If you want to get a good sense of what grows in the Arizona desert, pay a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.
Flora and fauna – and even examples of structures created by desert-dwelling people – abound in this carefully tended outdoor environment.
Throughout my time in Arizona, I noted how the saguaro could dominate the desert landscape. On the way back from the Grand Canyon trip, the further south we got, the more we saw (they thrive at a particular elevation – though we did see a few anomalous saguaro a bit south of Flagstaff) – including dozens of them side by side, army-like on a rocky, scrubby hilltop. They can live for a couple hundred years and don’t start producing arms till around age 45. And, at the garden, we learned that they have skeletons – which, I suppose is what keeps them upright, since their desert-thriving root system is only a couple of inches deep, but spread very wide underground. The skeletons resemble ribs – and these expand and contract along with the level of water content.
While the folks and I had a break coffee break at the garden’s outdoor cafe, we saw several quail roaming about the patio and a squirrel (that looked like a chipmunk, but with a faded coat), the latter working the cuteness and begging for snacks. As we were getting up to continue our exploration, a roadrunner showed up. Of course, my dad (ever making friends with our feathered friends) decided he wanted to see how fast it could run, and so he advanced on it. It took off – fast. Apparently, he learned nothing from the raven incident at the Grand Canyon (I swear, ravens were stocking him all the way back to our hotel in Tusayan after that) – and I predicted that next he would see a boulder from above with his name on it. (My first sight of saguaro and roadrunner was in Warner Bros.’ Roadrunner cartoons.) Out on one of the several garden trails, we saw some bunnies out for an afternoon snack. They seemed to be relatively used to the visitor foot traffic – and, thankfully, my dad left them alone.
There are loads of other cacti at the garden: agave (though not necessarily the kind used in the production of tequila), prickly pear, one that looked like a pipe organ, some flowering ones, a nasty spikey one that hikers swear jumps out to catch them with its hooked, barbed needles, and even one that looked like a pile of writhing snakes – most with names I can’t recall. My parents did their first tour of the garden several years ago, with a guide named Cactus Jack, who warned that everything in the desert either sticks, pricks or stings.
And at the garden entrance was a cacti sculpture, in glass – gorgeous.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: Re yesterday’s post about the Così read-through. I’d forgotten that Jamieson Child was also in Alumnae’s production of You Are Here last season; that detail has been added to the post (thanks to Ed Rosing for pointing this out). My apologies for the omission.