Southwest Chicken Soup and the Saguaro Cactus

It’s mid December. The days are short, the air is crisp, and the holiday lights are sparkling. Winter has arrived and we’ve finally had a cold front roll through here in the desert southwest. In Phoenix, Arizona, this past week the thermometer barely hit 70 degrees Fahrenheit … Brrrr! I’m sure my friends to the north are either tilting their head quizzically or scowling at me.

superstition mountains arizona

Hey, when it’s been a consistent 90 plus degrees, anything much less than 70 degrees feels cold and has me putting on a sweatshirt. With that said, I think I’ve officially turned into a reptile. What other explanation could there be as to why 70 degrees would feel so cold to me? Crazy, I know! However, I must say the mornings and evenings do get into the 50’s and even 40’s, which is definitely cold and has me pop’n on the heat in the RV.

Easy Southwest Chicken SoupWith winter in full swing, it was time to make a big pot of soup, but not just any soup, Southwest Chicken Soup. Nothing like warming up from the inside out.

Considering I’m in one of my favorite places; the desert southwest, why not embrace the unique landscape and culinary flavors of the region!

With the soup simmering in the slow cooker, the RV is filled with a wonderful scent. While inhaling the delicious aroma filling the RV, I glance out the window and admire the landscape.

Saguaro Cactus

I find the Saguaro Cactus intriguing.   As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I thought this three armed cactus was a fabrication of cartoonists.  I remember watching cartoons like the Road Runner, Huckleberry Hound, and of course Bugs Bunny.  The background contained scenes of red rock, cactus, and the ever abundant tumbleweed โ€ฆ all foreign to a young gal growing up in northern Illinois among cornfields.

Saguaro Cactus

Each saguaro cactus is unique and appears to have a personality of its own.  It took me weeks of living amongst these beauties before I was even able to pronounce the name saguaro correctlyโ€ฆ. pronounced:  sa-wha-ro.

Saguaro CactusThe saguaro cactus is a large, tree-sized cactus which can grow as tall as 70 feet (20 meters), and is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, some parts of southern California, and northern Mexico.

Saguaros have a relatively long life span, averaging 150-175 years of age with some living as long as 200 years.  (Hmm, makes me feel like I’m a tiny spring chicken in comparison ๐Ÿ˜€) It can take 50 to 70 years just for a saguaro to develop a side arm. Arms are grown to increase the plantโ€™s reproductive capacity โ€ฆ more arms lead to more flowers and fruit.

flowering saguaro cactus

Saguaros are very slow-growing and may only grow an inch or two during its first eight years.  The growth rate is determined by climate, precipitation, and location.

This army of cacti seem to have their own personality; some cute, some not, some look like proud soldiers, some like cartoon characters, and others look tired, twisted, and weathered, but no two are identical. Oh and by the way, the plural is either cacti OR cactuses – either is considered acceptable.


AND then there is the rare crested saguaro.  Why are some crested?  Saguaros rarely grow symmetrically and often grow in odd or mis-shapen forms.

crested saguaro cactusBut on rare occasion, the growing tip produces a fan like form which is referred to as a crested or cristate saguaro.

Biologists disagree about why some saguaros grow in this unusual form.  Some thoughts; genetic mutation, lightning strike, freeze damage, but no one knows for sure why the unusual growth occurs.

Fascinating to say the least for whatever reason!

crested saguaro cactus

crested saguaro cactus


89 thoughts on “Southwest Chicken Soup and the Saguaro Cactus

  1. Pingback: Timing, RVing and Chocolate | Live Laugh RV

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  3. Wonderful shots and great post, Ingrid. The saguaros are fascinating! The photo showing all its lines and the one with the Flicker (I think) feeding on the flower are gorgeous. Happy New Year!

    • It’s my go to soup especially if it’s cold out. Due to lack of precipitation this year in the desert, the cacti are looking a little sad. I’m not expecting a very good showing of blooms this spring.

  4. Thank you so much for not only your amazing information on the Siguara cactus, but also the correct pronunciation. I too thought they were a fictional addition to cartoons and old time westerns. Your soup didnโ€™t look half bad either, but perhaps not for us in the Southern Hemisphere just at the moment. Have a happy and safe silly season Ingrid, and I hope 2018 is kind to you.

    • Thanks Chris. The soup is perfect these days as the desert does get quite chilly once the sun goes down (30-40 degrees Fahrenheit overnight). Unfortunately, the desert hasn’t had much rain in the past several months and the cacti aren’t looking as robust as I’ve seen them in the past. I also don’t expect much in the way of wildflowers this spring. Oh well, things cycle and last spring was stunning. Hope you’re enjoying the warm weather and your garden is growing.

  5. Donโ€™t you love the saguaros and their intricacies? The desert is so neat- just, I can only take so much of it before I miss my mountains and big trees! Awesome capture you got of the top of that crested saguaro. ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿผโค๏ธ

  6. Soup looks delicious! I am with you. If the temp is under 70, I am freezing here in Florida! There is an old book on saguaro on eBay that is one of my favorites. You might want to take a peek for fun. It is called “can you hear the saguaros talking?”

    • It’s amazing what our bodies get used to. In the dry desert heat, I’m not bothered until the temps soar over 90. Then I’m ready for A/C. Thanks for the info on the book. I will definitely search it out.

    • We do enjoy our time in the desert, but am definitely missing our sojourn to the coast this winter. I’m relying on you for my fix – share lots of photos. Hope you enjoy the TX Gulf Coast as much as we do.

  7. I love the desert landscape as well. Those Saguaro cacti are amazing and oh so photogenic! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve never seen a crested one, though. The soup sounds and looks delicious. If we would be full-timers, we’d be in southern Arizona as well right now. That being said, while expensive, San Diego is not a bad place to be either…

    • I love San Diego even though it’s a tad on the expensive side. So, not a bad place to spend a few months. However, I do enjoy Arizona and its diversity and obviously less expensive than CA. The saguaro cactus is definitely the star around here.

  8. Nothing smells as good in the RV as home made soup in the crockpot. I will definitely be giving your recipe a try…soon! Our weather is perfect here for a warm bowl of yummy goodness.

    Oh how I do miss the Saguaro. Thanks so much for the beautiful pictures. We will be returning to Tucson in February…canโ€™t wait,

    • Those cold temps aren’t any fun in a RV. Hope the weather is back to normal soon. The beauty of RV living is being able to enjoy a lush landscape one month and then be camped in a desert the next month. Happy trails โ˜บ

  9. Brrrr….? Yes, I did tilt my head quizzically, lol. Beautiful photos, Ingrid! How very interesting on the saguaros, I am in awe on cacti resiliences. The crested saguaros is gorgeous, I love your close-up shot. I also love Southwest chicken soup, but have never made it, so it’s copied now for me, it’ll be perfect this coming week with our day temp highs hopefully reaching 40F degrees. Now that is Brrrrrr and we’re not liking it! Time for us to head south in a few weeks. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Compared to what you’re experiencing, we’re having a heat wave ๐Ÿ˜„ I’m sure you can’t wait to start your trek south. So many stunning and unique cactus around here …. love it … each more interesting than the next! Hope you enjoy the soup ๐Ÿต

  10. What a great post! Loved learning about the saguaro cactus! And the soup sounds divine – for our freezing cold we’re experiencing. We’ll have to try it!

      • My daughter and husband are in for a try with your soup. But my son in law said he’s “chickened” to death and wonders how it would be with beef broth and shredded beef. Hummm, just doesn’t sound too good to me but maybe???

  11. Great post! We do love our Saguaros! And I agree with you… the 70โ€™s here was quite chilly! And when it got down to the 40โ€™s we had our fireplace on!
    Save me a bowl of the soup please! Looks delightful! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • It was almost too cold to sit outside to watch the sunset … almost. Does require a little bundling up though and a bowl of hot soup always helps!

  12. What an educational blog post!! I leaned a lot about saguaros and also how to pronounce correctly!! I was a wee bit off!! I really love the crested saguaro!!
    Your recipe sounds delicious!! I am going to give it a try this week!! Thanks!!

    • You welcome! Now that we’ve spent a considerable amount of time in AZ over the past several years, it has become easy to pick out the tourists. They always pronounce the ‘g’ in saguaro, resulting in a slight chuckle from me. Hope you enjoy the soup ๐Ÿ˜Š

  13. Love your photos. Just got back from visiting my aunt in Mesa and the Superstition mountains are always such a beautiful site to see. I lived out in Apache Junction when I was a kid so it was right in our backyard, we practically lived at Canyon lake every weekend. I will always love the desert. Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures.

    • Haha … I was aiming for that. Obviously, it made you look. The prickly pear cactus is the one used for cooking. Some places around here actually serve ‘prickly pear ice cream’ ๐Ÿ˜ฒ I’ll stick to photographing the cacti and leave the eating to the javelinas!

  14. I love all cacti, especially the saguaro. I loved heading out to the desert on those rare occasions when we got a dusting of snow while I lived in the Phoenix area. Your soup recipe sounds yummy Ingrid. And your photos are always wonderful.

    • Thanks Lu and yes the desert is amazing after a heavy rainstorm or that rare dusting of snow. We were staying at Gilbert Ray CG in Tucson a few years ago when it snowed. What an amazing sight and I felt all the cacti were doing a happy dance as they swelled with moisture.
      While battling some health issues, this soup became my go to and I always keep a container in the freezer to have readily available. Since we’ve slowed our travels, I’m trying to focus on my health = cooking, nutrition, and exercising. I’ve started my New Years resolution early ๐Ÿ˜€

      • Good for you. I have never been good with New Year’s resolutions. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I try to focus on fitness especially while we are here since we have a gym available to us. I find that being on the road is not good for upper body strength. I always feel like I’m starting over again each time we arrive back at Jojoba.

        • It’s so nice to have a home base to go back to. I hear you on the upper body workout. Something I really need to work on. Any recommendations on achieving upper body strength are welcome ๐Ÿ˜

    • Thank you John. The photos in this post were taken with the FZ200, but in the previous post almost all the photos were taken with the new ZS70. I’m trying to shoot with it exclusively lately so I can learn its strengths and weaknesses. At the farmers market, I silenced the shutter and had fun snapping away.

  15. Oh you poor thing….barely hit 70 degrees. It barely hit 30 here in Canton, Ohio. It is 19 right now. Now that deserves a Brrrrrrr! LOL
    I love any army of cacti! We took a guided hike of the saguaro many years ago. They are so fascinating. You did a great job of hitting the nightlights.

    • Brrrr …. I don’t think I’d handle those temps well anymore but I do occasionally miss the beauty of a fresh coating of snow. The saguaro cactus is definitely the star of the desert southwest. I love it when they bloom, but seeing that requires hanging around Phoenix into May when temps are already reaching 100 ๐Ÿ˜Ž

  16. I would have to take off my Jacket or coat if it was that warm here in Ogden Utah. it was 21 deg F this morning when I got up. It is now 36 deg F Must be a heat wave. LoL! Have a great day and enjoy.

    • I know … I used to be quite comfortable with temps in the 60’s, but my blood has definitely thinned. I don’t even pop on our A/C until the thermometer exceeds 85-90. It’s amazing what we get used to.

    • Awe, thanks for the pat on the back. I needed that. I’m in the middle of a project and doubting my capabilities… I may be in over my head ๐Ÿ˜…

  17. Such fascinating cacti and I love the odd shapes. I didnโ€™t know about them plumping up like that! The soup looks delicious. Iโ€™ll be over shortly for a bowl. Well at least in my dreams.

    • The first time I saw the skeleton of a saguaro, it intrigued me to the point of doing a bunch of Googling. Fascinating plant and definitely the star of the desert southwest. Hope you enjoyed the soup ๐Ÿค“

  18. I really enjoyed this post, Ingrid, thanks so much. I liked hearing about the chill of the desert right now and the smell of the soup cooking, it looks and sounds delicious. The saguaro cactus overview was fascinating. I love saguaros, such curious and remarkable plants, but I have only visited them, not lived around them. That they plump up with the rain, have a ribbed skeleton, and take half a century to develop an arm is very interesting. The crested saguaro blew me away! How gorgeous it is. Your photos here are truly wonderful. The silhouette of the saguaro in the sunset, and the gilded flicker on the cactus flower are stunning photos.

    • Thank you Jet. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I love immersing myself in an area for a lengthy stay. It allows me to observe the landscape and how it changes. The majority of these photos were taken last season when the saguaros were plump with moisture. For the past several months, this part of AZ has received very little if any precipitation and the saguaros look like they’ve been on a diet. It’s fascinating to see the change.

  19. Yum! I make Southwest chicken soup with rotisserie chicken, too. It makes it so much more delicious! Sounds like the perfect thing to serve with your beautiful desert landscape and majestic saguaro as a backdrop. We’ve seen Gilded Flickers and Gila Woodpeckers in saguaro nest cavities, but I’m always hoping to see an Elf Owl! Your saguaro photos are beautiful.

    • Ooh, an Elf Owl ๐Ÿฆ‰ I’ll have to keep my eyes out for one … after I check Google ๐Ÿ˜„ It’s been so extremely dry around here this year, that I’m not seeing as many birds and the saguaros look like they’ve been dieting. Love the desert after a serious rain.

  20. Thanks, Ingrid, for this interesting article. I’ve learned a lot aout those intriguing plants. And thanks for the great pictures.
    Have a wonderful Sunday,

  21. The saguaro cactus has always fascinated me, too. Thanks to you I now know more about them. Your chicken soup sounds delicious! Although we live in the southeast we eat a lot of southwestern meals and I will add this recipe to my other crockpot recipes.

    • It’s interesting how those of us who have grown up far away from these cacti, find them so extremely fascinating. My son’s Phoenix native fiance doesn’t get my intrigue with them.
      And who doesn’t love the flavors of the southwest? Hope you enjoy the soup recipe. Let me know if you make it and your thoughts.

  22. Very interesting about the saguaro! I never realized how it efficiently survives in the desert and “gives back” to wildlife. Thank you for your excellent photos and story-telling ๐Ÿ™‚

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