The Saguaro cactus – that powerful symbol of America’s Old West – is a fairly common sight in southern Arizona, where the Sonoran desert extends its range from Mexico. Tucson has a huge park devoted to the Saguaro, and they dot the landscape around Phoenix, too. While awaiting our flight home out of Phoenix recently we went to the Desert Botanical Garden, hoping to inspect Saguaros and other cacti at close range. Admission was $37.00 for the two of us – that’s rough! We noticed a few acres of attractive desert habitat around the road leading to the garden. Weighing our options, we decided to park in the lot and walk the “wrong” way down the road. Then we wandered at will, with no paths, signs or amenities to distract us.
I doubt that fallen Saguaros are left to rot in such splendor on the other side of the fence. We enjoyed seeing the cactus structure bared as it slowly releases itself to the elements. The crisp “skin” felt like hard plastic. Anchored by a long tap root, the cactus puts out many shallow roots near the surface. When it rains, the Saguaro drinks deeply and saves the bounty. Saguaros grow slowly in the hostile desert habitat and can live to be over a hundred years old. The small cactus above nestled among larger stems might already be 30 years old! We observed a bird there that we identified as the Gila Woodpecker – it makes its home inside the saguaro; you can see the holes below. How it perches amidst those spines, let alone excavates a nest hole, is hard to imagine.
This fellow gets props from the garden staff:
It rained in Phoenix that day – funny because we were on our way back to Seattle, which has a big reputation for rain. Seattle Seahawks fans were already arriving for the Superbowl the following week, so locals blamed the rain on them – I mean, us. 😉
The gloomy, glaring light wasn’t good for photography but it was fun to inspect and photograph the many specimens and strange forms, even under the poor light. Though the Saguaro’s subtle colors are quite beautiful, I thought a monochromatic Saguaro essay would be interesting. I processed the photos in Lightroom and OnOne Black and White Suite. I didn’t use a consistent style because certain images seem to lend themselves to particular treatments.
Incidentally, we really enjoyed our little adobe house in the desert, far from the nearest town (and about a hundred miles from Tucson). It had everything we needed, including a composting toilet and shower in a separate building. I quickly got used to running between the buildings with my flashlight, and inhaling the cool desert air outside, the scent of pine shavings inside. Here’s our place at dawn with the Dragoon Mountains in the background. Below is the bathing facility.
If you’ll be in the area, I recommend staying at the Dragoon Mountain Guesthouse. The hosts are wonderful people. We had everything we needed but we felt like we were the only people around (Barbara even gave us birdseed to scatter near the window so we could watch birds while eating breakfast). If you’d like to know how to construct a straw bale house, which the owners did while staying in the adobe house (they built that too!) read about it on their website here.