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March 5, 2011


Song: "I Love You, Arizona" composed and sung by Rex Allen Jr.


  Butterfield Stagecoach

  Chain Fruit cholla

  Desert Ecology Trail

  East Saguaro National Monument

  Fish-Hook Barrel cactus

  Giant Saguaro cactus

  Ground squirrel

  Kartchner Caverns




  Prickly Pear cactus

  Staghorn cholla

  Teddy Bear cholla


  Next page



Butterfield Stagecoach

(Drake photo)


The suspension looks comfortable





(Drake photo)


Agave (mescal) in front of the sign


On to Kartchner Caverns, an awesome guided tour with no camera - we have to depend on our memories and postcards. (I did buy an informative DVD.) The custodians of the caverns are extremely careful that no one enters without the guides and even then the tourists must follow set basic rules: no cameras, no flapping clothing, no touching anything at all. If we do touch the wall accidentally, we had to tell the guide so she could arrange to have that area scrubbed thoroughly so nothing would grow from it in that warm, damp atmosphere. These live caverns were opened to the public in 1999 but may not last long since Benson has approved the building of a luxury spa on a 180-acre parcel of land on a slope northeast of the park.



        They taught us to watch for rounded hills in this country covered with ocotillo - a good sign that there might be live caves underneath. The caverns are living caves. The huge caverns are under these two hills in the picture. (Drake photo)

        But, outside the caverns, we could roam through the gardens and learn about the different plants we saw about us all over Arizona. I'm sorry I didn't take more pictures in the garden.


Fish Hook Barrel Cactus

(Drake photo)




Back on the road again with some interesting old wagon displays to slow us down a bit.


If these are Conestogas, they're a lot smaller than I'd thought.




This was something like the Democrat we used to have when we lived in Loakin Creek.



As we near Saguaro National Park, the cactus are noticeably larger and more lush.





Arizona is home to 11 species of rattlesnake, 30 species of scorpions and tarantulas, the black widow and brown recluse spider, the giant (up to 8") desert centipede and the Gila monster which is actually one of only two venomous lizards on the planet. I didn't see any of them. In fact, the scorpion embedded in epoxy that I bought as a souvenir of Arizona was made in China!



One of the many varieties of prickly pear cactus.


A Giant Saguaro [sah-WAH-ro] with a staghorn tree-cholla [CHAW-yah] in front of it.


        A 50-foot tall Giant Saguaro weighs several tons and is likely to be 200 years old. Only one out of a thousand seedlings live to maturity. The seedling grows to be one inch tall in the first ten years, "arms" begin to develop at 70 years. The shallow roots have a diameter of about 100 feet and the cactus can store up enough water for 4 years. The arms and trunk are supported by inner woody rods like fishing poles. 

        The saguaro is home for different species of birds, starting with the woodpecker who makes the first nest then abandons it. I would guess that the saguaros I saw close up were about 30 feet tall.


The staghorn cholla is beginning to bud.

(Drake photo)


Staghorn cholla beginning to bloom. The staghorns are tree-cholla and include several varieties.

(Drake photo)


The "Teddy Bear" cholla is exquisitely vicious. It is one of the "jumping" cholla, and like a malicious burr, breaks off a joint and clings to anything that brushes it.

(Drake photo)


The Teddy Bear cholla flanked by an ocotillo [oh-ka-TEE-yo] on the left and a Chain Fruit cholla on the right.

(Drake photo)


The Teddy Bear cholla. Cuddly it is not.

(Drake photo)



The Chain Fruit Cholla is also a "jumping" cactus. It is a tree cholla that sometimes grows to 12 feet with a 12 foot spread of branches. The fruit never ripens but hangs on the plant until the next season when new fruit grows right out of the end of last year's crop. This process continues year after year, forming long chains of hanging fruit which finally gets so heavy that they fall off and take root. (Drake photo)





We reached the Saguaro National Park in the Sonora Desert east of Tucson during its most desolate season - early Spring, before the blossoms. It had been a long, cold winter and only now were the cactus beginning to bud. But I found it all beautiful - a lush forest of cactus, all varieties. Imagine what it must be when the leaves are on the trees and the cactus is in bloom. This part of the Sonora, as a result of winter rain to wild summer storms, gets about 15" of precipitation, more than does the Kamloops area. This is one of the reasons it is a jungle of vegetation that can survive such extremes. And now for dozens of pictures....


I thought this was lovely, but we were still on the edge of the forest in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains.



In another week, the ocotillo wands will be leafed in bright green tipped with scarlet. "Ocotillo", loosely translated from the Spanish, means "little pine knot". Dead Ocotillo branches are heavily laden with resin. Indians used to make them into bundles for torches.






Still only on the edge of the forest.



Mesquite mistletoe.

Birds like its little red berries but they are sticky so the bird flies to a neighbouring tree to wipe its gummed-up beak. The berries hang onto the bark and start growing.

(Drake photo)


(Drake photo)


An old fella

(Drake photo)


Still driving on the nine mile road through the preserve. Not on foot yet.










Now we get out of the car and the real visit begins with the Desert Ecology Trail, as soon as we find it.












This little fellow will not develop an arm until he is elderly, by our standards.


An ancient of days.



At last we discovered the one-mile nature trail and, along it, the old Sonora Desert.


My brother's quick eye discovered a tiny gopher, suspicious but not afraid of us. I couldn't see it for awhile, it's colour blended into its surroundings so perfectly.


The tiny ground squirrel blends right into his environment.

(Drake photo)


(Drake photo)



I am beginning to understand why the desert appeals to so many - it's a living forest full of bird song and tiny rustling sounds. There was no traffic here this day and the only other visitors were a young couple from Switzerland. They didn't intrude and we had the forest all to ourselves.



Staghorn cholla, one of the "jumping cactus" on the right.


(Drake photo)



(Drake photo)






(Drake photo)


Fish-hook Barrel cactus

(Drake photo)


A closer look at the "fish-hooks".

(Drake photo)


(Drake photo)



Behind us is the chaparral, that includes palo verde and low thorny brush such as mesquite, ironwood, catclaw, creosote bush [greasewood] and crucifiction thorn. Now you see why the Mexican vaqueros invented chaparejos? Imagine chasing cows through this. Everything has super-efficient thorns. (Drake photo)
















With one last quick photo, we left the park. I had to take a photo or two of signposts first:


The Old Spanish Trail


Wetmore Rd. When Bob Nolan was a teenager, he was a lifeguard at the Wetmore Pool where the teens' social life took place.



Finally, as icing on the cake, we watched "Rango" at the Harkins Theatre. There were 18 theatres in the complex and Rango was showing in 2 of them. We got into the 6:10 pm showing and shared an extra-large buttered popcorn and a big orange drink. "Rango" is a cartoon type movie starring Johnny Depp and featuring Bob Nolan's "Cool Water". The story line was weak and too full of Jonathan Swift-isms for me but the graphics were superb. It was neat to listen to "Cool Water" in the town where Bob wrote it 85 years ago. All in all, a pluperfect day!



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