A New Week, A New Desert

We’re actually still in the Sonoran Desert, but we moved east—from the lovely Ajo, Arizona, toward the city of Tucson, trading a green area for a brown one. But we need city stuff so we bit the bullet. The travel day to get here was another humdinger, too.

After hitching up and maneuvering out of our tricky spot among the washes and saguaros at Ajo, we drove to a known gravel parking lot on BLM land northwest of Tucson and ”dropped the trailer” (unhitched it and left it there) so we could drive the truck around the desert more easily, looking for a camping spot. It took a while, but Tracy’s eagle eyes found a turn-off in the flat dusty area near a glider landing strip. (Less exciting than you’d think.)

Like last time, we pitched the tent to claim the spot, then drove back to the trailer, had a quick bowl of leftover mushroom stew inside, then rehitched and towed back to the new site, parked it all level, and set up for the week.

Nothing but Creosote and Sky

The area is as expected: flat, brown, with creosote bushes as far as you can see and the lights of Tucson on the horizon at night. Man but the flatness allows for some glorious sky viewing at dawn and dusk.

And between the piles of trash left by previous campers (grr) you can find desert oddities, like this coyote skull and spine. We hear them (the live ones) all evening, night, and morning, and we’ve started seeing them during the day, too. They bark and yip and howl together, but the saddest sound is when one is alone. Maybe being alone is ill-fated for coyotes.

It’s warmer now, so we’ve been able to spend all evening in the tent, watching the sunset and listening to music and reading, stepping out to watch the stars and the city lights (as close as we wish to be). Quiet evenings outside: way worth all the work to get here.

Later this week we’ll go into town for errands and to treat ourselves to a couple of outdoor breweries, but right now we’re pretending Tucson is just lights in the distance.

Saguaro National Park

The landscape we drove though on the way here was fairly barren, like our camping area, so we were surprised by the diversity of growing things at nearby Saguaro National Park. Not quite as green as Organ Pipe, but dominated by prickly pear, barrel, saguaro, and several varieties of cholla cacti. And look at me, knowing how to distinguish among so many, when before this winter I didn’t know the name of a single type!

Fellow travelers Doug and Melanie got us tuned in to seeing mutant saguaro, aka crested. We searched and searched at Organ Pipe and found only one weird one, but on the drive from Ajo to Tucson we saw three, and this gloriously strange one is along the park’s trail. There are only 1500 in the U.S., and now that Melanie told me about their tally, I think ours is higher: five. I think. Whatever, up close this one is beautiful in its deviation from symmetry and was even blooming at the very top. (It looks less phallic in person because the details are what grab your attention.)

After the rain at Ajo we were hoping for blooms here at Tucson, but a ranger we ran into while hiking said it could be several more weeks before they pop out in force. A few are peeking up from the ground and around the tips of cacti, enough as a promise of spring here.

I stole the idea of that last photo of the top of a barrel cactus from Doug; his version is magical. You just can’t help looking from all angles, though, taking way too many photos, peering into crevices, staring into the distance. Even this less-diverse section of the Sonoran Desert, right up against a large city, surprises with life and light.