Long before the best-selling author decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail on her own, she ventured alone into the arid landscape of Saguaro National Park.

Saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea) at sunset, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, USA
Credit: Danita Delimont

Saguaro is the place where I first went on a solo hike in the wilderness. I was 24. It took only a day, but I was truly on my own, and it felt new and slightly daring to have no companions in this desert landscape on a trail that I had to myself. Later, I’d solo hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which I wrote about in my book Wild. But Saguaro was where I first felt what it was to hike alone. The park is outside of Tucson, Arizona, a small part of the vast Sonoran Desert, which bleeds from Mexico into southern Arizona and California. It’s named after the saguaro cactus, because the Sonoran Desert is the only place where you can find them. It’s such a strange feeling to walk among such plants. They’re treelike: alternately majestic and comical looking, almost animated in their stances. They make you feel like you’re not alone. I remember being a bit nervous as I hiked, and I also remember being struck by this enormous sense of wonder I always feel when I’m in nature. I haven’t been back since, though I’d love to go. I think of Saguaro as one of the places where I began.

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