The Cholla Cactus
Tracy told me a story about why the Cholla are called the Jumping Cactus: that little ends of the branches fall off and are blown a bit away from the plant, so you’re more likely to miss seeing the bits as you’re busy avoiding the plant. Bang—you step on them, let them sideswipe your shoe or pants legs, or, in poor Banjo’s case, they get in your paws or leg fur or even under your chin as you’re sniffing the ground for coyote evidence. Then you’re in trouble.
Turns out that this isn’t just a story from his childhood in Mexico: many people call this the jumping cactus.
Although the plants vary in size and shape, and even color depending on how healthy they are, all the spines are barbed, with a papery sheath outside each one. They stick to you like magnets—try to flick them off and they stick to the side parts of whatever you’re flicking. Try to kick them away, and they stick to your boot. You need pliers or tweezers to pull out every barb, pliers because they make your skin pull up like a tent when you pull them, but tweezers because they break off easily as you pull, leaving the barb under your skin.
These are thinner and longer, and the spines are longer. Luckily, I can’t attest to how sticky they are because these suckers are easier to spot and avoid. They look like scary desert monsters.
I don’t know which kind our neighbor’s curious German Shepherd got stuck on his nose, but I heard it was an entire branch, and his friend had to sit on the dog so the owner could pull out all the spines. Good girl, Banjo, for learning so quickly how to avoid these.
Where’s Waldon Among the Cholla?
That top photo is of Tracy in the Cholla Garden in Joshua Tree National Park. Cholla that grow together closely all share the same DNA.
Can you spot Waldon among the cacti? Isn’t it funny how much he looks like one?
Cacti with Pads
These are Beavertail (the low ones) and Prickly Pear (the tall ones), with a Pinyon tree behind.
The pads vary in color, and they’re a good source of nutrients and water.
The first is my favorite our here, the Brittlebrush, in bloom with yellow flowers.
The spiky one is a baby Joshua Tree, and then purple one is a mystery. Do you know?
Patton by the Campsite
Here’s something weird. General Patton established Desert Strike training here, south of Joshua Tree, where his men trained for battle to be fought in North Africa. When I googled this (because I haven’t gone into the General Patton Museum, which is a five-minute walk from the campsite), I learned more than I care to know about the damage this training did to the fragile desert here.
I’ll just leave you with photos I took of tanks. Our Airstream is off in the distance.
Banjo by the Campsite
Now that Banjo’s had cholla spines extracted from her paws and legs and chin, she’s much more careful where she steps and stick her head.
On one hike from the campsite, Tracy had to stop three times to extract spines from my hiking boots using his Leatherman tool. I tell you what though, I’d never gotten them in my cowboy boots.
It’s irrelevant data that I don’t hike in my cowboy boots! I do walk Banjo while wearing them and maybe her special attention to where she walks has rubbed off on me. Or maybe cowboy boots are just too cool for cactus spines. I’ll take any explanation.