The Arizona Desert

Back in Southern Arizona is the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert covers about 100,000 square miles and is filled with many varieties of cactus, trees, bushes and other stuff I don’t know what they are. In a wet year, the desert blooms profusely with cactus flowers and a lot of green. That is not the norm. Usually the desert is more brown (think sand-like soil). The cactus still bloom but do not produce as many flowers. While we’ll be traveling in Arizona desert country, the Sonoran Desert also resides in parts of California, Mexico (the state of Sonora), Baja California and Baja California Sur.

This is the hottest desert in North America which surprised me because I always thought Death Valley held that honor. More consultation with Wikipedia finds them contradicting themselves stating that Death Valley IS the hottest area in the United States. Well, I can tell you I’ve been to both and once you reach 100 plus it’s all equally hot.

The Sonoran National Park (where the mica bits on the ground glisten in the sunshine), Sonoran National Monument and Saguaro National Park are all located here. I’ve hiked some of them with friends in January and February and maybe December when it is normally 60 to 70 degrees. Not this year. This year it’s been 86 and 93 and back down to the 70s for a day or two and mostly in the 80s. Walks early in the morning work well.

Traveling south from Tucson the first stop is San Xavier Mission and I couldn’t resist a couple of more photos. The first one is this hill you can hike all the way around but it also gives you perspective on why Green Valley just south of here is called that. The mountains completely surround what is a very large valley. There is also a grotto on one side that is a shrine dedicated to Mary.

And the beautiful mission. They are currently working to reinforce the towers.

This was a 70 degree day and as you can tell from the sky, it was a beautiful one. To revisit more photos of the restoration of San Xavier Mission go to the previous blog:  Do come back to read more about the Sonoran Desert.

There is a back road out of the mission, Mission Rd actually, that travels south across the Tohono O’odham Reservation (do NOT speed!) and then behind the copper mines that are plentiful in Arizona. Again, in a wet year this is a beautiful drive profuse with cactus flowers and lots of green stuff. Not this year but still the cacti grow wild here. We’ll visit just a few varieties.

The Saguaro Cactus flower is the state flower of Arizona. These strange and unique cacti are indigenous to Arizona, the State of Sonora, Mexico and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California and nowhere else. They are protected. Don’t try to take one home! Their scientific name, Carnegiea gigantean, was given in honor of Andrew Carnegie. The holes you can see in them are made by birds that nest there. The hummingbirds can often be seen at the blooms drinking the nectar.

Next is the cuddly “Teddy Bear Cactus.” It’s really not cuddly, of course, but it bears (groan) the nickname of Teddy Bear. The Cholla Cactus is native to Mexico and the US Southwest. There are about 35 species and some grow in the West Indies, south central US, and have been introduced into South America and South Africa. Their famous barbed spines cling to skin, fur and clothing.

In the following photo you can see distinctly the mines with more Cholla, plus in front is the Prickly Pear Cactus whose real name is Nopal from the Nahuati word, nohpall. Nopal are eaten in Mexico as food but they are also food for a variety of wildlife that can handle chewing through their needles (like Javalina). Nopal has also been used in traditional medicine and is being researched as a possible benefit to diabetics. It is actually harvested and processed and sold in southern Arizona as a concentrate to mix with juice. Those that consume it swear by the health benefits. I’ve no idea what the green brush is. If you know, please advise!

Below is a Palo Verde tree and they are wildly abundant here. Sometimes they are planted in yards and at businesses but they are very messy always dropping leaves or flowers. Parkinsonia aculeate also goes by the names Mexican palo verde, Parkinsonia, Jerusalem thorn and jelly bean tree. Oh, yes, their seed pods look a bit like pea pods and also drop everywhere. Palo Verde trees are actually a member of the pea family.


A short drive outside of Green Valley, AZ, are the Santa Rita Mountains which I’ll write more about sometime. They are very beautiful from the desert floor. In that V is Madera Canyon which I’ll write more about sometime also. Suffice it for today to say the canyon is famous for spotting the beautiful and elusive Elegant Trogon—well, I keep coming up with more to write about some day!

There are no sunsets or sunrises anywhere in the world more beautiful than those in the desert and I leave you with this setting sun taken recently in Phoenix. We worked to get this one for you!

5 thoughts on “The Arizona Desert

  1. The green bushes you were mentioning…hard to tell from a distance but they look like creosote bushes…best way to tell is to pull off the leaves and rub then in your hands…they have a strong (some people like others do not) oder. I like the smell, it is what you smell when it rains in the desert of Arizona. Rain causes the creosote to set free their fragrance. I am a fan! Holly Patterson.


      • My pleasure…I lived in the Phoenix area from 1997 to 2002, then moved to Calgary Alberta Canada…from there to Portland Oregon (which I consider home) and from there to Eugene Oregon. I just retired (I worked with Pat Sims) sold my home in Eugene and bought a condo in Tucson. I still have a daughter and 3 grandchildren living in Phoenix and I wanted to be closer to them. I will be here for half the year and spend the other half in Eugene or Yachats. Creosote and the smell it gives off in the rain is what connects me to this place. I am happy to be back!


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