One of a Kind Sights in Arizona

One of a Kind Sights in 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.

A Season of Blooms

We arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, just in time to watch the desert come alive.  I don’t think there’s a better time to visit the Valley of the Sun, aka Phoenix, than in late winter, early spring when the desert is dressed in all her finery.Superstition Mountain

What I would refer to as spring around here, begins a little earlier in the desert southwest than in other parts of the country.  Having lived in places like northern Illinois and southern Colorado, I would never refer to February as spring, but around flowering desertthe Phoenix valley, signs of spring are visible everywhere by mid February.

Trails and roads are usually lined with clusters of yellow flowers, courtesy of the brittlebush.

Flowers equal spring in my book and thus the season for blooms…. blooms of all shapes, sizes, and colors.  While I hit the hiking trails, I allow my eyes to look and discover the finer details of the blooming desert…. the little things.  I’m rarely disappointed.

After taking in the vast landscape, I narrow my focus discovering the little details
After taking in the vast landscape, I narrow my focus and discover little hidden surprises

desert flowers

Prickly pearAmongst the sharp cactus thorns grow delicate flowers.  The variety of foliage is an interesting collaboration of opposites; small, fine, delicate plants grow in harmony with large, hearty, thorned cacti.

Not wanting to be outdone by the other plants, the cacti produce their own flowers providing a profusion of colorful blooms dotting the landscape.

As many times as I’ve witnessed the extraordinary beauty of the desert, her extremes continue to amaze me.cactus

It’s not just the flora that’s intriguing…. it’s also the birds and animals that survive in this harsh land of extremes that are fascinating to observe.  Watching the relationship between flora and fauna in the Sonoran Desert during the blooming season is like watching a fine ballet …. beauty and drama are in abundance.

silhouette of an ocotillo cactus, but let's take a closer look at the bush lower right...
silhouette of an ocotillo cactus…. let’s take a closer look at the bush in the foreground…
I love the small delicate blooms
I love the small delicate blooms on this bush

The ocotillo cactus is one of my favorites. The leaves and flowers seem soft and delicate yet the thorns and sturdy bark make it one strong desert survivor. The ocotillo provides an excellent perch for birds and the orange flowers are very distinct.ocotilloocotillo







I truly enjoy this time of year in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.  I’ll be spending the next six weeks immersing myself in her gorgeous and abundant flora.  In closing, I leave you with a photo of a Fairy Duster.Fairy Duster

BTW… most of the photos in this post were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 12.1 MP Digital Camera with CMOS Sensor and 24x Optical Zoom – BlackSince it’s no longer in production, the price has been severely reduced.  So much so, I bought a back-up 🙂

A Labor of Love

saguaro flowersSometimes I just don’t know where the time goes. The month of April and beginning of May whizzed by as hubby and I managed to stay incredibly busy.  So what exactly kept us so busy?

The major project was helping our son with some remodeling and updating on his home.  Logan bought his house at the perfect time.  Four years ago the housing market in Phoenix, Arizona, had bottomed out and with the help of his mom (moi) he found an awesome deal.  However, the house had been vacant a year and a half and was in dire need of some attention and TLC.

Upon initial move in, the house was given a good scrubbing and a little painting.  The rest would need to wait until Logan could rebuild his savings.  In our opinion, a young person purchasing their first property in their early twenties is quite an accomplishment, especially when you consider our son had absolutely NO financial help from us or anyone else.  Hubby and I merely provided support and housing knowledge.

The finished living room. The only things purchased new – carpet, wall clock, curtain rod
shopping at IKEA is always fun

This visit, Al and I had a ton of fun spending our son’s money during this remodel phase.  We laughed as we watched Logan stress out throughout the entire process.  Is this what’s known as ‘pay back’?

Our son is rather frugal and hates spending money.  Of course, I had a great time shopping with his credit card and going over budget.  Even Al (who is not a shopper) had a fun time at IKEA and the many visits to either Home Depot or Lowe’s.  We hadn’t realized there was part of us that kind of missed the housing industry.  So much so, that Al and I jumped into remodel mode and took over.  We felt this was perfect timing to educate the son on how to remodel.  However in the middle of the project, Logan got very sick followed by an allergic reaction to some medication.  That meant Al and I needed to step into overdrive.  Besides, it was just a matter of time before the open road would be calling and those RV wheels would start moving.  So the project needed to get done asap.

No complaints from us, as Al and I were in our element and having a grand time.  This was a labor of love after all and nothing our son expected.  As a matter of fact, he felt guilty not being well enough to contribute.  Not a problem, he was after all supplying the funds and allowing his mommy to go shopping 🙂

Even though Logan spent more (well actually, I did the spending!) on the updates than originally budgeted, he couldn’t stop smiling by the time it was all said and done.  Although he grew up around new construction and fix and flips, it was never his ultimate responsibility or his nickel until now.  According to him, “All the stress was worth it in the end”.

Hmm, how many people does it take to change a light fixture?  Obviously three!

Logan steady’s the ladder while Al climbs to the top of the ladder and plays electrician. I’m on the plant ledge as an extra set of hands.  Team work at it’s best!  Oh, and do note, the wall color is a lovely, creamy beige that took on a funny tint in the photos… grrrr.  I’ll have a word with the photographer about that 😉

remodelingConsidering we were working on a rather tight budget, I think the improvements turned out nice.

So what all was done?  The majority of the interior was painted by professionals and supervised by hubby and me.  All the carpet was replaced.  The new carpet was purchased and installed by Lowe’s. BTW – We had a great experience dealing with the Scottsdale Lowe’s (Kevin at the Scottsdale Rd – Frank Lloyd Wright Rd location).

Logan and a couple of buddies moved out all the furniture and later replaced (we do draw the line at heavy lifting).  Al and I removed and disposed of the old carpet and pad.  I purchased and hubby installed EVERY light fixture inside and outside.  I did some yard work;  trimming plants

Logan has a pomegranate tree in his backyard

and adding pots.  I painted bathroom vanity cabinets and Al installed hardware.  Once the new carpet was installed, I went into decorator mode to pull it all together.  I still have some things upstairs to tend to that I’ll address in the fall on our return to Phoenix.

We organized the garage (considering more than half the stuff in there is ours, it was the least we could do).  There were a bunch more odds and ends that we did just not worth mentioning but also time-consuming.

If I had my druthers and a larger budget, the word “gut” would have been used.  My son cringes with fear as he envisions his savings account deplete whenever I say I can’t wait to “gut” your kitchen or let’s “gut” that bathroom.  “Take it down a notch, mom, take it down”, would be his response.  I was also dying to replace all the furniture and have the exterior painted, but a young, straight guy in his twenties doesn’t much care about décor as long as he has a comfy place to crash in front of a big screen TV, he’s a happy camper.  So take it down I did… darn those budgets 😦

my son, Logan, and Me.

saguaro flowersWe bid farewell to our son in Phoenix and the beautiful blooming saguaros last week.  Not without lots of hugs, kisses, thanks, and enjoying more than one celebration which included plenty of cheesecake.

During our time in Phoenix, we celebrated Al’s birthday, Logan’s birthday, and Mother’s Day repeatedly.  Come on, after all that hard work, a little play was needed.

And speaking of play, I can’t forget to mention my blogging pals.  By hanging around Phoenix as long as we did, that offered me the opportunity to meet up with a couple of blogging gal pals.

Anne from the blog Vannilla and I finally managed to arrange a meet up.  What a treat to finally meet and after a 3 hour lunch we parted ways with the promise to touch base again in the fall.

Vannilla Rock
Anne and me at Kierlands Commons in Scottsdale, AZ
Nancy and me

Nancy and I spent free admittance day at the Botanical Garden having way too much fun snapping away with our cameras.

And then I always have to meet my blogging friend Amy when we can find time in our busy schedules.  Amy was the first blogger I met face to face.  That was almost 3 years ago.

The remodeling and socializing kept us busy enough, but we filled our schedule with even more……  I’ll share that in the next post.horticulture

Flea Market Fabulous: Designing Gorgeous Rooms with Vintage Treasures
Find It, Fix It, Flip It!: Make Millions in Real Estate–One House at a Time

A prickly friend

I find the Saguaro Cactus intriguing.   As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I thought this multi-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….. all foreign to a young gal growing up in Illinois among cornfields.intricate patterns

Phoenix ArizonaEach saguaro cactus is unique.  The ribs and needles appear to form an intricate and complex pattern.  It took me weeks of living amongst these beauties before I was even able to pronounce the name saguaro correctly…. pronounced:  sah – wah – ro.

The saguaro is a large, tree-sized cactus which can grow as tall as 70 feet (20 meters).   They grace the landscape in all directions in Arizona’s 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 Phoenix Arizona70 years for a saguaro to develop a side arm.

Saguaros are very slow growing and may only grow an inch or two its first eight years.  Whenever it rains, saguaros soak up the rainwater and the cactus’ ribs will visibly expand.  This might explain why the desert feels so alive after a rainfall.

Hubby and I have been hanging around Arizona’s Phoenix valley since the third week in February and have enjoyed watching the desert bloom.

One of the reasons we’ve prolonged our stay in Phoenix was for me to see the saguaro bloom.

The saguaros are late bloomers and most don’t start until sometime in May.  However, they seem to start a little earlier at the Desert Botanical Garden, which of course I found rather exciting.  Guess it doesn’t take much to entertain me these days.

Gila Woodpecker
the saguaro provides a home for a Gila Woodpecker.

With temperatures hovering in the nineties in Phoenix, Arizona, the saguaro are now starting to bloom in the wild.  Most of the other cacti and vegetation are no longer blooming, but I have the fondest memories of the desert in bloom just a few weeks ago.

intricate patterns
Cacti provide intricate and complex patterns

Phoenix Arizona

saguaro skeleton
the skeleton of a saguaro cactus

We’ll hang around Phoenix a few more days, then pack up and start our journey toward Colorado in search of cooler temperatures.

Phoenix Arizona
“bye, my beloved prickly friend”

This post is in participation with the WordPress photo challengeintricate.  The needles on a cactus provide a complex, detailed, elaborate, and intricate maze.  Fascinating plants that are particularly beautiful in the spring.

crested saguaro
the rare crested saguaro

Phoenix Arizona

A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum)
Joby GP1-A1EN Gorillapod Flexible Tripod (Grey)

Dale Chihuly in Denver

As I continued to do more and more research on things to see and do in Denver, Colorado, I came across the Denver Botanic Garden  website and realized they were featuring a Chihuly exhibit.Chihully in Denver

You can’t imagine how excited I became upon this discovery.  When we were in Phoenix this past winter, I had every intention of visiting the Chihuly exhibit at the Phoenix Botanical Gardens.  However, my body due to illness had other plans and thus I had to forgo the exhibition.Denver Botanic GardenSo here I am, months later sitting in Denver, and I get to see first hand this gifted artists’ creations. Chihuly blown glass

I was shocked by how many pieces of blown glass were strategically placed throughout the gardens.  The Denver Botanic Garden in and of itself is worth a visit and then add to it the Chihuly blown glass exhibit and this becomes a must see.Chihuly blown glass

Ah, but to entice you further….. the first Monday of the month is free admittance day to the Denver Botanic Garden.  Chihuly, flowers, and free?   Yes, I was one happy camper 🙂Denver Botanic Garden

It’s obvious to me that Mr. Chihuly modeled the below glass sculptures after me and my curly hair.  Amazing likeness!Chihully in Denver Colorado

Chihully in Denver ColoradoI enjoyed myself so much that I may need to revisit and won’t even mind paying an admittance fee….. it is most definitely worth and bees

I leave you with a few more photos of my day.  You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many photos….. eh!Denver Botanic GardenDenver Botanic GardenChihuly glass blowing
Denver Botanic Garden
gardening and art in Denver Colorado
Denver Botanic Garden

Chihuly 2015 Wall Calendar
gc_183444_2 Florene – Decorative II – print of famous chihuly glass art in red – Greeting Cards-12 Greeting Cards with envelopes