Prickly Pear Fruit Picture of the Week

For September, I’m going to bring you something out of the ordinary. We’re going to put the clouds behind us, pull off the road, and get out of the truck. We’re going to go for a short walk down a path—well, it’s more like a hike up a steep trail. I survived, so you’ll be fine. I promise you’ll be fine.

The subject that I originally had in mind for this month was the Sierra Prieta Range. The name is Spanish and means Cold Mountains. They are an offshoot of the Bradshaws. If we went to the top of Prescott’s tallest building and faced west, you’d be looking at the Sierra Prieta. Then if we turned south, the mountains that we stared at would be the Bradshaws. The best-known icons of the Sierra Prieta are Granite Mountain, Little Granite Mountain, and Thumb Butte.

So, when the rains finally broke late this week, I hopped in Archie and drove up to the Little Granite Mountain trailhead. All I intended to do was get above the treetops and photograph some of the mountain peaks. However, the surrounding chaparral was so dense that I wound up where my trail intersects with the Clark Spring Trail—a mile and a half further and four hundred feet higher than I intended. The good news is that I frequently had to stop and rest, and when I did, I was able to shoot some pretty things around me. When I returned to my computer that evening, I changed my month-long project from an entire mountain range to a single trail—well, the first third of it.

Prickly Pear Fruit - A prickly pear growing in the shade of an alligator juniper in the Sierra Prieta Mountains.
Prickly Pear Fruit – A prickly pear growing in the shade of an alligator juniper in the Sierra Prieta Mountains.

The underbrush along the trail is a transitional zone. It’s where Sonoran Desert plants intermingle with those found in our mountains. This week’s contribution is an example. In the photo that I call Prickly Pear Fruit, a common cactus is growing in the shade of an Alligator Juniper. Y’all should know by now that I’m fond of subjects in dappled light, and that’s what drove me to my knees to get this shot.

I like the soft pastel colors of this plant and the complementary color of its ripening fruit against a background of deeper green ground ferns (or whatever they are). I guess the purple is the prickly pear’s way of saying, “Here, eat this part,” to javelina. They eat it like candy. But, the piggies disperse the seeds in their scat, so both parties benefit from the exchange.

As an aside, the fruit makes a great jam that is getting harder to find. It’s sweet and spicy, and I like that taste combination. Because it’s not widely sold, only local kitchens produce it. Our health inspectors have been shutting down the mom-and-pop shops because they don’t have extensive stainless steel production lines like big food producers. So—like moonshine these days—you have to know someone who knows someone—or roll your own.

You can see a larger version of Prickly Pear Fruit on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll take a few more steps up the trail until I’m out of breath again, and you’ll see what I found while I rested.

Until next time — jw

Fish-Hook Barrel Cactus Picture of the Week

When you hear someone talk about a desert, what image pops into your mind? Is it the endless Sahara dunes where Bedouins in keffiyeh headdress travel by camels? Maybe it’s the barren, dry lakes of Death Valley, or perhaps your go-to desert is in Mongolia. By definition, a desert is any place receiving less than 20 inches of annual precipitation. That makes most of the Great Plains, most of Southern California, and the Antarctic deserts.

My desert is the one that I’ve called home for almost 50 years; the Sonoran Desert. In the last half-century, I’ve traveled most of its parts within Arizona and California. I can attest that it’s not a flat, uniform wasteland—as some people think. It has mountains, canyons, plains, dry washes, and an exotic river or two. Its span ranges between Arizona and the Mexican State of Sonora. If you see a map of it (and you have to squint real hard), it’s jellyfish shaped—starting at the north (where I live), the half-circle body covers Arizona, and the tentacles reach south to either side of the Sea of Cortez. Its width covers from El Centro to Tucson.

The signpost that says, “This is the Sonoran Desert,” is the saguaro cactus. It thrives here because of the four major western deserts; the Sonoran is the only one with two rainy seasons; winter rains and summer monsoons. In winter, the rains nourish the cactus to flower and bloom, while the monsoons provide water for the dispersed seeds to germinate. Isn’t nature swell?

Although the saguaro may be the Sonora’s big-ticket item, it isn’t the only thing here to see. That’s evident when you visit the desert’s reserves like Saguaro National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, KOFA Wildlife Preserve, or several wilderness areas in southern Arizona. The biodiversity of these places will keep you on your toes—“Watch out! There’s a snake over there.”

Fish-hook Barrel Cactus - a couple of succulents nuzzle in the late afternoon sun.
Fish-hook Barrel Cactus – a couple of succulents nuzzle in the late afternoon sun.

That’s how I thought I’d end our one-day tour of Saguaro National Park. While exploring the park’s dirt road loop, I spotted a couple of succulents nuzzling one another, so I went in and grabbed a shot. I call this picture Fish-hook Barrel Cactus. It shows a couple of common cacti—a fish-hook barrel and prickly pear—glowing in the evening sun. The barrel cactus is the one you’re supposed to cut open if you need water—it’s not hollow, so you have to wring the pulp if you’re desperate for a bad tasting drink. Prickly Pear grows everywhere and has even overrun Australia after it was illegally transplanted there.

You can see a larger version of Fish-hook on its Web Page by clicking here. For December, we have an idea for a completely different type of monthly project. We had to. I’ll be spending time with my Mexican dentist—oh joy—and Anne is risking her life to visit her family. She’s shortening my leash while she’s away, so I won’t be able to roam very far from home. If I do, my electronic collar will shock me.

Until next time — jw

Prickly Juniper Picture of the Week

In a place like Sedona, with its canyons and red-rock buttes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by abundant beauty. I can imagine a project where I simply recorded a catalog of the natural formations along Oak Creek, but that would make for a boring story. A good story changes pace and adds contrast. That’s why, as I scurry about hither and yon at a new site, I keep my eyes open for interesting things below my nose.

Prickly Juniper
Prickly Juniper – A prickly pear cactus grows in the sun beneath a dead juniper tree in Sedona Arizona.

This week’s featured image—called Prickly Juniper—is an example of looking for intimate subjects amidst spectacular scenery. I saw this prickly pear along the trail that I wrote about last week. If it were on its own, I probably would have ignored it, but it nestled under the bare branches of a dead juniper tree and together they caught my attention. I liked the light against the dark, the living against the dead, and the prickly pear’s circular pads against the tree’s linear branches. The late afternoon sun was showing off the tree’s texture and the cactus’ lethal thorns. I took a couple of variations of this image and I felt this version was the best.

You can see a larger version of Prickly Juniper on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we’ll present another featured image from Sedona.

Until next time — jw

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