Desert Wisdom

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Hiking amidst the beautiful Saguaro cacti in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona

Hi Friends,

I’ve really grown! Now I look forward to hikes out into the desert! But it wasn’t always that way…

For the past twenty years, I’ve been visiting family in Arizona each year. Over the years, I have visited the desert Southwest in every season ~ Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. In the early years, I walked on the ‘sidewalks of the desert’…  through the neighborhood, along the golf course, through the zoo, parks, and so many beautiful places.

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Everything changed the first time I brought my {future} husband to meet my family in Arizona. He had grown up dreaming of the desert, growing cacti on his windowsill, and reading books about the desert throughout his childhood. Just imagine my surprise fear, the first time he suggested we go for a hike into the ‘real’ desert!!  It was all so unfamiliar, nothing at all like the Midwest where I happily live and garden.

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He took my hand and led me off the sidewalks, and into the ‘real’ desert. Over the years, our hikes into the desert grew longer and more adventuresome. There were some scary moments, on high trails, but I discovered the true beauty all around me! The Prickly Pears, the Ocotillos, the Fishhook Barrels, and the Jumping Chollas became familiar cacti. I learned to identify some of the beautiful wildflowers pushing their way up through the rock-hard desert sand.

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One Springtime morning, just a few years ago, we hiked a long way into the desert and stopped to admire the Saguaros. There were beautiful mountains rising in the distance everywhere around us. The red earth felt warm beneath our feet and the brilliant blue sky overhead took our breath away. He proposed… and I accepted!  Now we have a ‘Secret Place’ in the Sonoran desert that we return to each year. It’s a very special place to reflect, count our blessings,…  and dream!

The Tonto National Forest, in Arizona, after the heavy monsoon rains.

The Tonto National Forest, in Arizona, looks so lush and green after the heavy monsoon rains.

Whenever we are hiking in the desert, the powerful mountains and giant Saguaros always make me feel very, very small. Being in the desert makes my worries feel small, too. The natural beauty all around me just fills me with Gratitude. It feels like the perfect place for Yoga practice (except for the prickly needles, sharp rocks, rattlesnakes, lizards, and scorpions!). Perhaps the desert is better suited to a walking meditation. Just walking quietly, with the dry earth crunching under our footsteps.

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There is so much wisdom in the desert… and I am so grateful to return again and again to learn more! Now I feel comfortable surrounded by the desert flora (even the most prickly sorts!). Feeling comfortable about the desert fauna will take a bit more time! The hummingbirds, quail, roadrunners, jackrabbits, and butterflies are some of my favorite desert creatures. I’m not so sure about the snakes, lizards, javalinas, vultures, insects, coyotes, and bobcats. Those are the times I hold hands a little tighter, walk much faster,… and don’t even stop to reach for my camera! Perhaps I will always be wary fearful of them…

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The giant Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) only grows in the Sonoran Deserts of southern Arizona and northern Mexico.

We can learn so much from Nature, if we listen to its lessons…

Advice from a Saguaro 

Stand Tall

Reach for the Sky

Be Patient Through the Dry Spells

Conserve Your Resources

Think Long Term

Wait for Your Time to Bloom

Stay Sharp!

Beautifully written by: Ilan Shamir

{yourtruenature.com}

Meet this conservationist and poet in this video. His website is a nice resource for teachers!

The tall Saguaro cactus is my favorite desert plant.

There are so many wonderful lessons to be learned from the giant Saguaro!

Wherever we live in the world, there is much wisdom to be learned from Nature. A visit to the desert ~ even a virtual visit ~ is always a learning experience. Whenever you face one of life’s challenges, may you find strength in the wisdom of the Saguaro.

Thanks so much for stopping by today! ♥ Namaste.

Sunny wishes!

♡Dawn

          P.S.  We discovered a big surprise in the desert, too! Just wait until you see it. Next time…

A Desert Wonder

Hi Friends!

Brrrrrr! My Midwest cottage garden is sleeping, recently covered with a light blanket of glistening snow. On days like this, just thinking about one of my favorite plants fills my heart with warmth and sunshine. I’d love to share its story with you…

The Sonoran Desert, in southern Arizona, is home to one of my favorite plants!

The Sonoran Desert, in southern Arizona, is home to one of my favorite plants!

Oh, first I must tell you that one of my very favorite plants lives 1,800 miles away! Each time I visit the Sonoran Desert, in Arizona, I fall in love with the giant Saguaro all over again.  This is a plant with so much personality! Saguaros grow in unique, odd shapes that often stir the imagination. More importantly, they are a life force in the desert, providing food, water, and shelter to so many desert creatures.

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A Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) takes center stage, with the Usery Mountains in the background.  The Sonoran Desert is exceptionally green right now, due to recent heavy monsoon rains and flooding.

Saguaro cacti are native to the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona and northern Mexico. It is such a fascinating plant, with an amazing story to tell!  In November, while hiking in the Sonoran Desert, near Phoenix and Tucson, I looked for Saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea) in each stage of growth.

The Saguaro blossom is the State Flower of Arizona. {photo credit}

Saguaros bloom in the cool evenings during May and June. Their creamy, white flowers wilt in the heat of the sun each afternoon. This spectacle of nature continues night after night for about four weeks, with as many as 100 flowers blooming on each Saguaro. During the few hours of bloom, the Saguaro flowers are pollinated by doves, bats, honeybees, moths, and other flying desert creatures.

The sweet pulp of the Saguaro fruit contains as many as 2,000 seeds. {photo credit}

 

During June and July, the bright, red Saguaro fruit ripens. Desert birds, ants, and rodents reach the fruit at the top of the Saguaro, while javelinas, coyotes, squirrels, and foxes feast on the sweet pulp and tiny seeds of the fallen fruit. Animals spread the seeds throughout the desert.

Saguaros face a struggle for life against great odds. Although one flowering Saguaro cactus produces tens of thousands of seeds in a year, very few of the seeds will grow to adulthood. Many months pass in the desert without rain. There is always the chance that desert creatures will eat the Saguaro seeds waiting on the hot, sandy desert floor.

Seeds and young Saguaros will have the best chance for survival if they are under the care of a ‘nurse tree,’ such as a Mesquite tree or Palo Verde tree. Growing under a tree shades the young Saguaro from the intense heat of the Sun and offers protection from the Winter cold. The ‘nurse tree’ also hides the young Saguaro from hungry birds, rodents, and other desert animals. Nearby rocks also offer protection to the young plants.

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In the foreground, a young Saguaro grows under the protection of a Mesquite tree. A much older Saguaro grows near the ‘nurse tree.’

Saguaros grow very slowly, with growth spurts during the summer rainy season. By the end of the first year, a Saguaro seedling may only have grown 1/4 inch (0.63 cm).  After fifteen years, a Saguaro may be only 12 inches (30 cm) tall.

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Two Saguaros grow beneath this Palo Verde tree. Just imagine how long they have lived there already!

A shallow network of roots, just three inches below the ground, collect water for the Saguaro. These roots reach out from the main trunk of the Saguaro, stretching as far out as the Saguaro is tall. During a single rainfall, these roots may soak up as many as 200 gallons (757 liters) of water. That is enough water to keep the Saguaro alive for one full year. The Saguaro stores its water in the spongy flesh in its trunk and branches. Without conventional leaves, Saguaros don’t lose water to evaporation, The sharp spines shade the Saguaro from drying winds and protect it from hungry animals.

The slow growth continues throughout the life of this fascinating plant! After thirty years, the Saguaros begin to flower and produce fruit. By fifty years of age, a Saguaro may be only seven feet tall. Finally, after seventy-five years, a Saguaro may sprout its first branches or arms.

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New branches appear as prickly balls. They slowly grow outward and upward.

After one hundred years, a Saguaro may reach 25 feet (7.6 meters) tall. The largest Saguaros are those that have lived more than one hundred fifty years, often standing 50 feet (15.24 meters) tall and weighing 16,000 pounds (7257 kilograms) or more. These giants tower over all of the other plants in the Sonoran Desert. Saguaros stand tall supported by their long, woody ribs. They are the largest cacti in the United States.

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A forest of Saguaros, as far as the eye can see, grows in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona.

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Hiking in Saguaro National Park is a wonderful way to learn more about these fascinating plants.

I always think of the Saguaros as ‘gentle giants.’  They are such an important part of life in the Sonoran Desert. The trunk of the Saguaro often provides homes to many desert creatures. Woodpeckers, owls, flickers, wrens, and honeybees are just some of the animals that dig their homes into the flesh of the Saguaro. By forming a scab around the hole to prevent drying out, the Saguaro is not harmed. In fact, the cactus is helped by these holes, when the animals living there eat insects that may carry disease to the Saguaro. This gentle giant is often called an ‘apartment’ or ‘hotel.’ where residents move in and out. Vacancies are quickly filled by other creatures! In the Springtime, animals can be seen making several different holes in a Saguaro, before settling into the perfect home to raise their families. Hawks often build their nests on the arms of the Saguaros.

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A mature Saguaro, growing near its Mesquite ‘nurse tree’ becomes a highrise apartment for many desert creatures.

Saguaros may die from old age, severe drought, lightning strikes, or even very strong winds that cause them to topple over. The animals that lived in the Saguaro must then find new homes. Now the fallen skeleton of the Saguaro becomes a home to new creatures. Millipedes, termites, and scorpions take shelter in the skeleton. Snakes, lizards, and small rodents come to find food there.

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A fallen Saguaro skeleton continues to play an important role in desert life.

Over the years, people have also been a danger to the beautiful Saguaros. From the 1880s until 1979, many cactus forests were devastated by livestock grazing. Saguaro seeds were unable to take root where the ground was compacted by cattle. The ‘nurse trees’ were often killed by the cattle. Fortunately, within Saguaro National Park, the Saguaros have been protected since 1933.

Since 1979, the Saguaro has been protected by law, making it illegal to dig up a Saguaro from the desert. Builders must now protect Saguaros during land development. Saguaro National Park is even tagging desert Saguaros with micro-chips to thwart ‘cactus rustlers’ who dig up and illegally sell Saguaros to landscapers.

The tall Saguaro cactus is my favorite desert plant.

The Saguaro plays such an important role in desert life.

Saguaros have great cultural importance to the Tohono O’odham Nation. These Native Americans harvest Saguaro fruit in the Spring to make jams and jellies. They also make Saguaro wine to drink during their ritual Rain Ceremony, to honor the important monsoon rains. 

In her wonderful children’s book, Cactus Hotel, Brenda Z. Guiberson  shares the story of one Saguaro through its long life. Her words and paintings will touch your heart, as you learn more fascinating facts about the giant Saguaro. (Peek inside the book!) This was always a favorite book in my primary classroom, often gifted to my students. I treasure my own copy here at home, especially on cold December days!

The Saguaro cactus, an iconic symbol of the American Southwest, is truly a fascinating plant. It will always be my favorite plant to visit in the desert! I really admire the strength and beauty of this gentle giant. During our cold Winter days in the Midwest, just thinking about the Saguaro brings a bit of warm sunshine to a cold day!

Sending sunshine!

♡ Dawn

P.S.  I even stopped to hug a Saguaro (very carefully) while hiking!  ☼

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Autumn Days in the Desert

Red Mountain towers over the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.

Red Mountain towers majestically over the Tonto National Forest in sunny Arizona.

Hi Friends!

Such breathtaking views in every direction! Autumn is a wonderful time to visit the desert Southwest. We just returned from a two week Autumn adventure in Arizona. Visiting family was truly the highlight of our vacation ~ making lots of happy memories together, sharing our favorite stories, and smiling over old family photos together. Each moment was a precious one! A true gem!

Oh, there was hiking, too!! Each day we made time to hike a few miles into the desert to admire its unique beauty, so different from our Midwestern landscape. The Sonoran Desert is exceptionally green this Autumn, following the recent Monsoon rains that brought severe flooding to many parts of the Arizona desert. In my twenty years of visits to this special place, I have never seen it so lush and green! It’s so nice to have interesting new places to walk…

The quiet beauty of the Tonto National Forest always calls us to visit.

The quiet beauty of the Tonto National Forest makes it one of our favorite places to hike.

We thought you might like to hike with us. It’s important to be prepared for walk in the desert. We always remember to wear sturdy hiking boots, hats, and sunscreen. Carrying a bottle of water is really important!  I always bring my camera on our hikes and my husband brings his compass (just in case!).

Don’t worry, we won’t get lost! Today we will take you to some of our favorite places in the Tonto National Forest, in sunny Arizona. This is the fifth largest forest in the United States, so there is a lot to see!

Four Peaks, in the distance, has the highest elevation in the area. In the winter, snow can be seen on the top of Four Peaks.

Silence. It’s the first thing that I always notice in the desert. Only the crunch of our boots on the sand and pebbles breaks the peace and quiet. Blue skies, gentle breezes, warm Autumn sunshine, and beautiful mountains in every direction always energize us as we hike.

Named after the Tonto Apache Indians, the Tonto National Forest stretches from Phoenix in the south, to the Mogollon Rim in the north. Our hikes were in the desert habitat in the south part of the forest. The higher elevations in the north are home to tall Pine trees and cooler temperatures.

Nine Native American tribes currently live on Tonto National Forest land.  Archeological sites are carefully protected here. The Native Americans are ensured the rights to continue to practice their religious and economic activities on what has become public land, since 1905.

The tall Saguaro cactus is my favorite desert plant.

The tall Saguaro cactus is my favorite desert plant.

The mountains add to the peaceful, easy feeling of the Tonto National Forest. The Usery Mountains create a lovely background for the desert plants. The lighter stripe along the top of the mountain is the Wind Cave Trail. Over the years, I have only hiked part way up to the Wind Cave, but my husband has climbed the steep, rocky path all the way up to the top of Wind Cave Trail.  Beware of the Cholla cactus, with its sharp needles, in the foreground. Little bits of the ‘Jumping Cholla’ are often in our path and we try not to step on them!

The giant Saguaro cacti are truly the most amazing plants that I know! The Saguaros will be featured in some posts of their own in a few days. There is so much to share about these fascinating giants of the Sonoran desert. They are so unique and important to the desert habitat!

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The Superstition Mountains add special beauty to the Sonoran Desert.

The mountains seem to change color from moment to moment all day long. Clouds, although rare over the desert, cast beautiful dramatic shadows on the mountainsides. It’s such a treat to behold!

The Salt River

The Salt River looks more like a stream as it flows through the Tonto National Forest this Autumn.

The Salt River meanders through the Tonto National Forest most of the year. Several dams control its water levels for irrigation and drinking water supplies to the area. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy fishing when the water is low and tubing in the deeper, fast moving waters of the Salt River. Often when we visit, we are able to hike on the dry river bed of the Salt River, seeing the desert vistas from a unique perspective.

The Salt River

The Salt River is also a natural boundary separating the Tonto National Forest from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

While hiking, if we stop and stand very still, we can see wildlife of all kinds. Lizards scuttle across the desert floor. Roadrunners and quail scurry across the ground, while hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and doves dart about. Overhead, hawks and vultures soar over the desert. I love hearing the unfamiliar birdsong in the desert as we walk. Jackrabbits, javelinas, desert chipmunks, coyotes, and an occasional bobcat have been spotted moving across the desert in our recent visits. We have watched so many butterflies collecting pollen from the late Autumn flowers in the desert. Holes in the dry, desert soil remind us that rattlesnakes might be waiting out of sight, while rocks provide shelter for scorpions, beetles, and other creatures.

Watching the Full Frost Moon rise over the Usery Mountains was a special memory!

Watching the Full Frost Moon rise over the Usery Mountains was a special memory this visit!

We really looked forward to our moonlight hike in the Sonoran Desert under the Full Frost Moon. With rangers to guide us, and flashlights and water bottles in hand, we met at the trailhead at dusk. To our surprise, two hundred other hikers had the same plan! So, all the hikers ~ boy scouts, families, and other visitors ~ walked two miles under the Frost Moon together, through the desert washes and amidst the cacti, with flashlights to guide us through the desert terrain.  Informative rangers taught us about the history, wildlife, and plants of the desert during our hike. For days, I had been wondering worrying what creatures might approach us during our nighttime hike. No need to worry!! I’m sure that the sound of four hundred feet pounding the desert floor frightened away every creature within miles ~ except for one very large, black, ground beetle in our path! We felt so sorry for frightening him that night!!

There is so much beauty everywhere!

There is so much beauty everywhere!

There is so much more to see in the Sonoran Desert! Let’s meet back here again to explore the flora and fauna of the desert. I think you will be fascinated by the life cycle of the giant Saguaro cactus.  We will hike together through Saguaro National Park very soon. There are some important ‘words of wisdom’ to share…  and an unexpected surprise is awaiting, too!

I’m already looking forward to our next hike! It’s the perfect way to chase away the Winter chill!

It's nice to visit Arizona in Autumn!

It’s great to visit Arizona in Autumn!

Warm sunny wishes!

♡Dawn