I knew nothing about Saguaro National Park before arriving in Tucson. Relatively small in size, with the city splitting the East and West sides of the park, I didn’t know what to expect other than to see some enormous cacti. Who knew everything would be so utterly delightful?
Saguaro itself only has backcountry tent sites on the East park, so we took the Whale to the Tucson Mountain State Park campground (Gilbert Ray) near the West entrance, and feeling lucky enough after snagging the last spot I wasn’t expecting much besides a square of concrete to call home. But it was great. Not only was it cheap and 5 minutes from the Saguaro visitor center, it is tucked away up in the Tucson mountainside, with saguaro and all kinds of prickly friends scattered around nicely spaced campsites. It even had electricity! (I am learning to savor the days we are plugged in and I can turn on lights and charge computers without a care.)
Jen and I are night-people. I’d like to say that we were night-people, because we sort of assumed that once we were rested and recovered, we’d be rising with the sun every morning. That hasn’t happened–we’ve kept our nocturnal circadian rhythm here on the road. You may have noticed that nearly all of our pictures are sunsets. It’s not a coincidence.
While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with waking up late, we’ve noticed that our fellow campers tend to be the opposite. I’ve stepped outside our trailer many times to find most of our neighbors gone by 8 am.
The fact that this has happened not just once, but on a regular basis, has sown some seeds of self-doubt. Like any normal person, I’m attempting to deal with that guilt by writing a poem. The first verse (or the last?) is below. Any constructive criticism of the poem–or our sleep habits–is appreciated.
Our trailer, before it was christened the Gray Whale (as opposed to the white…), came off the Airstream assembly line as a 25-foot, front-bed, Flying Cloud. To be honest, although this was the right model for us, I was never too keen on this particular name. The other Airstreams are a bit less florid and whimsical: the “Classic,” the “International,” even the “Sport” and “Basecamp” have simple, robust, descriptive names that tell you either what you’re getting or what it’s used for. The Flying Cloud? Robust it is not. As for “flying”, I doubt the line of cars waiting (patiently) behind us in construction zones across America would find that very apt, either. In fact, if she is ever flying, something’s probably gone dreadfully wrong…
It’s springtime in the desert. After two months on the road, we finally hit Spring and began seeing the desert bloom. Edward Abbey writes of cactus as having the most beautiful buds of all: “The true distinction of these flowers, I feel, is found in the contrast between the blossom and the plant which produces it. The cactus of the desert is a small, grubby, obscure and humble vegetable associated with cattle dung and overgrazing, interesting only when you tangle with it in the wrong way. Yet from this nest of thorns, this snare of hooks and fiery spines, is born once each year a splendid flower. It is unpluckable and except to an insect almost unapproachable, yet soft, lovely, sweet, desirable, exemplifying better than the rose among thorns the unity of opposites.”Continue reading “Desert Blooms”
Saguaro (sah-WAH-roh) National Park has a simple raison de etre. It was basically founded to protect one species – the Saguaro, the largest cactus in America. These giants have long symbolized the American West, but in fact they are limited in geography to the Sonoran desert, and then to a relatively narrow band of Southern Arizona climate that suits a saguaro’s protracted adolescence. How did this one plant growing in a limited part of Arizona come to be so symbolic of the American West that it merits its own National Park? I think to see them up close is to better understand how they have become such an icon.
They are huge – some grow to be 50ft tall, and at 6 tons have trunks you can barely wrap your arms around. In the sparse desert landscape, this Big Friendly Giant dominates, and with a life span of 100-150 (some say 200) years, they are definitely the elder statemen of the desert. But there are many trees in the West that are taller, wider, flower more profusely, no? Redwoods are magnificent, but still don’t hold the same place in American iconography. Continue reading “Saguaro: On the Giant Human Cacti of the West”