One of a Kind Sights in Arizona

A creek running through the Sonoran Desert at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek Arizona

While resting on a large boulder, I try to quiet my mind and take in my surroundings. I’m on one of my morning nature hikes. The sounds of birds chirping, water trickling in a babbling creek mere steps from my feet, and the sun warming my body remind me why I enjoy wintering in Phoenix, Arizona.

It’s January and there are no harsh snowstorms for me to worry about. The occasional rainstorm accompanied by high winds is about as bad as it gets. Sure, the temps on rare occasion may drop into the 30 degrees Fahrenheit range (-1 celsius) for an overnight low, but those nights are few and far between. Even then, the days will warm up into the 50s and 60s … perfect for me to lace up my hiking shoes and hit the trails.

America’s fifth-most-populated city is home to red-rock buttes, beautiful scenery, and the kind of cactus most people see only in cartoons. I don’t know about you, but when I used to envision a desert, thoughts of dull, boring, remote, dry, hot, and maybe even dangerous came to my mind. Boy, was I wrong! The Sonoran Desert is anything but boring … it’s still hot and dry, but never boring, dull, or unattractive.

Saguaro Cactus and a lake reflection at sunset at Lake Pleasant Phoenix Arizona
Lake Pleasant, northwest of Phoenix, Arizona

A few desert facts.

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 here in Arizona. 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 E. Coyote!

a wild coyote walking through the neighborhood

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. You can imagine 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 can be exciting.

a wild road runner on a boulder in Arizona
Road Runner in Arizona: beep, beep!

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

The star of Arizona

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 clouds Phoenix ArizonaEach 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 that 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 one 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 in 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.a forest of saguaro cactus, Tonto National Forest, ArizonaWhat is a Crested Saguaro?

Why are some cactus crested?  Saguaros rarely grow symmetrically and often grow in odd or mis-shapen forms.  The growing tip on rare occasions 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, or freeze damage.  For whatever reason, their pattern growth is fascinating.

71 thoughts on “One of a Kind Sights in Arizona

  1. Hi Ingrid,
    Your post has given us lots to think about and see when we are snowbirding in our TT next year. We were thinking of having our base be further south to catch warmer weather. How has it been by Phoenix? Where are you staying?

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    1. We have a year-round lot at the Pioneer RV Park at the far north end of Phoenix near the town of Anthem. It is definitely warmer in Yuma during the peak of winter (Dec/Jan) but now we’re enjoying sunny skies and 70’s with occasional short cold fronts blowing through. Remember to keep elevation in mind – Tucson is colder than Phoenix usually. City of Rocks SP in New Mexico is worth an overnight! Feel free to email me with any travel questions. We’ve traveled between Phoenix and Corpus Christi a bunch.

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  2. Lovely! You should’ve seen me pronouncing “saguaro” 🤦🏼‍♀️😂 I felt like a toddler saying “wah wah…water” or something. I’m intrigued after my years of traveling West. I want to come see this area you so beautifully described!

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  3. Really great descriptions, Ingrid! I feel as if I am there with you, and unfortunately I am not. A lot cooler, wet and some snow where we live. You made me smile when I read about the cactus most people see in cartoons. Exacting what I thought. Your photos are absolutely stunning! New desert facts for me. You captured a great photo of the coyote and the road runner.

    I learned a great deal from your post, Ingrid. Thank you for transporting me into another part of our continent.🙂

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    1. Thank Erica. I’ve enjoyed learning and discovering all these interesting tidbits about the Arizona desert. It’s such a different landscape from where I grew up. Glad I could share a little bit about my winter backyard.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That was a fun day hiking and sharing one of my favorite places with you. Great place for two cyber friends to connect face to face … and you only huffed and puffed a little. No need for drama 🤣🤣🤣🌵

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  4. If you ever get the chance , visit Aho and go to the Cabeza Prieta NWR and drive into Charlie Bell Pass there..This link might not work….
    https://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=1445
    You have to get permission at the visitor center …and it requires a full day to drive in and hike down into Charlie Bell Pass. It is 12 miles in and took us 4 hours to drive in, hike down to the windmill, and come out. There are some amazing rocks with Indian paintings on them down there..But be aware, it’s not a place to go alone…Take Al and don’t fall..there is no cell phone service. You have to tell them when you go in….and when you come out…Aho, the town is adorable too…there is an old copper mine there.

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    1. My parents loved visiting Aho. Since getting a year-round RV site here in Phoenix, we’ve really slowed down on our travels. Thus, I’m not sure we’ll make it south of Phoenix anytime soon. BUT we WILL be back in Hayward this summer and am all ears for more WI tidbits! ☺

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  5. I love, love the desert, and Arizona. As a young (and still) Virginian, I grew up with Arizona Highways magazine. Beautiful magazine! As a homeschooling mother, I read over and over Cactus Hotel, by Brenda Z. Guiberson. A most delightful, informative book on the saguaro cacti. As a visitor, with my husband on a business trip many moons ago, we visited and walked all around those gorgeous ‘hotels’. A dream come true (of many) for moi! 🙂 I would invite you to read about another ‘dream come true’ for me—Duke. My current blog at: bluerockhorses.com 🙂 Happy Trails!

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    1. Love AZ Highways magazine and it’s always exciting for me to see images in the mag of places and spots that I’ve actually been to. I have failed in trying to recreate some of those photographs, but I sure had fun trying!

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    1. Awe, thank you Mary. Yes, the older saguaros are huge. Hmm, it might be time for me to capture some images of me standing next to some of these magnificent giants … some of which are nearly 200 years old 🌵

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  6. Living at the foot of the San Tan Mountains here in Arizona is quite a change for a Missouri girl. We have a crested saguaro on one of the San Tan Regional Park trails, which is part of the Maricopa County Regional Park system. I am glad you have been able to enjoy the beauty of the desert–it changes almost weekly as the weather gets warmer. I was surprised to see so many flowers in the desert.

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    1. Totally agree about the desert changing almost weekly. That’s part of the reason we stay in the valley until mid-May. I love seeing the desert come alive with blooms which will start next month and then end with the saguaros in May. I love the Maricopa County Reg Parks!

      As Midwesterners, the desert can take some getting used to, and when we really need a change in vegetation, my husband and I hit the road in the RV. We’ll return to northern Wisconsin this summer and get in plenty of trees, humidity, and bugs. Hmm, that doesn’t sound so appealing after all 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for the correct pronunciation of the saguaro and the fascinating insight into them. I love seeing what nature can produce out of so very little. Those yellow flowers are just gorgeous.

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    1. I absolutely love the desert during the spring when she comes alive with blooms. We’ve received a fair amount of rain this winter. So, I have high hopes for a healthy dose of spring wildflowers! Which, I will, of course, need to share😀📷

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  8. Hi, Ingrid,
    As you know, our experience in the Arizona Desert was an unforgettable one. Love the cactus, the birds, and the sunsets. Your Superstition Mountain picture brings back some great memories. Thanks! Joe

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  9. How we love our desert! And if it wasn’t for you… some of these places would never have been in my Book of Faves!

    Enjoyed seeing that Howling Coyote… I need to see that with you one day! Lol!

    Thanks for coming the other night along with Al! Good time was had by ALL!

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    1. I have no doubt you would’ve eventually discovered some of these places on your own. I just made it a little quicker for you. That Howling Coyote sundial is at the Superstitions on the Interpretive Trail at Lost Dutchman SP. Unfortunately, you missed that hike with Teri last spring. Next time!

      And thank you for including us in your get together. Always a fun time!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Your photos make me feel like I am there in the desert with you. I love the one of the saguaro with the desert sky. Thanks for all these interesting facts about the saguaros and for transporting me to the desert this morning.

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    1. You welcome Beth. Glad I could bring you to the desert southwest and share a few facts. I find those saguaro cacti fascinating and never tire of seeing them. Oh, and the skies around here are some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. Probably due to the lack of humidity, the colors are vibrant.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I have been so blessed to have hiked with you along some of these trails, Ingrid! Love the facts and info in the article and of course your images are absolutely stunning. I had no idea Phoenix had such a large population since everything is so spread out. So many areas where there is solitude to be found and experienced.

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    1. It was my pleasure sharing this unique scenery with you. The Phoenix valley is indeed spread out and offers so many beautiful parks. I know it came as a pleasant surprise to me the more time we spent here and the more we explored. If I get bored, it’s my own fault 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is my third time trying to post a comment. Am using a different approach this time. Sent you an email also but this was great. Loved the pictures and info.

    Darla

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    1. Thank you Darla. I’m sorry you had trouble posting a comment. Sometimes your comment won’t show up right away because I need to first approve it. Although, this morning, I noticed my site freeze up a couple of times. Ah, technology!
      Hope you guys are staying warm. Denver has certainly had some nasty winter storms.

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  13. Fantastic photos Ingrid. You got Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner. Perfect. I also like the howling coyote in at the Superstition Mountains.

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  14. The desert quickly turned into a favorite of ours after our first visit here in the 90’s. Spur Cross still remains one of our favorite places to hike and our most beautiful office ever. The saguaros have always reminded me of soldiers marching when on a hillside.

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    1. I’m with you … Spur Cross is one of my favorites and it’s all thanks to you for introducing me to this beautiful spot in the desert. We’ll need to get in a hike over there before you leave town.

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