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Arizona Desert Views-Strange and Beautiful Plants and Cacti in the Desert

Updated on January 25, 2012
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Many people find the desert to be an intimidating place when they first arrive. The sun is intense and hot, it gets skin-cracking dry and it is full of strange venomous creatures and spiky plants you have to be careful not to step on.

But stay for a year, and like a cautious lover the desert starts to reveal itself, little by little. Stay a year and you will witness the fragrance of the stubborn summer finally giving way to the first cool mornings. Witness the stillness of the desert in winter and become enchanted by the rich pastel sunrise and sunset; a spectacle only enriched by thick cloud cover.

Stay a year and watch as the layers of the desert unfold.

Lone Sentinel

Above: An unidentified tree in Sedona, Arizona. Backlit by the late-setting summer sun, the temperatures in this northern region average 20 degrees cooler during the hottest months.; salvation for weary Phoenicians.

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Iconic View

Recognize this tree? Don't be surprised if you do. This popular view on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon has been captured millions of times. Another haven in summer, the Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring wonder even when the park is at full capacity.

If you weren't aware of it, there are campgrounds all around the South Rim. These include sites with running water and fully-functioning bathrooms. At less than $20 a night, it is a great way to feel closer to the Canyon. If you go, be sure to reserve your spot ahead of time. During the busy summer months they fill up quick.

Gnarled Guardian

Below: This unknown species of Sedona tree was begging to be photographed. On this particular hike there was nothing like it. Some may say this tree is ugly, but I say it has gained something in its transformation.

You don't have to travel thousands of feet above sea level to view bizarre Arizona tree life. At Lake Pleasant, only a half hour drive from downtown Phoenix, this strange grove of trees is rooted at the end of one of the Lake's outlets. Although the Lake Pleasant website lists Ironwood trees as part of the flora and fauna, it is hard to tell just what these are. Ironwood trees, cottonwood trees? Alive, dead, or dying? One thing is for sure, they are a fascinating, if out of place alternative to the constant presence of prickly things.

Wild tree growth at Lake Pleasant, Arizona
Wild tree growth at Lake Pleasant, Arizona | Source
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Not So Cuddly Cactus

Nicknamed the 'Teddy Bear ' cholla for the stuffed bear appearance of the limbs, this cactus is nothing to wrap your arms around! Even a casual brush against this cactus will leave you with several barbs to pull out; a very difficult and painful task with this species of cactus.

Best viewed from a safe distance, the plants are often surrounded by cholla balls, which are the fallen stems from the cactus. As a result, it is common to see fields of these plants grown close together. An amazing spectacle to be sure, but not something a lost hiker would want to navigate through.

Blasted by the first rays of sun washing over the hill.
Blasted by the first rays of sun washing over the hill. | Source
A dying cholla grasping for the sunlight of one more day.
A dying cholla grasping for the sunlight of one more day. | Source
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Spiky Beauties

In Arizona, various cactus are often the only source of color. Dramatic shapes and geometric patterns create wondrous sights, and the wide-set spines make it easy to avoid being stuck. The Red Barrel cactus, a member of the Ferocactus peninsula family is usually found on its own or with a few scattered cousins nearby. The prickly pear cactus is a favorite snack of wildlife like javelinas, the desert tortoise, rabbits and coyotes.

A Red Barrel cactus adds a splash of color to the landscape.
A Red Barrel cactus adds a splash of color to the landscape. | Source
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An unusually-shaped prickly pear cactus paddle.
An unusually-shaped prickly pear cactus paddle. | Source

Life and Death

Below: The bones of a once mighty saguaro cactus decay while a living relative stands tall and vigorous in the distance. The silent witnesses to the desert's history, these giants can live to be over 200 years old,

Saguaros, like other cacti, survive by storing energy during the day and continuing the process of photosynthesis at night. Next time you walk past one of these, look closely, you might just find the nest of an owl or other bird high in the thick arms of this 'desert tree.'

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Saguaro Man
Saguaro Man | Source
The blackened (charred?) and rotting remains of a once proud saguaro.
The blackened (charred?) and rotting remains of a once proud saguaro. | Source
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It is not so rough in the desert once you get to know it. Sure, it gets hot here. Plus, there are scorpions, rattle snakes and even centipedes to watch out for. But true to life, this harsh environment has a soft side, one it cannot live without. And sometimes the richest beauty springs from scarcity itself.


An iceplant thriving in the desert. Not as uncommon as you might think.
An iceplant thriving in the desert. Not as uncommon as you might think. | Source

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    • T-Parker profile image

      T-Parker 5 years ago from Greater Toronto Area

      That was a delightful excursion! Thank you!

    • MosLadder profile image
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      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      T-Parker! Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      What a fascinating and beautiful hub! I've always had a soft-spot for cactus - maybe because they don't exist in my country, so this was a real treat for me. But all the photographs were stunning!

      Voted up + awesome!

    • MosLadder profile image
      Author

      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks Seeker7! I have become so accustomed to them in the last 7 years it's hard to imagine a world without them. But I'll trade some cacti for some of your green any day!

    • H.C Porter profile image

      Holly 5 years ago from Lone Star State

      Thanks for taking us on the journey. Who knew that the desert was so beautiful and with so much to offer with color and saturation of life. Your images are wonderful! Voted UP! Stumbled and Google + this hub!

    • MosLadder profile image
      Author

      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks H.C. Porter! I wish I could do it justice. There really is a LOT of color out here, especially in the spring. Your comments are much appreciated.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

      Your photographs are absolutely stunning! You've captured the essence of the desert, in both your photographs and your essay, as only someone who truly loves it could do. I love all of your photographs, but particularly the one of the sunbeams catching the cholla... and the gnarled tree..oh, and the Grand Canyon...sorry, I can't choose! :)

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago

      Great pictures and nicely written.

      It's amazing. Even in the harshest environments 'life' will find a way to survive. I love the desert. Thanks for sharing.

    • MosLadder profile image
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      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Stephanie: I am very glad you enjoyed it! No doubt you passed the locations of many of those photos on your way to Sedona (if you came from the south.) I happen to like the cholla pics, too. What an unlikely subject matter to draw one's attention!

      Molometer (moio?) Thanks for stopping by. Yes, the tenacity of plant life out here is almost inspirational. Turns out the desert is an interesting place. Cheers.

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 5 years ago from United States

      Hi Mos! This is actually my third time visiting your hub. You have captured the plant life in Arizona in a creatively exceptional way. There is much beauty in that which seems strange, especially when it comes to plants.

      What more can I say but voted up, up and away!

    • MosLadder profile image
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      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Dexter, thanks!

    • Shelly McRae profile image

      Shelly McRae 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Stunning photos, MosLadder. I live in Arizona and the plant life is fabulous. Thanks for sharing this hub with us.

    • MosLadder profile image
      Author

      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      ThankS Shelly! Appreciate you stopping by!

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      Really great photos. I have always loved cacti. Even as a child I used to go out to the pasture with a shovel and find a special small cacti (most were small) and bring it home to plant in my little cactus bed.

      The the ones that grow in the desert are even more remarkable. They suffer such harsh conditions and survive. And their flowers are always so very beautiful.

      Good luck on the contest.

    • MosLadder profile image
      Author

      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks homesteadbound! Glad you enjoyed it. The nice thing about them is the are very low maintenance. You mentioned a good point about their flowers. Remarkable. I should take some photos now that they are in bloom and post those as well. Cheers!

    • profile image

      Derdriu 5 years ago

      MosLadder: what a beautifully photographic and poetic rendition and tribute to the always valiant and sometimes vivid plant life of the Arizona desert!

      Thank you, good luck, etc.,

      Derdriu

    • MosLadder profile image
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      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thank you Derdriu! Valiant and vivid, well said. I would add relentless to that list, too. Cheers.

    • billips profile image

      billips 5 years ago from Central Texas

      A great hub with gorgeous pictures - years and years ago, probably more than 50, two films came out - The Vanishing Prairie and The Living Desert - the latter film depicted the desert literally coming alive, night and day, all year round, both the plant life and the animal life - your hub brought all those images back - a great pleasure - B.

    • Jason Matthews profile image

      Jason Matthews 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow your pictures are stunning. Great hub!

    • MosLadder profile image
      Author

      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks Jason!

    • profile image

      V Qisya 5 years ago

      Wow, you've captured my heart with those amazing geographical infos and beautiful pics. Simply awesome! I loved it all. Thanks so much for sharing :D

      Voted up and away!

      Best Wishes, Verita

    • MosLadder profile image
      Author

      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thank you V, that means a lot to me. :-)

      @billips, those sound fascinating. It is a strange and beautiful place. Thanks for commenting.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Wow! Breathtaking photos and superb detail! Great job Chris!!

    • MosLadder profile image
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      Chris Montgomery 5 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks Sunshine625, it was fun taking them!

    • profile image

      Squirrelgonzo 5 years ago

      Recognized some of the areas where you took these! Thank you for a beautiful walk down memory lane!

    • MosLadder profile image
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      Chris Montgomery 4 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Squirrelgonzo, you are quite welcome. I appreciate you stopping by. Cheers!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Awesome photos. I keep this hub open and pause every few minutes throughout the day to gaze at one image, then another. Shared.

    • MosLadder profile image
      Author

      Chris Montgomery 4 years ago from Irvine, CA

      SidKemp, thank you so much! I appreciate the positive feedback. Had I known, I would have given you some new images to enjoy :-) I'll have to update this soon. Cheers!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks - you're inspiring me to do more photography of my own, too!

    • MosLadder profile image
      Author

      Chris Montgomery 4 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Yes! Maybe you can do a photo hub of Boca Raton. That would be fun to see.

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