Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

An Intro to the American Southwest

Scottsdale, Arizona
The desert was never high on my radar as a tried and true New Englander with a love of the ocean.  But travel enough and you can change your opinions on just about anything.  Truth be told, Utah is where I first fell in love with the desert and yes, most people forget that Utah is in fact, a desert.  This big state has a climate that varies from snow covered mountains to dry arid desert.  In fact, about 33 percent of Utah is true desert (average annual precipitation is five to eight inches).  It was in Utah that I really experienced my first desert, hiking among the slickrock of Moab and spending nights under a million stars at a quiet campground in the sand.

High Desert - Moab, Utah
Utah's deserts do vary and I have had the chance to visit some of its varied landscapes.  You have canyon country which has been called "Mars on Earth" and is home to amazing desert landscapes like Moab, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches and Bryce.  Then there is the southwest corner, Dixie, home to Utah's most popular National Park Zion.  And in the Northeast corner you can find Utah's high desert and some of the high peaks and the beloved Uintas.  I even had the chance to see northern Arizona on the Utah/Arizona border on a trip to Monument Valley.  Moral of this long introduction is living in Utah is where I learned to love the desert.

Monument Valley, Arizona 
When the last minute chance to spend four days in Phoenix, Arizona landed in my lap, I excitedly packed my bags for some time spent among the landlocked, hiking, hot air ballooning, and UTVing in the Sonoran desert.  Before I get into all the fantastic things I did in Arizona, it's always fun to do a quick "overview" as somewhere like the deserts of Arizona may as well be Mars to many of us New Englanders.

Landing in Phoenix, Arizona
The Sonoran Desert covers approximately 100,000 square miles and includes most of the southern half of Arizona (among other areas like California and Mexico).  It is "lush" when compared to other desert areas and two dominant life forms of plants distinguish the Sonoran - legume trees and columnar cacti.  I loved learning about the different cacti and animal life while visiting southern Arizona.  You know those iconically famous beautiful tall cactus called Saguaros (you know, the typical cacti emoji, or your favorite western) so iconic to the American Southwest?  Well the Sonoran is the only place in the world where the famous saguaro (pronounced sa-wah-ro) cactus grows in the wild.  These cacti can grow to be over 40 feet tall and are long lived (these guys can exceed 150 years).   It can take 75-100 years just to start growing side arms, which according to our guide, they grow on one side or the other depending on what they need to balance.  According to the interwebs, the arms are developed to increase the plant's reproductive capacity (more flowers and fruit).  Flowers appear in April through June and are the state wildflower of Utah.

Arizona's Saguaro Cactus

Cactus outside of Boulders Resort - Arizona

Cactus Gardens 
While the saguaros may be the most famous, you also have some of the other cacti that call the desert home - some absolutely fierce looking, some adorable, and some a mixture of both.  We learned all about the teddybear and jumping cholla on my trip to Joshua Tree National Park and I was excited to see these adorable cactus spotting the landscape.   They are the most beautiful hue of gold, green, and brown and their spines give them a cute fuzzy appearance.  As cute as they are, stay far away because these spines are known to "jump" on over to you.  

We also saw plenty of Pancake Prickly Pear, buckhorn cholla, and beautiful other desert plants like agave.  On some of our tours, we learned which cactus you can harbor water from, which you can eat, and other fun facts.  We also learned about some of the critters that call the Sonoran home, especially the ones to watch out for like scorpions, poisonous lizards (Gila Monsters, pronounced hee-la) and snakes (like rattlesnakes and coral snakes) wild horses, and wild "pigs" (the javelina or Collared Peccary).  We saw our fair share of quail and jack rabbits running around the desert throughout the day.  Let's just say be it a poisonous critter or a prickly pear, you need to pay attention when playing in the Sonoran. 

Now that you've learned a little bit about the Sonoran Desert, its famous saguaros and wild pigs, stay tuned for a few posts on what we did in this beautiful desert (UTVing, hiking, hot air ballooning, oh my!).

No comments :

Post a Comment

Let's Chat!