The Sonoran Desert – A Cactus Jungle

2010/11/11: Saguaro National Park – a 10 mile hike
Surprises are everywhere. We walk slowly, with binoculars and camera ready. We stop and listen to the sounds of the desert. This is a quiet place, though it’s just on the outskirts of Tucson. Quiet – but not empty.

A jackrabbit bounds away. Two mule deer eye us warily as they make their way among heavily-armoured plants. How does an ungulate graze here? A Gila woodpecker perches atop first one saguaro then another.

The network of sandy trails is used by riders as well as hikers, and a volunteer park patroller greets us from her horse. We chat. She looks like an english style (i.e.hunt seat) rider, but is using what looks like a cavalry saddle; protective guards extend from her stirrups to cover her feet. She wears chaps on her lower legs. Without these, I suppose her legs would become mincemeat if her horse took her too close to a saguaro, a cholla, or an ocotillo. She wears a large sun hat with a broad brim that fits over her helmet. It’s hot enough for me here at midday in November, and the light is harsh and bright.

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Saguaro
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Chainfruit Cholla
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Jackrabbit

We came to Saguaro East the previous afternoon to get a trail map from the visitors’ centre, and decided on a day hike because the water logistics are so much easier than for overnighters. We’d had an overnighter in mind, because we’d heard much more is out and about in the desert at night. Perhaps we wouldn’t know what we were looking at without a local naturalist in tow, or perhaps our lack of local knowledge would put us at risk. Arriving in the Tucson area, first we’d visited Saguaro West, and then driven across town to Saguaro East because it had more scope for walks.

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In the Arid Jungle

I’m always watching carefully for rattlesnakes as we move south, but we didn’t see one. A bit of a let down, really. We’re a bit sad to leave this striking desert landscape. We’re a little sad to leave this place, but it’s time to head west and north and homeward.

Note: It is pronounced more like Sawhhuaro than Saguaro.

An Arizona Flickr set has been uploaded.

M

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Gila woodpecker

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