Saguaro West always a great spot to shoot. Tho Sabino ought to be great. Take the tram back to seven falls trail and hike a bit.
Saguaro National Park - the saguaro is the "signature" plant of the Sonoran Desert. If you go to the west unit of the park, you will be also close to the world renowned Arizona Sonora Desert Museum which will also give you lots of opportunity for photography. Sabino Canyon and Catalina State Park are more representative of the transitional riparian areas in the foothills of the mountains, and, yes, are very pretty. But if I had only one day, I would go after the desert not the foothills.
Sabino Canyon is good, but there are a lot of people there and the trail is relatively wide and paved. Alternatives would be Finger Rock, Ventana or Pima Canyon, which are all fairly easy, short hikes with beautiful settings and relatively few people.
You may want to consider a trip up the Catalina Highway to Mount Lemmon. Even not going up all the way, you run across some really beautiful stuff. If the Mount Bigelow Road is open yet, you should try to get down there as well (the road is unpaved, but fine for cars).
If you want more desert though, head west to Saguaro National Park West. On the way, there are some gorgeous slopes with tons of saguaro cacti.
Lots of other places, but it starts getting to be a much further drive.
To clarify, un Sabino Canyon, the road is paved to the seven falls trailhead. But after that, it is a very nice, easy hike, on an unpaved trail, to seven falls.
I think the terrain in Saguaro National Park East is more interesting than in the west branch. From the 9 mile loop road, there are dozens of trails you can take that will provide great photography opportunities.
The road to Mt. Lemmon also would privide some nice photography opportunities. There are several pullouts where you can walk around exploring.
Sabino Canyon, the road to Mt. Lemmon, and Saguaro National Park east are all on the far east side of Tucson. Catalina State Park and Saguaro National Park west are on the far east side. So, to maximize the value of your time, I would suggest Sabino canyon, SNP east, and the road to Mt. Lemmon.
I have just returned from my first visit to the Tucson area with my new point-and-shoot camera. We visited SNP West, Tucson Mountain Park, & AZ Sonora Desert Museum March 28 - 30 and visited SNP East, Catalina Highway/Mt Lemmon, & Catalina State Park April 6-8.
My humble non-photographer opinions:
SNP West has more dramatic saguaro views, is less visited/more wild, and easy to hike off the dirt loop road. ASDM is a great opportunity to photograph wild birds on site (Gila Woodpeckers just to the left after you enter), hummingbirds in the aviary, and carefully tended local flora, and captive local fauna. Tucson Mountain Park is also full of great views. In general, it just seems more wild on the west side.
SNP East had many more blooms, although that could be an aspect of the week later time frame, but I believe it is just a more "lush" desert with a greater variety of plants. We also saw more birds in SNP East. There are lots & lots of turnouts you can use to park & take more photos. The nearby mountains make a more dramatic backdrop to the saguaro pictures & other vistas. Catalina Highway is dramatic in its own way with great views of Tucson, but most of the road & views face west into the sun. Catalina State Park has some easy 1 mile walks (Nature Trail & Birding Trail) that afford the photographer more vistas, close ups with flowers, and an easy opportunity to get away from the road.
Have fun. We loved it!
Thanks to all for your great photography ideas, much appreciated.
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