Saturday, April 20, 2019

Sonoran Desert

 I haven't spent much time in the Sonoran Desert, so when I had an opportunity to visit recently, I was very excited. The Sonoran Desert is home to the iconic saguaro cactus and over 2,000 species of plants.

The Sonoran Desert includes the state of Sonora in Mexico plus part of Baja California, as well as a tiny bit of southern California and a fair portion of southern Arizona.

Tucson, Arizona is a great place to see saguaro cacti. My friend Sarah asked if I would help teach a cave rescue class one evening while I was there, and I happily agreed. My eyes bugged out as we approached the training facility: the hillsides were covered with saguaro.

The class went well.

It was for the Southern Arizona Rescue Association. I like that they have saguaro on their logo. And I just had to snap a photo with the juxtaposition of a skeleton and "save lives" in the same frame.

I woke up early my last day, and before I went to the airport, I went to Saguaro National Park. They have a west unit and an east unit. I entered the east unit at opening time, 7 am.

I was promptly wowed by the expanse of beautiful flowers, tall cacti, and shrubby trees.

I quickly learned that there used to be a lot more cacti in this area, but due to prolonged freezing temperatures many years ago, the cactus forest had shrunk. This particular cacti looked a little worse for the wear.

There's so much I have to learn about saguaro biology!

For this trip, my goal was just to enjoy the company of saguaros and the surrounding vegetation. A network of trails makes it easy to do that.

I learned that many saguaro grow next to nurse trees, which protect them from wind and heat and help them get extra nutrients. Palo verde is one of the most common trees.

Saguaro cacti aren't the only cacti around here. Here is a barrel cactus, possibly a fishhook one. At least the spines resemble fish hooks!

The mixture of prickly pear, cholla, and saguaro of various shapes made me smile.

This saguaro had a bunch of holes in it, which birds will use for nesting. If you don't have tall trees, you learn to adapt!

This is a crested saguaro. Not many of them take this form, but it sure is eye-catching.

I didn't have time to hike far, but I went a short way on several trails just to get a taste of them. On this rocky trail I found ocotillo blooming, a different kind of cholla (there are several kinds in the park), and a carpet of yellow wildflowers.

I took so many photos! I'm just sharing the best here, as a teaser to go explore more. I couldn't stay long, and my time in the park was over long before I wanted it to be.
This sign was in the visitor center, and I found it really cool. These saguaro are long-living!
I'd like to make Tucson a family destination, there is just so much to see and do in the nearby area, including Saguaro National Park, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Pima Air and Space Museum, Kartchner Caverns, and much more. Have you been to this area? Do you have any suggestions?

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