Spanish Trail
Tucson, AZ 85730


520 733-5153

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