Tag Archives: saguaro

And Everything Changes Again

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The zia is the official symbol of the Land of Enchantment.

The Man and I have been talking about buying land in New Mexico since the day we met. (Literally.) It looks as if it’s finally going to happen.

A friend of ours has owned land in southern New Mexico for over a decade. The land is isolated, and our friend is in her mid-70s, so her kids really don’t want her out there alone. She made us a good deal on the half acre, and we plan to be out there early next month.

At first I thought we should haul the fifth wheel out there with us, but then we started thinking about costs. The fifth wheel would need new tires, and The Man said the bearings would need to be repacked (whatever that means). We were going to have to ask a friend with an old truck that can pull a fifth wheel to haul ours, which would mean paying for his gas as well as our own and offering him a couple hundred bucks for his trouble. I quickly realized we were better off selling the fifth wheel and living in our vans on the property for the next couple months, then building some simple living spaces in the fall.

We reached similar conclusions about the solar set-up and the storage shed. Potential buyers of the fifth wheel would want electricity and a place to store their extra things. The place would be easier to sell with the amenities. Besides, where would we store the six solar panels (and three deep-cycle batteries) while we were away from the land in the summer? How would we fit the shed’s metal panels in my van (in addition to all my belongings) to transport them to our new place? It made more sense to leave those things behind and use the money we got from the sale to buy new things. I’m looking forward to a solar set-up on my van (!!!) and a new shed on the property.

I’m also looking forward to saving a lot of money in New Mexico. Gone will be the days of rent. Sure, the $550 I pay to stay in the desert RV park is nominal, but $550 is $550. I’d rather not pay it if I don’t have to. Taxes on the land are cheap, so I’ll be saving most of that yearly expenditure.

We haven’t looked into car insurance yet, but we suspect it’s going to be a lot less expensive than what we’ve been paying in Arizona. A close friend told me her insurance rates dropped dramatically when she left Arizona and changed her domicile to New Mexico.

Perhaps most importantly, we’re only going to be about 15 miles from a town with a real supermarket. Where we are now, we can drive 10 miles to a town with a small grocery store, or we can drive more than 85 miles to a city with real supermarkets. The store in the small town charges two to three times more than the city supermarkets charge. In our new place, a 15 mile drive will take us to affordable food and inexpensive ice and a public library and three thrift stores and a big hardware store and and and…

This is one of those saguaros I will miss.

Of course, New Mexico is where The Man and I want to be. I’ve grown to appreciate Arizona, and I’ve grown to love the Sonoran Desert (those saguaros!), but I’ll be super happy to be in New Mexico again, to have a yellow license plate, to experience the Land of Enchantment morning, noon, and night.

I took the photos in this post.

Spring in the Sonoran Desert

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Last year I spent the first couple of weeks of May in the Sonoran Desert. I don’t know if I was too late or if the previous year had been too dry, but the only flowers I saw blooming then were the ones on the saguaros. (Read about my experience with saguaros in bloom here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/04/22/saguaros-in-bloom/.) Don’t get me wrong, the saguaro blooms were beautiful, and I’m glad to have seen them, but I longed for some variety.

Saguaro in bloom

This year I hit the Sonoran Desert at just the right time to see ocotillo flowers. It seemed as if every ocotillo I saw sported a multitude of vivid red blooms. The blooms were so beautiful, especially when viewed against the bright blue desert sky. The red of the ocotillo flowers also really popped against the other muted colors of the desert.

Ocotillo bloom against sky and desert

When I visited the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in 2016, I learned the ocotillo is not a cactus. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fouquieria_splendens,

Fouquieria splendens (commonly known as ocotillo American Spanish: [okoˈtiʝo]… is not a true cactus. For much of the year, the plant appears to be an arrangement of large spiny dead sticks, although closer examination reveals that the stems are partly green. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with small (2–4 cm), ovate leaves, which may remain for weeks or even months…

The bright crimson flowers appear especially after rainfall in spring, summer, and occasionally fall. Flowers are clustered indeterminately at the tips of each mature stem. Individual flowers are mildly zygomorphic and are pollinated by hummingbirds and native carpenter bees.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website (https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Ocotillo.php) says

Dense clusters of red tubular flowers grow from the end of the [ocotillo] stems from March through June.

Ocotillo prefer a habitat that is open and very rocky, and where the soil is well drained. Areas such as rocky slopes, mesas, washes and desert grasslands.

The Ocotillo is called many different names including Candlewood, Slimwood, Coachwhip, Vine Cactus, Flaming Sword and Jacob’s Staff.

Ocotillo were not the only desert plant in bloom. Several cacti also sported spring blossoms, these in a variety of colors. The Man and I went on a short hike near our camping spot on BLM land in the Sonoran Desert near Ajo and saw several cacti in bloom. Again, the brightly colored flowers really stood out against the earth tones of the desert.

Flowers of unknown Sonoran Desert plant.

 

Anyone who thinks the colors of the desert only include greens and browns should visit the Sonoran desert in April.

I took all of the photos in this post.

I don’t know the name of this cactus, but it sure does produce beatiful flowers.

 

Crested Saguaros

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This photo shows a crested saguaro on the left. The saguaro on the right is what we are more accustomed to when we think of saguaros.

I’d seen old photos of crested saguaros and heard about them during a visit to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, but I’d never seen one in person. When I mentioned to Coyote Sue that The Man and I would take Highway 86 through Tohono O’odham Nation land when we traveled from Tucson to Ajo, she told me there were two crested saguaros growing close to the road along that route. She couldn’t remember exactly where the crested saguaros stood, but she put me on the alert to look for them and gave me a good idea of where to find them.

Why do crested saguaros grow the way they do? Nobody knows! According to https://www.nps.gov/sagu/learn/nature/why_crested.htm,

This photo shows the first crested saguaro we saw on Highway 86. This one was The Man’s favorite.

Saguaros sometimes grow in odd or misshapen forms. The growing tip occasionally produces a fan-like form which is referred to as crested or cristate…Biologists disagree as to why some saguaros grow in this unusual form. Some speculate that it is a genetic mutation. Others say it is the result of a lightning strike or freeze damage. At this point we simply do not know what causes this rare, crested form.

The first crested saguaro I spotted stands between mileposts 96 and 97 on the north side of Highway 86. It’s just past a driveway leading to a small building. A wire fence separates the saguaro from the road.

The second crested saguaro is west of the first one. I forgot to note the mile marker numbers closest to it (dang!) but it’s also on the north side of the highway, and a wire fence also separates the saguaro from the road.

The Man thought the first crested saguaro was the better looking of the two we saw. In fact, he didn’t even bother taking a photo of the second one because he thought it paled in comparison to the first. On the other hand, I thought the second crested saguaro was a better specimen.  The crest of the second one reminded me of a rooster’s comb and

This photo shows the second crested saguaro we saw. This one was my favorite.

wasn’t as bunchy and bumpy as the crest on the first one. Well, to each our own!

I feel very lucky to have finally seen a crested saguaro growing wild and free. My Sonoran Desert experience is now a bit more complete.

Which of the two crested saguaros pictured in this post do you like the best? Share your choice by leaving a comment below.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Saguaros Personified

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Is anthropomorphizing a human universal? Do people in all cultures ascribe human attributes to animals and plants, as well as to objects that have never been alive? (The preceding question was intended as rhetorical, but Wikipedia says YES!

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities[1] and is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.[2]))

In the U.S. Southwest, some people look at a saguaro cactus and see human qualities.

The saguaro is the cactus most people think of when they think of a desert, especially U.S. desert. Interestingly,  according to Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website, saguaros grow only in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico, with few stray plants found in southeast California. Anyone who imagines saguaros in New Mexico or Nevada or Utah has it all wrong!img_4556

I met a woman in New Mexico who had traveled throughout Arizona. She’d grown up in New England, but had been charmed by the saguaros she saw in the Sonoran Desert during her early travels there. She took a lot of photos (back in the days of film and negatives and prints) of saguaros she thought looked like people doing people things. She was still tickled by the cacti when she pulled out her photo album to show me.

She had several dozen photos, one saguaro after another, sometimes two or more saguaros “interacting.” Each photo had a funny little caption describing what human activity she imagined was taking place. There were “hugging” cacti and several jokes about saguaros with droopy arms.

She said she had a photo album with pictures she’d taken of a “wedding party” made up entirely of saguaros, but she wasn’t able to find it during my visit.

The funniest story of the personification of saguaros I’ve ever heard was told to me a couple of years ago. I was talking to a woman who’d grown up in New Jersey, and she told me about her first visit to the U.S. Southwest. When she drove into Arizona and saw her first saguaros, her first thought was, Those plants are flipping me off!

img_4582I look at a saguaro and can image it waving at me, welcoming me to the desert. Leave it to someone from New Jersey to think the saguaros were aiming rude gestures at her.

I took all of the photos in this post. All were taken near Ajo, AZ, in the Sonoran Desert. None of the saguaros look like people to me.

 

Beep! Beep!

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Growing up in the Deep South, there was a lot I wasn’t taught about the Southwest.

For example, I wasn’t taught that the saguaro cactus is IMG_4558

found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert.

[The cactus is found] in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico. A few stray plants can also be found in southeast California.

(Thanks to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for the info.)

I grew up thinking all cacti (I did know the plural of cactus was not cactuses) were pretty much that same and all cacti  grew in all deserts. WRONG!

Nor did I know much about the roadrunner. Oh sure, I saw the cartoon Road Runner on Saturday mornings, but I didn’t necessarily believe a roadrunner was a real creature. I saw Bugs Bunny too, but I knew rabbits couldn’t talk (much less sing opera), so while I might believe there was a bird called a roadrunner out in the big world, I was pretty sure it was nothing like the one on television.

I was right about that.

I didn’t see a real live roadrunner until I was an adult. I was so excited when it ran across the road, I bounced up and down in my seat and squealed.

Of course, the cartoon Road Runner looks a lot different from a real, live roadrunner. Real roadrunners are mostly brown, while the cartoon Road Runner is decked out in shades of blue. The cartoon Road Runner is much taller than a real roadrunner, and the decorative feather flop on the top of the cartoon’s head is much bigger than anything a real roadrunner has going on.

But still, when I saw the real roadrunner hurrying across the highway, I knew exactly what it was.

According to the All About Birds website

A bird born to run, the Greater Roadrunner can outrace a human, kill a rattlesnake, and thrive in the harsh landscapes of the Desert Southwest. Roadrunners reach two feet from sturdy bill to white tail tip, with a bushy blue-black crest and mottled plumage that blends well with dusty shrubs. As they run, they hold their lean frames nearly parallel to the ground and rudder with their long tails. They have recently extended their range eastward into Missouri and Louisiana.

WHAT?!?!?!? Roadrunners in Missouri and Louisiana? THAT is exciting, but how is a desert bird going to adapt to all the humidity?

Not too long ago, I woke up with the sun. It had been hot out, and there weren’t many other people around, so I hadn’t hung my side curtain when I went to bed. The lack of curtain helped with airflow, but when the sun rose at 5:45, there was a lot of light in my face.

I was looking at Facebook on my phone and hadn’t even put my glasses on when I heard a thump on the van. I looked up and saw…something…standing on my side mirror. My vision is very poor, and I can’t see much past the end of my nose without my specs. (Yeah, I’d been holding the phone close to my nose.) I suspected it was a bird on the mirror, but I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was some kind of super jumping desert squirrel that had leapt up there.

I reached out for my glasses, thinking my movement would scare of the critter. Nope. The critter didn’t go anywhere. I got the spectacles on my face and saw a roadrunner on my mirror. A big roadrunner. A roadrunner with a tail as long as (maybe longer than) its whole body. It turned around a few times on the mirror, so I got a good look at it from all angles. Then it flew up to the roof of my van, where I heard it thump a couple of times as it walked around. When all was silent, I knew the bird had flown away.

If I’d been in a cartoon, an anvil or a safe would have crushed my van. Thank goodness I’m living in the real world.

Since I didn’t get a photo of the roadrunner, I’ll post one of a saguaro in bloom. I took the two photos of the saguaros.

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Ajo Mountain Tour

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When I was doing my research about the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (OPCNM), I found a list of ranger programs at http://www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/ranger-programs.htm. One that looked promising (and fit into my schedule and that of the Divine Miss M) was

Ajo Mountain Van Tours
Take the opportunity to spend 3 hours with a ranger on a drive through one of the monument’s most beautiful areas.

During the time we visited, the tour went out every day at 9am and space was limited to 10 people. Since reservations were needed, I called the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and got Miss M and myself on the list.

On the appointed day, at the appointed time, Miss M and I met our driver, Ranger Anna (the young woman who cleared up the mystery of 4th graders for me; read about that here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/02/16/i-have-a-4th-grader/), and Ranger Mark, the actual guide who did the talking. After a brief stop at the campground to pick up the other folks who were going on the tour, we were on our way.

This is organ pipe cactus as seen on the Ajo Mountain van tour.

This is organ pipe cactus as seen on the Ajo Mountain van tour.

The OPCNM website (http://www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/driving-and-biking.htm) describes the Ajo Mountain Drive as

the most popular scenic drive in the monument. It is a 21 mile, mostly gravel road usually passable by normal passenger car. RVs over 24 feet are prohibited, due to the twisting and dipping nature of the road.

The American Southwest website (http://www.americansouthwest.net/arizona/organ_pipe/ajo-mountain-drive.html) gives a great description of this drive and of the road itself, and I will quote extensively from that page.

…the main backcountry scenic route in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is..the Ajo Mountain Drive, a mostly unpaved loop that heads towards the foothills of the Ajo Range, the high, rocky ridge which forms the eastern boundary of the preserve. Although only 21 miles in length the drive still takes around 90 minutes (without stops) since the road is often narrow and very bumpy – so is not recommended for RVs…, but the scenery is magnificent, comprising extensive cactus plains separated by imposing volcanic mountains also covered with many and varied desert plants, all with no sign of civilisation. Two trails start along the way; the Bull Pasture/Estes Canyon loop, perhaps the best hike in the national monument, and a one mile path up a short side canyon to a natural arch.

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This photo shows a prickly pear cactus, and Arch Canyon in the distance.

The drive starts along AZ 85 opposite the [Kris Eggle] visitor center, and is two-way for a few miles then narrows and changes to one-way (clockwise) at the start of the loop section. The surface is bumpy but not too bad at first, as the road crosses a flat plain filled with countless saguaro and rather fewer organ pipes. It climbs gradually towards Diablo Canyon at the edge of the Diablo Mountains, and becomes paved for a couple of miles to ease passage over a series of short, steep, up-and-down sections across dry washes. There is one picnic area in the mountains, and another a couple of miles further at the mouth of Arch Canyon, from where begins the short path to the eponymous arch. The Ajo Mountains approach to the east as the road turns due south, passes over a low ridge and reaches a third picnic area, next to  Estes Canyon. IMG_4821The excellent loop path up to Bull Pasture begins opposite, while the remainder of the Ajo Mountain Drive follows the widening canyon further south, curves round the southern edge of the Diablo Mountains and traverses a vast plain (Sonoyta Valley) back to the start of the two-way section. This part of the route is rather rougher and more bumpy than the first half, despite being mainly straight and relatively level. The desert plain is covered by

This photo shows saguaro cacti growing near Estes Canyon picnic area.

This photo shows saguaro cacti growing near Estes Canyon picnic area.

densely-growing saguaro,  some particularly large, and the road has excellent views south for many miles, as far as the Cubabi Mountains in Mexico.

I learned a lot on this van tour, such as the difference between an organ pipe cactus and a senita cactus, the role of nurse plants, and the proper pronunciation of “saguaro” [Sa – WAH – ro]. I would have enjoyed myself had I just driven around in the desert alone or with Miss M, but having a knowledgeable guide really made the drive much more interesting, educational, and entertaining.

I would absolutely recommend this tour for anyone visiting the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. There is no additional cost for the tour; it is included with the $12 pass which allows access to the OPCNM for seven days.

If I am ever back in the area, I might make the Ajo Mountain Drive on my own with the Ajo Mountain Road Guidebook (available free in the Kris Eggle Visitor Center, according to http://www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/driving-and-biking.htm) by my side. I think the van would make it just fine if I took the drive slow and easy.

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I would like to hike up to the arch in Arch Canyon and spend time looking more closely at the plants and landscape and taking more photos. But if I never get back to the Ajo Mountain Drive, I won’t be disappointed, because the tour I went on was so good.

 

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I took all of the photos in this post.