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