Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cacti of Arizona

Sunset near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.I always have been drawn to cacti in a certain way. It might be from the fact that it was nowhere to be found in Uzbekistan in the wild, or maybe because we were always told from early age that everyone should keep a cactus by the monitor to absorb some of the radiation — mind you, nobody knew what an LCD was back then.

Southwest of this great country and Arizona in particular is home to many different kinds of cacti. But now I’d like to talk about the two kinds that stand out the most — Saguaro and Organ Pipe.

House on the hill of the mountain covered in Saguaros. Outskirts of Tucson.On early Tuesday morning we drove drove through a couple of historic places of Las Cruces and left New Mexico shorty after, setting the course to Tucson, Arizona. Our main objective of the day was to visit at least one of the two parts of Saguaro National Park that is located on the outskirts of Tucson itself.

Saguaro National Park.I really had no idea what Saguaro stood for, but it turned out that it was actually the name of the cactus that I wanted to see so much. Papa and one of the bigger Saguaros at Saguaro National Park.Because of that I had no idea what to expect of the park, but to our surprise we were greeted by what I was expecting to see in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument a day later.

The closer we were getting to the park the more obvious it was becoming — we were in the middle of an actual forest made up of huge cacti — Saguaros. Some were standing as lone huge poles, some sprung out a couple of arms and some had up to ten of them. All kinds of shapes and forms. Some were going up, some were going down. Most of them had holes in them, probably created by woodpeckers, but sadly we didn’t see any of the inhabitants of those homes.

Dead Saguaro.We got a bit unlucky with the weather, as all of the sky was covered in thick gray clouds and sun was nowhere to be seen. But that didn’t stop us from being amazed by the unusual landscape that was surrounding us. A real cacti forest, or as my dad called it — the kingdom of cacti.

Two Cacti — Alёna and Teddy Bear.We made a whole lot of scenic stops, took a lot of pictures and hiked one of the trails in the park. I, as everyone else, was just amazed by the size and the forms of some of these. They could easily run from 2 to 5 heights of me.

Saguaro forest at dusk.When we were done with the park we were pretty tired and the the sun has actually sat down — it was dark outside already. We went and found our hotel in Tucson (Google actually had it in the wrong location on their maps), ate a very good dinner in the hotel diner type of restaurant, took a walk around our neighborhood, jumped into the jacuzzi we had in our room and retired for the night.

Alёna hugging Organ Pipe Cactus. Really. No Photoshop.Wednesday was even better. By the morning the sky cleared up and the 2nd part of the park was right on our way out of Tucson. But before leaving we drove to downtown, and again set out for a short walk.

Fallen Saguaro. Organ Pipe Cactus NM.We stopped by a visitor center where a lady tried to talk us out of going to Organ Pipe Cactus NM. I think she almost managed to convince some of us that it was a bad idea to go. Her arguments were that it was really remote and pretty dangerous place, being so close to Mexican border.

Papa, mama and I at Desert Museum on outskirts of Tucson.However I was 100% set on going. This was one of the main destination of this trip. I remember looking at the map multiple times, on that square near the Mexican border, thinking how I would love to visit this place which is so far away from everything. And that’s exactly what we did, but I’ll get to that later.

As planned we went out to the 2nd district of Saguaro National Park and took a lot of pictures on our way there and in the park. The landscapes were amazing, but I think it’s pretty much impossible to capture with the camera.

Fox at Desert Museum Zoo.On our way we stopped by Desert Museum, which we expected to be quite a bit more exciting than it was. We were promised to see a lot of animals, but there were very few. However we’re glad we did it, because otherwise we’d be left wondering if we missed something really good.

Mega Saguaro at Organ Pipe Cactus NM.But on to the main destination of the day — Organ Pipe Cactus NM. The road that was supposed to be bad turned out to be as good as at any other place. We thought that it might be going through the mountains, so it would be slow, but it actually turned out to be going through the valleys of more cactus forests and was pretty straight. We did see a LOT of border patrol cars all over the place though.

While we were driving the sky was getting darker and darker. Eventually we started to see huge streaks of rain ahead and on the left — where the park was supposed to be. We drove into it and the weather was so bad that you couldn’t see 10 meters ahead. However to our luck we drove right through the storm to some more blue skies right by the time it was time to turn south, into the park. The weather got beautiful again.

Entrance of Organ Pipe Cactus NM. Bad photo, but the only one we have.Turns out Organ Pipe Cactus is a different type of cactus and that’s what Organ Pipe Cactus NM has a lot of (weird, I know). o.O It also does have a lot of Saguaros. I think my best memories are from this day. Standing in front of the sign at the entrance to the park — it was hard to believe that we’re actually on that spot on the map that I looked so many times at.

We asked for a good hiking trail at the visitor center, Organ Pipe Cactus.and we were giving great destination. The 2 mile trail lead us through the forest of Organ Pipe, Saguaro and many other cacti. It went through one of the mountain peaks which gave us a great view of the whole valley. And there was not a single soul there but 4 of us, under blue sky, surrounded by a magnitude of different cacti. Amazing memories.

And after that we drove through the towns of Why and Ajo all the way to Phoenix. Scottsdale actually. That’s where our last hotel was, where we were going to spend the last 3 nights of our great trip.

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