Tag Archives: Sonoran Desert

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.

Picnic Area

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We’d left Truth or Consequences later than we’d planned. Then we’d made a couple stops in Las Cruces (breakfast, guitar strings), so the sun was low in the sky as we drove through Tucson. When we turned onto Highway 86 West (also known as Ajo Way), I was disappointed to see a sign declaring we were still

Crested Saguaro

over 100 miles from Ajo. Not only was I tired of driving, but I was afraid driving in the dark would mean we’d miss the two crested saguaros Coyote Sue said were visible from Highway 86.

The Man and I discussed what we should do. Push on and drive into the night, missing the crested saguaros? Find a place to park for the night and see the saguaros in the morning? We decided we wanted to find a place where we could park the van and sleep until first light.

We were soon on Tohono O’odham land. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tohono_O%27odham,

The Tohono O’odham (/tˈhɑːnə ˈɑːtʊm/, or /tɑːˈhnə ˈɑːtəm/)[2] are a Native American people of the Sonoran Desert, residing primarily in the U.S. state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. Tohono O’odham means “Desert People.” The federally recognized tribe is known as the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The Man kept pointing out places where he thought we could park the van for the night, but I was hesitant to park randomly on the reservation. Although we had nothing to hide from the police, nothing spoils a good night’s sleep like a cop knock in the dark. (If we were ever parked somewhere and a cop knocked in the night, I would simply tell him or her that we were too tired to drive safely, and we’d move on at first light.) Also, I didn’t want to be the white person who thinks she’s entitled to do whatever she wants on native land she knows little about.

Picnic Area on the south side of Hwy 86

I kept driving, and I really was getting to the point of feeling as if I just couldn’t go much father. Then, between mileposts 136 and 137, on the south side of the highway, I saw a picnic area. I pulled in and saw no signs prohibiting overnight parking or even camping. Here it was! This was our spot for the night!

There wasn’t much to the picnic area. There were a few picnic tables there, a shade cover over a few of them. There were no restrooms and not a single trash can. No problem! We only needed to stop for the next six or eight hours.

A fence separated the picnic area from the reservation, but we were too tired to even consider crossing. All I had on my mind was sleep.

When we first lay down, we heard a lot of traffic on the highway, It was a Friday night, and I think people were heading home from their jobs in Tucson, while others were heading to Tucson to party. As the hour grew later, we heard fewer cars on the road, and we slept peacefully.

In the background of this photo, one can see the fence separating the picnic area from the reservation.

The next morning as we stretched and brushed our teeth, The Man noticed an observatory on top of a nearby mountain. Within an hour we passed an entrance road and a sign declaring it the Kitt Peak National Observatory. We didn’t stop, but according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitt_Peak_National_Observatory,

The Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) is a United States astronomicalobservatory site located on 2,096 m (6,880 ft) Kitt Peak of the Quinlan Mountains in the ArizonaSonoran Desert on the Tohono O’odham Nation, 88 kilometers (55 mi) west-southwest of Tucson, Arizona. With 24 optical and two radio telescopes, it is the largest, most diverse gathering of astronomical instruments in the world.[1] The observatory is administered by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO).

At the very peak of the mountain, something related to the Kitt Peak Observatory is visible.

Roadside America (http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/46336) says the Visitor Center is open daily 9-4 (call 520-318-8726 to verify). Admission is free, but one-hour guided tours cost $8.00-$10.00 per person. According to bobebob on 01/25/2015,

The best views of the complex are from the outdoor catwalk around the Mayall telescope, whose 15-ton mirror is housed in a dome 18 stories high. Daytime visitors are asked to keep their voices low, as most of the astronomers (who live in on-site dormitories) are asleep.

Picnic table and tree

On Saturday, we spent time with the Diving Miss M, and sometime during our conversation, she mentioned the Arizona Department of Transportation has a 12-foot easement on either side of Highway 86. The land past the easement is part of the reservation. Being left alone at the picnic area made sense. The picnic area is on the easement, which means ADOT maintains it. Surely no ADOT employee was patrolling the area at night to run off sleepy travelers. Tribal police probably aren’t very concerned with what happens at the picnic area since it is technically the ADOT’s jurisdiction. I suppose someone from the Pima County Sherriff’s Department or the Highway Patrol could have questioned us if a complaint had been lodged or if we’d been causing trouble, but we were sleeping, not drinking or yelling or even littering. If an officer of the law saw us parked at the picnic area that night, s/he decided we weren’t worth stopping for. Personally, I was grateful for uninterrupted sleep.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

Good-bye to the Sonoran Desert

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We stayed too long.

We thought the Sonoran Desert would be bearable in early April, but we weren’t prepared for the harshness of the desert even in the spring. The Man and Jerico the Dog had the worst of it, but I experienced the heat and sun too.

Crested Saguaro

The Man and I and Jerico spent a week in Truth or Consequences while I fulfilled a house sitting obligation. When the job was over, we traveled to Southern Arizona. The plan was for The Man and Jerico to camp on BLM land in the Sonoran Desert while The Lady of the House and I went on a long-anticipated road trip to Bisbee, AZ. I’d be gone a week. Upon retrieving The Man and Jerico, we’d continue our adventures together, although we hadn’t yet formulated a real plan.

We arrived at my favorite part of the Sonoran Desert late on a Saturday morning. Our travels had included overnighting at a picnic area situated on native land and spotting two crested saguaros. After visiting some friends who winter in the area, then buying provisions, we went to BLM land a couple of miles from town and found ourselves a scenic camping spot.

This photo shows one of the scenes we saw from our camping spot.

Alas, there was no shade in the little area of the desert where we’d chosen to stay. We spent most of our days in the van with the doors and windows open to the breeze, or more often, the strong wind. The hours in the middle of the day were the most difficult because the van cast no shadow and the sun beat down on our metal home.

I was scheduled to leave on Tuesday. On Monday, The Man hurt his back. He reached for something and Ouch! back pain. We spent the day in the van hiding from the sun and strong wind. In the evening, I helped The Man (whose back was feeling some better) set up his tent and unpack some of his things from the van. He assured me he’d be fine without me, even with his bum back.

The man had his phone but hadn’t had the money to pay for service, so I didn’t expect to hear from him while I was gone. If he walked the couple miles into town to use free WiFi, we could communicate through Facebook, but that was a long way to walk to say hello.

On Friday, The Lady of the House and I concluded our fun trip to Bisbee and drove back to her home city. I dropped her off where The Man of the House had left their car parked on a side street, planning to meet at her house shortly. I made the block so I could turn at a stoplight, while The Lady planned to make a U-turn in her zippy little car. I came around the corner to find The Lady’s tiny car pushed up on the sidewalk; she’d been involved in a four-car collision in the time it took me to make three right turns. The Lady waved me over and asked me to wait with her in the adjacent parking lot until the police arrived.

None of the people involved in the accident seemed to be hurt, but it took the cops a really long time to show up. While we waited, I looked at Facebook and saw The Man had been trying to contact me through

Cholla cactus

Messenger. We managed a Facebook call (how does that even work?), and he told me he was miserable. It was horrible out in the desert, he said. It wasn’t just that it was hot, but for a large portion of the day, there was no shade at all, no way to get away from the sun. Not only was he miserable, so was the dog. The rocks on the desert floor were hurting Jerico’s paws, and he’d tangled with a cholla cactus. Couldn’t I please come back for them?

I said I’d be there the next day. I didn’t have it in me–after all the driving I’d been doing–to set out in rush-hour traffic and probably end up on the road in the dark. I needed at least a few hour’s sleep before I set off on the journey.

I was on the road by 8:30 the next morning and arrived at The Man’s camp around 11am. Jerico rushed up to the van to greet me; The Man–sunburnt, parched, and exhausted–wasn’t far behind.

We couldn’t leave the desert for another couple days because I had a lady exam scheduled for Tuesday, but we were able to drive the van into town and sit in the air-conditioned library or in the shade of one of the few trees in the town’s park.

On Tuesday afternoon, we left our BLM land camp, but we needed to kill some time before an appointment in the city on Wednesday morning. I drove us the 70 miles to a free camping area between where we were and where we needed to be the next day. The campground was sparsely populated, and we got a spot with a covered picnic table. We followed the shade as we made dinner, then hung out after we ate.

As is the case in the desert, the temperature dropped as night fell. However, the van home had been baking in the sun all day, and the inside temperature was not adequately cool when we were ready to sleep.

We’re leaving the doors open, The Man proclaimed as we climbed into bed.

I would have never done it had I been alone, but with The Man and the dog between me and the open side doors, I figured I was safe.

I woke in the middle of the night to Jerico barking and The Man shouting and flying out of the bed. Apparently, Jerico had heard something outside the van–a desert critter trying to drink from his water dish, The Man speculated–and ran out toward it barking. Luckily, The Man had prepared for just such a situation by attaching Jerico to a leash tied to the bed. Jerico was brought back into the van, and we all managed to get a few more hours of sleep.

Sunrise in the free campground.

We headed out in the morning and did what we needed to do in Phoenix, where it was 90 degrees by afternoon. I drove north on I-17, and in under three hours, we were in Flagstaff, where the temperature was 68 degrees. What a wonderful difference an almost 6,000 feet rise in elevation can make!

I was glad to say goodbye to the Sonoran Desert. It’s a great place to be in the winter, but just too hot only a couple of weeks into spring.

Sonoran Desert Scene

I took all of the photos in this post.

Saguaros in Bloom

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Last year, I spent the first couple of weeks of May in Why and Ajo, AZ. I was waiting to receive a check from my insurance company, and I didn’t have anyone who could forward it to me at my next destination. I was a little bit stuck waiting for the check to arrive.

I tried to use my time well. I wrote and scheduled a lot of blog posts, read, cleaned the van, and made hats. Every day I checked the mailbox, and day after day, there was nothing in there for me.

The days got hotter and hotter. By the time I left in the middle of the month, daytime temperatures were reaching the high 90s. Although the temperature dropped at night, after baking in the sun all day, my van only cooled enough for me to sleep comfortably after several hours. Luckily, I felt safe where I was staying and could leave my doors open to the cool night air long after dark.

The upside of staying in the Sonoran Desert until May was seeing the saguaros bloom.

Tjs Garden blog (https://tjsgarden.com/2015/04/23/saguaro-cactus-bloom-flower-national-park-arizona/) says,

The Saguaro cactus will produce white flowers from April to June.

The Saguaro flowers do not bloom all at the same time.  Only a few flowers bloom each night waiting to be pollinated and then wilt by early afternoon.

According to the website of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Flowers%20and%20Fruit.php),

Saguaro flowers bloom for less than 24 hours. They open at night and remain open through the next day.

Saguaro flowers are usually found near the tops of the stems and arms of the cactus. They are white in color about 3 inches (8cm) in diameter.

During the night the flowers are pollinated by the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-tongued bat. During the daytime the flowers are pollinated by bees and birds such as the white-winged dove.

It was a challenge to get photos of flowers growing on the tops of very high saguaros. I had to stretch my arms as far up as possible, use the camera’s zoom feature, and hope for the best. I think I did a pretty good job of capturing the beauty of the saguaro blooms.  I particularly like the shots where I can clearly see the wilted flowers, those currently in bloom, and the buds about to burst open.

The aforementioned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website says,

After the flowers have been pollinated they mature into bright red fruit. When the fruit ripens it split open showing juicy red pulp. Each fruit can contain up to 2000 small black seeds.

I didn’t have to hang around until the flowers turned to fruit. My check arrived just before I had to leave for my California job. I hit the road before the desert temperature rose into the triple digits. It would have been nice to see the fruit, but I’m satisfied with having witnessed the flowers.

I took 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 [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropomorphism] 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 (https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Saguaro%20Cactus.php), 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 seguaros 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.

 

Cabeza Prieta Visitor Center

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The Cabeza Prieta Visitor Center is located at 1611 North Second Street (Highway 85) in Ajo, Arizona. The refuge’s website (http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Cabeza_Prieta/visit/plan_your_visit.html) says,

It is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm. Here, refuge staff and volunteers are available to provide you with maps, brochures and checklists and let you know what’s happening on the refuge.

I visited the Cabeza Prieta Visitor Center in early May, when it was already hot outside. I spent most of my time looking at the inside exhibits, but I looked around outside a bit too.

First of all, according to https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Cabeza_Prieta/about.html,

Cabeza Prieta, Spanish for “dark (or dirty) head,” refers to a lava-topped, granite peak in a remote mountain range in the western corner of the refuge.

Secondly, the Visitors Center is just a tiny piece of what Cabeza Prieta is for and about. The IMG_6104aforementioned website says,

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 860,000 acres, a portion of which are open to the public for wildlife related activities including wildlife watching and photography, primitive camping, limited hunting, and environmental education and interpretation.

Almost all of the refuge is designated wilderness and it is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a national network of lands and waters set aside for the benefit of wildlife and you.

…Today, the refuge’s management priorities are primarily focused on the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, bighorn sheep and lesser long-nosed bat.

There are two main indoor exhibits at the visitor center, both in a room to the right of the entrance. When I visited, the room was dark, and I had to turn on the lights so I could have a look around.

The first attraction is a video about the refuge. When I stepped into the tiny theater, the video was not playing. A remote control sat on the bench next to me, but despite pushing the power and play buttons, I could not get the video to come on. I went through an open door to the front of the office area. No one was sitting at the main desk, but there was a bell there, so I rang it. A young woman came from the back, and I told her I wanted to watch the video but could not get it to play. She helped me, but acted mildly irritated, as if I were keeping her from her real work.

The video was informative, but I felt as if maybe it had picked up in the middle of the action. The weirdest part of the video was when some government employee guy talked about how the crust on the desert floor is a living organism while he plunged his knife into it and pulled up a piece of the crust to display to the camera. Ouch! I’m a living organism too, and I hope no one ever does that to me.

(Well, ok, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_soil_crust says

[b]iological soil crusts are communities of living organisms on the soil surface in arid– and semi-arid ecosystems

so maybe what the guy did was not quite as bad as plunging a knife into me.)

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This big cat was once alive, but now it’s dead. The sign says, “A Haven for Wildlife.” Well, this room is the opposite of a haven for wildlife. This room is more like a wildlife graveyard.

The other indoor exhibit is a display of desert creatures. The problem is that these desert creatures were once alive and now they are dead. I presume someone killed those animals so they could be displayed, then handed them over to a taxidermist to preserve them. I didn’t much like looking at animals that were once alive but now weren’t. It kind of gave me the creeps, especially the big, dark eyes of the dead pronghorn. I would rather look at photographs of desert creatures instead of their preserved remains.

I walked around a bit outside the Visitor Center. There are several trails to walk on, a few informational signs, and lots of cacti. There’s also a pond where Quitobaquito pupfish live, but that’s a story for another day.

 

 

 

I believe there is a senita cactus.

I believe this cactus is a senita.

There is also a bird hide in the back of the visitor center. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_hide) says

[a] bird hide (or hide, also known as a blind or bird blind in North America) is a shelter, often camouflaged, that is used to observe wildlife, especially birds, at close quarters. Although hides or hunting blinds were once built chiefly as hunting aids, they are now commonly found in parks and wetlands for the use of bird watchers, ornithologists and other observers who do not want to disturb wildlife as it is being observed.

A typical bird hide resembles a garden shed, with small openings, shutters, or windows built into at least one side to enable observation.

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This is the scene viewed from the bird hide a the visitor center.

The hide at the visitor center does look like a shed, and it has sliding panels over the windows. It overlooks a small pond. I went into the bird hide and opened one of the windows and looked out, but didn’t stay long. I was hot and hungry by that time, and I’m not all that excited about birds. The bird hide overlooks a small pond, so I’m sure it is a great place to watch birds taking a drink or having a bath.

The Cabeza Prieta Visitor Center was a fine place to spend some time. I was probably there a little more than an hour. Of course, I appreciated the lack of admission fee. I don’t know if I will ever visit the actual wilderness area, but the visitor center offers much information about the Sonoran Desert.

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I took all of the photos in this post.