The choya cactus is also called a jumping cactus because you just barely touch a spine and it seems to completely jump on to you. Rachel experienced this first hand.
Nicholas wanted to come to the desert to find scary insects and reptiles and amphibians so he was out turning over rocks to see what he could find. He found this giant scorpion!
Stuart put a quarter down on the ground to give perspective of just how big this guy is.
We planned to attend a guided hike at Saguaro National Park this morning. The hike was called The Giant Cactus and it was focused on the saguaro cactus as well as other plant life int he Sonoran Desert. The bed and breakfast where we were staying is in the Sonoran Desert so we didn't think much about the drive. However, when we mapped out where we needed to go for the hike, we realized that it was in the Saguaro National Park East and we were currently on the west side. A bit more of a drive to get there now? Yes! It takes about an hour to drive from one side to the other. So we high tailed it over there and skidded into the hike just in time.
Mr. Jeff was out guide and he walked us through the desert wash as he talked about how the Sonoran Desert is an arboreal desert meaning a desert with trees. I had never heard of a desert with trees! He first talked to us about the differences between shrubs and trees. Trees have a central trunk, have a woody structure, and over 15 feet tall. We walked through the wash as he pointed out various examples of both. We learned about the Catclaw Acacia, Desert Blackberry shrub, Mexican Cross Buckthorn, Desert Ragweed, and the Palo Verde tree, just to name a few. We also learned about animals of the desert such as the peccary (javelina), coyote, fox, white-nosed coati aka desert monkey, mountain lion, and, believer it or not, jaguars! The jaguars of the Sonoran Desert are the biggest cats in America.
The kids got small binoculars back at Carlsbad Caverns and they enjoyed trying them out on our hike.
Why is Rachel obsessed with touching every cactus?
Next we learned about the beautiful saguaro cactus. Saguaros are the largest cactus in the United States. They usually reach up to 40 feet tall but some have grown taller than that. The A long time ago cattle were on the east side of the park and they grazed on young saguaros. As a result there are only 500,000 saguaros on the east side of the park compared to the 1.3 million saguaros on the west side. However, the saguaros that survived on the east side are taller than those on the west.
Mr. Jeff showed us a dried specimen of a saguaro cactus. He showed us that the center part is where the woody ribs are and the spongy flesh that surrounds it holds the water.
Although saguaros grow very tall, most of their roots only grow about 4-6 inches below the ground. However, they radiate outwards about as far as the cactus is tall. They do have one main tap root that grows down a couple of feet.
This cactus probably froze at some point which caused damage to the arm structure causing them to droop. I love the way it looks like it is reaching out for a hug!
This is the biggest saguaro in the park and it has 32 arms!
Saguaros can serve like apartment buildings for woodpeckers and other birds so you often see lots of little holes in the arms where birds have made their homes.
After the guided hike was complete, we ate our packed lunches and went back to explore the wash area on our own.
Nicholas was quick to start prodding holes trying to scare up some animal life to study.
And Rachel used sticks to help her turn rocks over to see what she could find.
I was more obsessed with the plants and rocks of the desert. Check out those scary spines!
This is the Palo Verde tree, the state tree of Arizona. It is a wiry looking thing and all of the branches are distinctly green.
I didn't find out what this plant is but its white thorns were striking to me.
As I wandered looking at plants and rocks, I often looked up to find scenes like this. A creature has been spotted and they are trying to catch it to look at it more closely.
In this case it was the common side-blotched lizard.
We decided to move on to another area of the park so we drove to the Loma Verde trailhead where we were greeted with these amazing cactus flowers. I have heard of a fish hook cactus and I can only imagine that is what this guy is. Do you see those hook-like spines?
We found more giant saguros here. They are so amazing and majestic. We never got tired of seeing them.
We made it to Pink Hill and, of course, Nicholas had to climb it.
Here is an example of something we learned earlier from Mr. Jeff. Saguaros often grow beneath other trees that act like "nurse trees". The trees protect the young cactus as it slowly grows taller. Then about the time that the cactus gets large enough to no longer need protection, the other tree has reached the end of its lifespan and dies away.
Here is some parasitic mistletoe growing in a tree.
I loved watching Nicholas today. He was definitely in his element as we hiked through the desert. He loves to hike, climb, and explore for interesting creatures. We tried to let him discover and learn on his own as much as we could.
Another lizard was spotted but he ran down a hole!
It was another common side-blotched lizard.
We found the old Loma Verde mine site and we even found remnants of copper on the ground.
This is an octotillo cactus. It is my favorite after the mighty saguaro. It has long stems tipped with red tubular flowers.
I have been amazed at just how much plant life is in this desert, especially flowers!
It was getting late and we were tired and hungry so we found the closest restaurant we could get to. The kids got a picture of this road runner while we waited for dinner to arrive.
We sat on the patio and had an amazing view of Tucson and the mountains.
What a great day it has been learning about life in the desert and exploring its beauty on our own. We could spend several days here and still not explore all of it.
Sunset, cactus, mountains. So beautiful!
Next post for Road Trip 2018:
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
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On the Road to Arizona