I just found this postcard of the World's Largest Cactus near Phoenix, Arizona in the 1940s. It's a saguaro, which are fairly common in the Sonoran Desert, and they get very big. Amazingly big. This one was in Paradise Valley. And I've found lots of photos of wonderful gigantic saguaros in the same area around the same time. There was a fairly new resort out there, called Camelback Inn, and back at the time it was pretty much all alone in the desert, with the saguaros.
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Of course, these aren't really the world's largest cactuses (cacti?), but there's no "truth in advertising" law that applied to postcards in the 1940s. I like postcards, and they can be a lot of fun, but you gotta remember that, like Instagram, they portray a world that's just a little too perfect to be completely true. I'm OK with that.
|Giant Saguaro Cactus in the 1930s, Paradise Valley, Arizona. Camelback Mountain is in the background.|
If you live in Arizona, or have visited there, you know how amazingly big saguaros are. And they really are the symbols of the Sonoran Desert, and they only grow there (in spite of the fact that just about every cartoon that shows a desert shows a saguaro cactus). But as big as they are, they're small compared to their big brothers in Mexico, called cardons (Pachycereus pringlei). Hey, I'm not dissing the mighty saguaro, but if you've ever seen a cardon, they make saguaros look small.
|Giant Saguaro Cactus in 1929, Paradise Valley, Arizona.|
The Sonoran Desert must have been astonishing for people to see back in the 1930s and '40s. The photos that I find I'd like to think of as the first changing of the attitude of the desert from being a terrible place, to being a place of beauty, worth preserving, which is how most people feel today.
These giant saguaros weren't preserved in Paradise Valley, of course, but a lot were elsewhere in the Sonoran Desert. There's a whole forest of them that you can visit near Tucson, and it's worth a visit. And whether you see the World's Largest Cactus or not doesn't really matter, you'll still be seeing a wonder of the world.