Tag Archives: southern Arizona

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.

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.