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.




  1. Lovely b/w shots. I always love to see how others view Arizona. That is Papago Park that you were in, where Desert Botanical Garden is located. We belong to the DBG but it’s more for the special events they hold a few times a year as, you’re right, you can see the desert for free outside the garden.


    • Thanks for commenting! I didn’t realize we were in Papago Park. We only had a few hours in Phoenix. I’m sure I would enjoy DBG inside – I love botanical gardens – but it didn’t make sense to spend that much for a quick overview, and we always enjoy feeling like we’re discovering something others might overlook, too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – – I’m using a Lumix G3 and recently received a great lens for it. A 20mm prime lens, it brings in a lot of light and it’s quite sharp. It was overcast and glare-y that day so I added a polarizing filter which is pretty dark. Without the filter maybe there would be more detail but things would be overexposed. If I lived in the area, I would enjoy returning in different weather. I feel like there are endless possibilities with the Saguaro – they are such individuals, with all the scars and peculiarities of their aging apparent. Thanks for commenting!


  2. Beautiful plants, dead or alife! I find their inner structure you are showing here very interesting. I guess they do not have a single wooden stem but several wooden “strings” in order to be flexible to expand when there is water available. Fascinating organisms.


  3. Sounds like a wonderful trip Lynn. I love the black and white treatments, really enjoyed these photographs. I’m especially fascinated by the internal structures of the cactus plant. Wonderful stuff. That little woodpecker must be quite agile, flitting amonst the spines.


    • Yes, that woodpecker – wish I could have stayed long enough to watch is perch with my binoculars…but it was great being absorbed in the textures of the old Saguaros. Glad you liked them & thanks!


  4. All great shots Lyn and so much fun going off track and native with you and your camera. Love the thought of staying in this quietly exciting part of the world, thank you so much for the links!


    • Muscular is EXACTLY the word that came to my mind when I worked on the first photo, and I wanted it to convey that – so glad you commented Nikki! A long way from your home, but if you came to the southwest, I think this is a special and worthwhile area to explore – off the beaten path.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Several of the saguaro images you shared are fantastic but the one that really stands out to me is the exposure you presented in sepia where you can see the ribs inside the cactus. That is just a great image. Over the years I’ve read probably hundreds of times if not more, a book about Saguaro cacti to my boys called Cactus Hotel. We’ve read it so much, the cover fell off and we had to put it back together with packaging tape. And because of that, I guess, I always perk up anytime the subject of the Saguaro comes up. Like here. And by the way, I really appreciate you coming back around my site to look around.


  6. So very nice to hear that. I don’t know the book, but I am past kids books now. I bet it was fun – maybe the Gila Woodpecker was one of the guests. I still think it’s amazing that they can perch on them. Like I said somewhere above, I wish I had more time – it’s a fascinating subject and easily you could study them closely for a year and just scratch the surface. We were amazed when we saw that fallen old skeleton!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s