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 ūüėĄ

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 ūüėÜ

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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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 Рwah Рro.

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)

Packrat

Saguaro Cactus
A saguaro cactus in bloom

As I stand in the garage preparing for a garage sale, I’m¬†feeling overwhelmed by the¬†amount of crap¬†stuff surrounding me.¬† I’ve never thought of myself as a packrat.¬† Nope, no hoarder here, but there’s plenty of stuff making for a nice sale.

Ever since our return from our winter RV¬†excursion to the desert southwest, we’ve cleared out¬†closets, emptied the basement, cleaned cabinets in the¬†kitchen, and are now organizing the garage all in preparation to put the house on the market.

Phoenix
Parked at our son’s house in Phoenix, Arizona

Two weeks ago we drove to our son’s home in Phoenix, Arizona,¬†for a long weekend.¬† We took a trailer load of furniture and¬†knick-knacks to give to our son¬†as well as some items to store in his garage.¬† It was so nice to¬†be greeted with¬†80 degree temperatures.¬† Bring out the shorts and flip-flops….yeah….happy dance!

I was also excited to see the desert in bloom.¬† I had never personally seen a Saguaro Cactus in bloom until this trip.¬† The vegetation in my son’s subdivision was alive with color.¬† The trees¬†were covered in¬†yellow¬†and blue blossoms, the prickly pear were adorned with velvety yellow blooms, and the ocotillos sported a feathery maroon blossom.¬† I couldn’t help but smile as I strolled the neighborhood.

The guys unloaded the trailer, and I had a blast playing decorator and designer.¬† I was back in my element, doing something I love.¬† Son had to calm me down from bringing out the paint supplies or sledge-hammer.¬† Since it’s his house and his nickel, the remodeling will begin on a much slower schedule than I’m used to.¬† Ah yes, no loss for a project next winter.

decorating
a little decorating at son’s house

Back to my house, my project, and the term packrat.¬† Until our winter stay in Arizona, I did not¬†know the¬†“real” meaning of packrat.¬† I always associated the term¬†with a person¬†who is a¬†hoarder.¬†¬†Packrats¬†are rodents who are interested in¬†nest-building.¬† They are nocturnal and will spend their nights scavenging for building materials.¬† They love the hunt for really cool things that can become part of their nest.¬† They particularly like shiny objects¬†and are drawn to the chrome on a vehicle.¬† Oh, and all those yummy wires and engine parts make for wonderful nest-building.

rope lightingDuring our stay at Cave Creek Regional Park, we noticed quite¬†a few RVer’s using rope lighting outside.¬† The rope lighting was laid on the ground underneath their rig.¬† Al and I were somewhat perplexed as to why.¬† Is this some new trend I’m unfamiliar with? On one of my evening strolls around the Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson, Arizona, I noticed all the camp hosts with lots of rope lighting.¬† One or two ropes under the RV and then another one or two under their vehicle.¬† On this same stroll, numerous truck hoods were¬†open or hoods were ajar with a flashlight turned on inside the engine compartment.

It was a cold night and few campers were out and about.¬†¬†I finally came across a gentleman who was in the process of propping his hood up.¬† “Excuse me sir.¬† What’s going on with all the hoods opened”?¬† He responds in a slight southern drawl, “Packrats, ma’am”.¬† In a questioning tone, I ask “Packrats?”¬† “Yes ma’am.¬† From what I hear, there’s packrats¬†round these here¬†parts.¬† There’s a full moon tonight and since packrats¬†like it nice and dark, we’re propping our hoods to let¬†the moonlight in.¬† Some folks use them there rope lights to ward off the packrats”.¬† As I wave goodbye, I say “Thank you, sir.¬† Have a good¬†evening”, and rush back to the rig¬†to share this info with hubby.

rope lighting
a camp host uses rope lighting under his truck to ward off packrats

That night we lay a couple of flashlights under the truck for safe measure and the next day we head to Lowe’s and purchase some rope lighting.

Next on our agenda, crawl under the RV and make sure there¬†aren’t any openings.¬† We already have a can of expanding foam ready to seal the slightest of openings.¬† No free loading mice or rats allowed in our rig.¬†¬† I guess this is all part of the adventure.

No packrat of ANY¬†kind allowed in¬†my home……..the purging shall continue!packrat

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…..all foreign to a young gal growing up in 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 correctly…. pronounced:  se’warou.

saguaro cactus
note the bicyclist on the trail between the saguaros – sense of scale

The saguaro is a large, tree-sized cactus which can grow as tall as 70 feet (20 meters).  It 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.   It can take 50 to 70 years for a saguaro to develop a side arm.  Arms are grown to increase the plant’s reproductive capacity…..more apices lead to more flowers and fruit.saguaro flower

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!

saguaro
Yeah…let’s party!

saguaroAt Cave Creek Regional Park, we hiked the Quartz Trail.¬† As we came up over a hill, I stopped in awe.¬† It was like a forest of saguaros.¬† I use the term ‚Äėlike‚Äô not as a valley girl but because I‚Äôm not sure if it‚Äôs correct to use the words forest and saguaro together.¬† All I can say‚Ķ.. I‚Äôd watched one too many Scooby Doo cartoons as a kid‚Ķ..zombie¬† saguaro apocalypse.¬† This army of cacti were watching us‚Ķ.making sure we stayed on the trail‚Ķ.each with its own 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

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 as to why some saguaros grow in this unusual form.  Some thoughts; genetic mutation, lightning strike, freeze damage.  Fascinating to say the least for whatever reason!

What are the holes in the saguaro?¬† Stay tuned…..

This was going to be the end of¬†the post……..BUT……..

I have more to share……….¬† We left Phoenix Tuesday and headed south to Tucson.¬† We settled into a nice campsite at¬†Gilbert¬†Ray Campground, just south of Saguaro National Park.¬† How fitting to do a post about saguaro cactus from Saguaro National Park!¬† We knew a storm was coming and we were prepared¬†with an RV full of food and fuel.¬† Wednesday around noon, just as predicted, the snow started falling.¬† SNOW in TUCSON???Gilbert Ray Campground

Oh, what a sight to behold.¬† The flakes were large and plentiful.¬† Al and I sat in our cozy warm RV drinking some nice hot tea and watched the scenery unfold.¬† This is rare for the area.¬† The Accenture¬†Golf Tournment was put on hold…..poor Tiger.Gilbert Ray CampgroundThere were times I could not help myself……I’d put on my winter boots and winter coat and run around taking photos.¬† Sure wish I had¬†packed my snow pants….I could have stayed out longer.¬† Oh well, this Colorado gal knows how to improvize…..two pairs of knit pants kept me warm and kind of dry.Tucson

The next day, the snowstorm was but a mere memory.¬† The cacti¬†were swollen and happy from all the moisture.¬† With clear skies and warm temps returning, we were¬†off to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum…..

Goodbye Cave Creek!

You know the saying, ‚Äúall good things must come to an end‚ÄĚ?  Our time in Arizona is nearing an end.  Tuesday we pulled out of Cave Creek Regional Park and headed south toward Tucson.  Our time at this regional park was most enjoyable and the fact that our son lives a short drive away added to the enjoyment.Cave Creek Regional Park

We not only say goodbye to Cave Creek, we say goodbye to our son.  Yes, watery eyes all around.  Although I was initially sad to leave Phoenix, excitement set in after thirty minutes of driving; excitement to explore a new destination, new surroundings, and new people.

 

As I look out the truck window, I think about how I spent Valentine‚Äôs Day.  It was a super fun day starting out with a ‚Äėgirl‚Äôs outing‚Äô.  Fellow blogger LuAnn and I went out for lunch, photography, and shopping.

 

LuAnn and I explored the little towns of Cave Creek and Carefree, located north of Phoenix, Arizona.  Cave Creek has more of a western, cowboy vibe while Carefree has a Spanish flare.  We quickly settle on a caf√© in Carefree and enjoy good food and even better company.

Carefree Arizona
Chocolate…..bring it on!

And what‚Äôs this‚Ķ.a chocolate and art festival?  Two ladies amongst an abundance of chocolate‚Ķ..outta the way!

 

With cameras in hand, these two bloggers snap away.  We need blog material after all.  The vendors are set up in an area that appears to be a town center of sorts; walkways, playground, lovely landscaping.  We meander among the vendors and admire the unique cacti and landscaping. 

That‚Äôs when LuAnn, somewhat excitedly, exclaims, ‚ÄúCrested Saguaro!‚ÄĚ  Forget the chocolate, a Crested Saguaro?  With exuberance we quickly snap away at this rare sight.  Ah yes, now I definitely must do a separate post on the amazing Saguaro Cactus.  Rare sight, indeed!

Saguaro
The rare Crested Saguaro

With a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and faces possessing huge smiles, we opt for some retail therapy and head to the outlet mall in Anthem.  Since one must be fashionably attired while hiking, we head straight to the Columbia store.  No purchases were made.  Perhaps Columbia just couldn‚Äôt top a wonderful lunch visiting, the sight of a Crested Saguaro, and a chocolate festival.

Anthem Outlet Mall
LuAnn shopping at the Columbia store at the outlet mall at Athem

Our day was over before we knew it.  Reluctantly, we say our goodbyes with the promise of meeting someday and somewhere down the road.  LuAnn and I return to our husbands with our chocolate purchases.  Come on, you didn‚Äôt think we‚Äôd walk away from a chocolate festival empty handed, now did you?

Just a reminder – to view any of the photo galleries in a larger format, simply click on a photo  ūüôā

Cave Creek
My RV and then LuAnn’s – we’re neighbors!

Back on the Trails

Cave CreekAl and I are finally feeling like ourselves again.  That nasty crud that went around seemed to linger with a cough and lack of energy.  That being said, it felt wonderful to get back out on the trails‚Ķ..hike more than thirty minutes that is. 

Cave Creek Regional Park has some great trails assessable from the campground or picnic area.  It‚Äôs Saturday morning and Al and I head out on the Clay Mine Trail.  We walk past the fenced off abandoned mine and continue up the steady incline toward the Overton Trail.  It‚Äôs a gorgeous, sunny Arizona morning.  Last night‚Äôs extreme winds have moved on leaving behind a light breeze‚Ķ……a very welcome breeze. Cave Creek

Shortly after passing the Clay Mine we pass a Park Ranger walking in the opposite direction.  I comment, ‚ÄúBeautiful morning‚ÄĚ.  He responds with arms spread upward, ‚ÄúYou like my office?  Sometimes I can‚Äôt believe I get paid to do this‚ÄĚ.  Sounds like the dude really likes his job!   He continues, ‚ÄúHey, I‚Äôll be opening the mine and giving tours, if you‚Äôre interested‚ÄĚ.  ‚ÄúMost definitely.  We‚Äôll catch you on our return‚ÄĚ, I respond. 

Al and I continue on our journey taking in the desert beauty.  Each Saguaro Cactus is original and unique.  Some of the Barrel Cactus sport the most amazing red thorns.  Hmmm‚Ķ.perhaps a separate post on cacti is in order ūüėČ   As I continue to click away, hubby chuckles and says, ‚ÄúAre you sure you have enough photos of cactus?  You might want to take a few more‚ÄĚ.  Yes, I detect his sarcasm, but each Saguaro Cactus seems to have its own personality. 

We complete the Overton Trail and pick up the Clay Mine Trail which will return us to the campground.  The fenced entranced to the mine is open.  A large storage container sits at the entrance.  Al and I reach inside and grab a hard hat before proceeding into the mine.  With hard hats on, we bend over walking through a narrow tunnel.  It isn‚Äôt long before we‚Äôre able to stand up in a carved out room and greeted by the Park Ranger. Cave Creek

The Ranger reiterates the story posted on a sign at the entrance of the mine.  He has a binder filled with copies of newspaper ads from the 1800‚Äôs.  Various elixirs and ointments were made from the chalky like substance extracted from the mine.  Most products were a mere ‚Äúsnake oil‚ÄĚ.  However, one product was marketed primarily as a medicine to help with dysentery, similar to today‚Äôs Kaopectate.

 

Although this mine was closed many years ago, the mineral Kaolinite is still mined and used in many products currently available on the market such as soaps and cosmetic products.Kaolinite Mine

This was a fun little tidbit to end the mornings hike.  It‚Äôs back to camp for lunch and a shower.Cave Creek