The Southwest’s Main Attraction

When I envision a desert, thoughts of dull, boring, remote, dry, hot, and maybe even dangerous come to mind. At least that was the image that came to my mind years ago, and I think most people would have similar thoughts. But when we look closer, we’ll find the desert to be anything but boring … it’s still hot and dry, but not boring or dull 😄

Lake Pleasant Phoenix Arizona

Lake Pleasant, northwest of Phoenix, Arizona

A little desert knowledge

Did you know deserts cover about 20% of the Earth? Deserts are characterized by extreme environmental conditions with little precipitation. Yet with minimal rainfall, they are able to inhabit plant and animal life. I’m totally enamored with deserts, especially the Sonoran Desert. Deserts are a fascinating ecosystem, but not all deserts are created equally.There are four types of deserts;

  • hot and dry (Arizona’s Sonoran Desert)
  • semi-arid (America’s Great Basin)
  • coastal (Atacama Desert in Chile)
  • cold (Greenland)

The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is real

As a child growing up in the Midwest among lush green vegetation, I never had any aspirations of living in a desert. As a matter of fact, I thought those images of red rock bluffs, three-armed cactus, and ever abundant tumbleweed were a fabrication of cartoonists. I remember watching the cartoon “The Road Runner” which took place in America’s southwest. Ah, poor Wile!

coyote

The thought of art imitating life wasn’t something I had considered. The scenery, vegetation, and animals drawn in the cartoon seemed surreal to me, but real they are. However real the landscape and animals, the cartoon itself was filled with a lot of imagination and fabrication making it ridiculously funny. Wile E. Coyote uses absurdly complex contraptions to try to catch the Road Runner, which always “backfire” resulting in an injured coyote. Many of the items for these contrivances are mail-ordered from a company named Acme Corporation. Hmm, I wonder if Jeff Bezos got his business idea for Amazon from the Acme Corporation 😆

a road runner on a boulder in Arizona

Road Runner in Arizona: beep, beep!

You can image my excitement when I saw my first ‘real’ road runner, not to mention laying eyes on the strange yet beautiful landscape of the desert southwest. And the night-time howling of a coyote always brings a smile to my face. Yeah, living in the desert is never dull or boring.

image of the Sonoran Desert with hot air balloons in the sky

The star of the Sonoran Desert

Although there are so many things that make a desert special, the real star and main attraction of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is the saguaro cactus.  It took me weeks of living among these beauties before I was even able to pronounce the name saguaro correctly – pronounced: sa-wha-ro.

saguaro cactus with interesting cloudsEach saguaro cactus is unique and appears to have a personality of its own.  The Sonoran Desert’s bi-seasonal rainfall pattern results in more plant species than any other desert in the world, and it’s the only place in the world where you’ll see saguaro cactus growing naturally.

The saguaro is a large, tree-sized cactus which can grow as tall as 70 feet (20 meters) and is native to the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaros have a relatively long life span, averaging 150-175 years of age with some living as long as 200 years.   It can take 50 to 70 years just for a saguaro to develop a side arm.  Arms are grown to increase the plant’s reproductive capacity … more arms lead to more flowers and fruit.

Saguaros are very slow-growing and may only grow an inch or two its first eight years.  The growth rate is determined by climate, precipitation, and location.  Whenever it rains, saguaros soak up the rainwater and the cactus will visibly expand.  This might explain why the desert feels so alive after a rainfall.  The cacti are doing a happy dance!

Every saguaro cactus seems to have its own individual personality; some cute, some not, some look like proud soldiers, some like a cartoon character, and others look tired, twisted, and weathered, but no two identical.saguaro

A crested saguaro

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.  The growing tip on rare occasion produces a fan like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.  Biologists disagree about why some saguaro grow in this unusual form.  Some thoughts; genetic mutation, lightning strike, freeze damage.  Fascinating to say the least for whatever reason!

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67 thoughts on “The Southwest’s Main Attraction

  1. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!

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  2. Great info about the Sahuaro’s! Now, i don’t have to look it up. Around the Tucson area, they seem “younger” near where we are camping. Not as many arms. We are definitely going to go to the park.

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    • This has been a rough winter. So, you probably picked a good year to stay home. But the wildflowers are starting to pop now making the desert feel alive. Love this time of year around here!

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  3. I love cactus. We drove down to Organ Pipe National Monument from Aho and were very disappointed that only one loop was open due to illegal drug trafficking . It was deemed too dangerous. FYI, they did have a dry campground for $10 a night at that time…worth looking into. Enjoy the warmth…and the little bit of snow! If you ever go farther South, the town of Ajo is lovely, and the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge is amazing..but you need 4 wheel drive!!

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    • My mom loved Organ Pipe NM. Haven’t made it there yet but will eventually. We seem to be sitting in one spot these days. Thanks for the tip on the Wildlife Refuge. I’ll need to keep that one in mind.

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  4. Ingrid, Hi there, hope this finds you well. I am still in florida and will be for the next month of March. I will be heading for Texas the month of April. I was wondering any helpful hints you can give me for camping along the coast or any places you think I would enjoy staying at? Any ideas will be helpful. I really want to go to Waco because of Chip and Joanne but not sure if I want to go up into Texas that far when I am traveling the coast? Also I am headed for Arizona and also need any ideas and would love to see you guys. I will be headed around Cornville which they are close to Sedona and just south of Flagstaff? Let me know what and when you will be there. I have to be in Colorado by the middle of May. Thanks Merry Sue

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

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    • Hey there Merry Sue. I would love to connect and catch up. We will be in Phoenix until the end of April and then move up to Prescott for May. June we’re moving on to Colorado. So I think we’ll be able to meet up somewhere. I’ll shoot you an email on some Texas ideas. Talk soon!

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  5. I certainly grew my appreciation of the desert on our visit to Phoenix and beyond, Ingrid. Loved our hike and looks like we both collected stunning images of the saguaros! There was something on the news a few days ago warning people not to try to steal cacti of any kind as you know, many are protected. Imagine someone trying to haul away a six ton saguaro! Major cold storm landed on us in California today, you all may get some more rain and snow soon!

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    • This has been a challenging winter everywhere. I think it is finally starting to warm up around here to normal weather. It’s about time, and I’m finally getting out hiking. The desert is happy these days.

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  6. I’m so looking forward to these scenes again! Your photos are stunning, Ingrid! Especially the wildlife ones and, my favorite, the sunset (or is it sunrise?) with the saguaros. That should be a desktop background! And your “spottings” are great as well. I’ve never seen a crested saguaro.

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  7. The crested saquato is fascinating! 😍 Funny you choose that word, as horticulturally, we refer to this type of growth as a ‘fascination’. It does happen in many plants and for many reasons. In willow, it’s caused by a tiny insect. 🤓

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  8. You already know how much I love the desert here in amAZing Arizona. And our saguaros are our treasures. Truth be told it took me forever how to learn the correct pronunciation! Nice post my friend!

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  9. Great post. Beautiful images. Like you we have come to love the desert after living in much different Florida all our lives. Thanks for sharing all your research on the Sonora.

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    • I know the desert isn’t always embraced by folks visiting from back east. In some cases, it’s an acquired taste. On the flip side, when we spend so much time among this landscape, we long for lush vegetation. With that said, we’ll probably head to the Midwest this summer to visit family and immerse ourselves in ferns, trees, lakes, and mosquitos 😆 and then long to return to the desert.

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    • I just spent the last two days meeting up with fellow bloggers and exploring the east side of the valley. It was stunning especially seeing Four Peaks and the Superstitions coated with snow. What a special treat!

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  10. I had the exact same feelings when we moved to Arizona from the Midwest….the desert drew me in & I felt like I was home. We loved its diverse beauty. One of my favorite places to hike is Spur Cross….rumor has it that perhaps the oldest living Saguaro in AZ lives on the Metate trail. I’ve never seen one with so many arms! Awesome pics! See ya in April!

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