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 Wikipedia,

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 Wikipedia,

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 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.

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 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.

 

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.

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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A Few Things I Know About Cacti

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I took this photo on the BLM land near Saddle Mountain in Arizona.

I didn’t grow up in the desert, but after two guided tours at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and a couple of hours at the Desert Botanical Garden, I’ve learned a few things about cacti and other desert plants.

For example, what makes a plant a cactus? I first contemplated this question when Ranger Mark told me during a restroom break on the Ajo Mountain Drive tour that the ocatillo is not a cactus. When I asked him what makes a plant a cactus, he admitted he didn’t know. Low and behold, at the Desert Botanical Garden, I found the answer. All cacti have areoles. If there’s no areole, the plant is not a cactus.

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All cacti have areoles. If there’s no areole, the plant is not a cactus. This photo was taken at the Desert Botanical Garden.

 

So just what is the areole of a cactus? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/science/areole),

Cacti can be distinguished from other succulent plants by the presence of areoles, small cushionlike structures with hairs and, in almost all species, spines or barbed bristles (glochids). Areoles are modified branches, from which flowers, more branches, and leaves (when present) may grow.

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It is easy to see the areoles on the Straight-spined Barrel Cactus in this photo. The areoles are the dark areas from which the spines are growing. Notice that several spines grow from each areole. I took this photo at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/plant/Caryophyllales#ref594853) elaborates,

 Areoles are universal in the cactus family (at least in the juvenile phase)…Almost all species of cactus have tufts of spines that develop from the areoles. These spines are of two basic types, stiff central spines located in the middle of the areole or radial spines that grow out laterally from the edges of the areole; the former are probably protective or when brightly coloured attract pollinators, while the latter are often white and reflect sunlight, providing shade and protecting the plant body from solar radiation. In addition, these spines may be variously modified, depending on the species; for example, they may be curved, hooked, feathery, bristly, flattened, sheathed, or needlelike.

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I took this photo of an ocatillo on BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona . While I was visiting, I saw no ocatillo with leaves or flowers.

So if an ocatillo isn’t a cactus, what is it?  According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum plant fact sheet (https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Ocotillo.php),

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)…are…large shrub[s] with long cane-like unbranched spiny stems that grow from a short trunk.

I’ve recently learned many things about the saguaro cactus, most importantly, it is found only in the Sonoran Desert. Although the saguaro may be the cactus that really represents the desert for for a lot of people, if you see a saguaro representing the desert in New Mexico or Utah, or Nevada, well, that’s just wrong. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saguaro,

[The saguaro] is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California.

I also learned saguaros often grow with the help of a nurse plant. According to a brochure I got at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument,

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This photo shows a saguaro cactus growing within the protection of its nurse plant. I took this photo on the Red Tanks Tinaja hike in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

[a]lmost any plant can become a nurse plant. Shade from the nurse plant protects the delicate cactus seedling from temperature extremes and sunburn. Shaded soil holds moisture longer. Slowly decaying leaf litter adds nutrients. Leaf litter hides the tender young plant from hungry birds or animals…

A nurse plant is not mandatory for the growth and health of a saguaro, but as the brochure says,

The saguaro cactus seedling grows best in this protected, humid environment and enriched soil beneath its nurse plant.

Finally, I learned that saguaro cacti grow very slowly. It takes about 10 years for saguaros to grow one inch! Saguaros will have grown about one foot tall after 30 years and about three feet tall after 50 years. Saguaros get their first flowers after about 70 years, when they are approximately 6 and 1/2 fee tall. They get their first arm at 15 to 16 feet tall, after about 95 to 100 years, and they reach their full height of about 43 feet when they are around 200 years old. (All of the information in the preceding paragraph is from the brochure mentioned earlier.)

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I took this photo of an organ pipe cactus on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stenocereus_thurberi,

Stenocereus thurberi, the organpipe [sic] cactus…is found mostly in Mexico, mainly in Sonora and southern Baja California. It is also known to the United States, but is much rarer, with the notable exception of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The plant is predominantly found on rocky hillsides up to 3,000 feet (910 m) in elevation. It is sensitive to frost, so the species is rare in low desert areas, which can be more susceptible to frost.

Unlike saguaros organ pipe cactus don’t rely on nurse plants for early help. The brochure says,

Most organ pipe cactus grow out in the open in totally unprotected settings.

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This photo of a cholla cactus was taken on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona.

And then there’s cholla cactus. According to the Desert USA website (http://www.desertusa.com/cactus/cholla-cactus.html),

Cholla cactus represent more than 20 species of the Opuntia genus (Family Cactacea) in the North American deserts. Cholla is a term applied to various shrubby cacti of this genus with cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints. These stems are actually modified branches that serve several functions — water storage, photosynthesis and flower production.

[C]hollas are the only cactus with papery sheaths covering their spines. These sheaths are often bright and colorful, providing the cactus with its distinctive appearance.

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I took this photo of a chain fruit cholla cactus on the Red Tanks Tinaja Trail.

Opuntia are unique because of their clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Found just above the cluster of regular spines, glochids are yellow or red in color and detach easily from…stems. Glochids are often difficult to see and more difficult to remove, once lodged in the skin.

Before this year, I’d never given much thought to cactus and had no idea how varied and fascinating they are. Now I’m excited to learn more about them.

 

 

 

 

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Seguaro and the moon. I took this photo from my camping spot on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop.

I took all of the photos in this post.

The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous: Week 1

Standard
Rubber Tramp
A person who travels and lives out of their vehicle (normally an RV, van, bus, etc.). They stop and stay wherever they choose for however long they want, but eventually, so as long as there’s a way to put gas in their tank, move on.

(from Urban Dictionary)

Rendezvous
a place appointed for assembling or meeting

(from Merriam-Webster)

The 2015 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) was held at Scaddan Wash, a short-term camping area about five miles north of Quartzsite, Arizona  on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land in the Sonoran Desert. It’s free to camp there. There are no campsites, so folks can camp wherever they like. There are also no amenities in Scaddan Wash. There are no toilets (pit, flush, or otherwise), no showers, no drinking water, no running water of any kind, no trash cans, and no trash pick up. In Scaddan Wash, it’s just wide open sky, rocky ground, scrubby plants, and a scattering of tall cacti.

 Although there were no features of civilization in the camping area, there were reminders that we were not so far from civilization after all. At night, in the distance, we could see the lights of Quarzsite twinkling. (The year-round population of Quartzsite is 3,600, but that number swells between January and March as snowbirds-and vendors trying to make a buck off the snowbirds-move in.) We could also hear the traffic on I-10, which was only about a mile and a half away. At first the motor noise was annoying, but after I told myself it sounded like the ocean, it wasn’t so bad.

While there’s no charge to camp at Scaddan Wash, campers do have to get a permit from the camp host. The length of stay is limited to 14 days in a 28 day period. (Learn more about camping at Scaddan Wash.)

I pulled into the RTR camping area in the late afternoon. I didn’t know anyone there, and I didn’t know where anything was. Where should I park? I had no idea.

I saw a spot with room for my van with shade provided by a palo verde tree. Shade is a hot (or should I say cool?) commodity in the desert, so I figured it was a good spot to choose.

I made sure I left plenty of space between me and the camp next to mine. As I parked, the woman in the next camp waved, so after turning off the van, I strode over to say hello. That’s how I met the Divine Miss M. Well, no it wasn’t Bette Midler, but a woman just as cool and funny. (I never did find out if she could sing.) Miss M and I hit it off immediately. She was friendly and welcoming and no-nonsense and interesting. It was her first RTR too, and we quickly became buddies.

The next day, the Welcome Seminar was at 10am. The highlight was finally meeting Mr. B, author and webmaster, the driving force behind the RTR. Mr. B talked about the upcoming schedule, permits, and campfires, as well as things we might want to know about goods and services available in Quartzsite. Others chimed in with tales of free pancakes and free showers, as well as scratch and dent grocery outlets.

During the welcome seminar, Mr. B announced that women’s meetings would be held both Sundays of the gathering. He said the meetings needed a facilitator and asked for a volunteer. No one offered to do it. I knew I had the skills to facilitate the women’s meeting, so later in the day, I approached Mr. B and said I would do it. He seemed pleased to have one less thing to worry about.

After the seminar, we were free for the day. That was the end of the structured activities.

Later that night, there was a community campfire. With the idea of being social, I hauled my chair over to the campfire and sat down. No one said hello or asked my name. I didn’t ask their names either. I couldn’t even see people’s faces. Turns out, campfires are not actually great places to meet people. There was a whole lot of dude going on at this one too. Although there were women enjoying the fire, all the talking was being done by guys. The entire time I sat there, I wondered how soon I could leave without looking totally awkward. Finally, I was able to escape. Although there were community campfires every night, I did not return.

The next day’s seminar was about going to Algodones, Mexico for dental work, prescriptions, and eye glasses. I wasn’t planning on doing any of those things, but thought it couldn’t hurt to sit through the presentations. It doesn’t seem very difficult for American to get their needs met in Algodones. There’s a casino on the U.S. side of the border where people park so they can simply walk into Mexico. The pharmacies and dental and optical offices in Algodones catering to Americans are in one small district right over the border. It is easy to find English speakers there. If I had a passport, I would have seriously considered going to Algodones for my recent dental work.

The other big event of the day was that a woman was cutting hair for donations. I really needed a haircut and had been planning to get one before the Rendezvous, but ran out of time. I walked over to her camp to find that several people were already waiting. I put my name on the list, then sat on the rocks reading my book. While sitting there, N. struck up a conversation with me, leading to a nice friendship.

The haircut turned out great. However, no matter what I do, I can’t get my hair to curl. I wonder if the desert has simply sucked all of the curl out of me, or if I’ve had some hormonal change that’s done away with my curl. I guess I won’t know if I don’t ever leave the desert.

On Friday, the morning seminar was about gadgets, but I skipped it to go into town.

On Saturday morning, the seminar was about solar power. I attended it, although I had (and have) no plans to hook up solar power in my van. I need four new tires before I can even think about spending money on solar power. A lot of the information presented was over my head, but the seeds of solar power knowledge have been planted.

That afternoon was the first of three group meals, a chili dinner. Here’s what the Cheap RV Living website said about the chili dinner:

The chili…dinner [is] a group effort. Everybody needs to bring a can of chili… to contribute to the pot before noon… That doesn’t sound good, but it always turns out great! We also welcome fresh, diced vegetables and cooked (or canned) meat. Cans of tomato products also work well. If you bring a vegetable, it needs to be cleaned and diced, or meat (like hamburger) it need [sic] to be cooked and ready to [sic] into the pot. We won’t have time to dice or cook those when we make the chili or soup.

There was a Cook among us, and he took responsibility for the chile dinner. I did not participate in the cooking, but I did participate in the eating. The cooks (under the supervision of The Cook) made a vegetarian chili, a turkey chili, a hot, and a medium beef chili. I had the vegetarian chili and it was delicious! Other folks brought corn bread, which made the whole meal even better.

The group meal was a really good place to socialize. It was easy to strike up a conversation about the food. I enjoyed getting to know people while eating together.

The morning seminar for the next day was described on the schedule as “Tin Can Seminar (Questions and Answers.)” Mr. B described it as an opportunity to ask questions about anything and everything. It was moderated by a (male) poet who seemed very pleased with himself. I had asked a question about how to make sure my battery didn’t die if I were parked in a remote location for several days, and he skipped right over it! I saw him. I recognized the paper my question was written on, and I saw him read the question and discard the paper. Instead, he read aloud questions such as “Do women like men with long hair?” and “Can people tell what kind of sexual activity is happening inside by the way a van is moving?” Mr. B had told us that the answers would represent “community wisdom,” but folks just sort of shouted out whatever they wanted to say in response to each question. This seminar was a complete waste of my time, and if I attend the RTR again, I will NOT sit through such malarkey.

On Sunday afternoon, we had the women’s meeting.

The Monday morning seminar was on cooking methods for rubber tramps, but I skipped it and went to town that day.

Most of the seminars I was really interested in happened at the end of the second week of the RTR, so I spent the first week hanging out, meeting people, writing postcards to friends, and making hats from yarn. I tried to take a walk every evening as the sun was setting.

On the first evening that I took a walk, I strolled all the way to the end of the line of rigs. There before me was a really cool old motor home. The folks who own it are pretty cool too. After a few minutes of chatting, Ms. Dee asked me if I wanted to see the inside of her home. I really did, but would have never said so if she hadn’t offered. “I thought you’d never ask!” I squealed.

It was awesome to be around people who were so open, who wanted to share their knowledge and let me take a peek into their lives.

The sun was usually down by the time I finished my walks. It was dark out there by 6:30 or so, and I was ready to go to bed by 8pm. I’d try to stay awake reading or making hats until at least 9pm, but some nights I was asleep at eight o’clock. Early to bed often does mean early to rise, even if it was still nighttime dark outside. I sometimes was wide awake by 5:30am, although the sun didn’t make it over the mountain until after seven o’clock.

I think it was the first week we got some on and off drizzle. Once the drizzle moved through, the weather was simply lovely, sunny, but not too hot. Days warmed up nicely and nights were chilly, but I was never cold when I was trying to sleep. It seemed like I was in a constant state of adding or subtracting a layer during the days.

At the end of the first week, I was really glad to be rendezvousing with the other rubber tramps.