After a month in yosemite, living and breathing climbing, getting worn out and exhausted, and thoroughly unmotivated by hard climbing, I went back for a day in san jose, prior to starting the second leg of my trip. This leg headed out across the south, through the desert and into texas and the deep south, and down to florida, before winding slowly up the east coast states to New York.
I visited Sal on my way south, something I'd sworn to do "one day" after all the times he'd driven up to visit Mike and I in san jose. I hate Southern California. Urban sprawl at it's worst. Everyting that's wrong with planned with communities. Absoltuely no soul. So I hit the road and headed East. Off into the desert of Southern Arizona, to my first stop, Organ Pipes Cactus National Monument, right on the borde with Mexico.
This wasn't california any more. And it wasn't the beautiful red rock desert of the south west either. This was the other south west. cactus desert, or Sonoran Desert to be precise. Apparently a haven for RV drivers in winter, but they hadn't arrived yet. I had the place largely to myself. Wandered around looking at the big saguaro cactus against the stars. The lights of the border crossing just over the hill from the campground. The visitor center is even named after a ranger killed "in the line of duty" This might be a national monument, but it has far more rangers dedicated to border patrol/law enforcement than to interpretive activities. Somewhat vague rangers, who mostly just referred me to the literature that someone who was actually there for the landscape and the cacti had written at some point, certainly not these guys.
Went out on a loop drive around the Ajo Mountain trail anyway. This was a well put together loop road, with a good trail guide you can pick up and return at the start of the road, (or keep for 50c) Mostly one way, and generally all very two wheel, with only a couple of bits of concern. Pimped out mexican lowriders need not apply. Neither should barb and donald in their 40' RV. But everyone else would find it enjoyable. Pullouts and the odd picnic table, sometimes with a shade cover. I stopped a couple of times, and went out wondering into the desert looking at getting some good views of the different cacti.
You can read about these most of these cacti here. Beside organ pipe and saguaro cactus, I saw the chainfruit cholla, (choya) teddybear cholla, ocotillo, palo verde, and some of the mesquite/creosote/saltbush shurbbery. They're not as cool. I think I like all the cactus, except the chainfruit cholla. It can look quite unique and pretty, but as a general rule, it's just a medusa head nest of prickles. And they fall off on the ground around it, and make everything prickly. Teddy bear cholla only look cool when they're scattered around amongst the bigger boys. They all have a unique colour to them, and it really does look a society of plants all hanging out. Having big saguaro towering over everyone helps I think. They are what we call "man cactus" because they often look like a tall figure with hands raised, and they feature in all the spaghetti westerns. They're still prickly as all hell mind you, but at least most of them the prickles stay on the plant.
Finished the loop, passing some rock arches even, that would have been worthy of further examination, but I had to get into Phoenix to pick up Katie, the climber girl I'd met in South Dakota, who was coming to travel with me for the next few weeks. Headed north, and promptly had the first of many run-ins with border patrol. "Are you a US citizen?" "Do you have anyone else in there?" "Do you have any drugs?" "We could put you in jail for 6 months and fine you if you don't have the right paperwork you know." Interfering bastards. I hadn't even crossed the border. My crime was to be in an area that they can't police, so they have extra checkpoints 80 miles or so north of the border, at the choke points on the roads leading north.
Got into Phoenix a little early, and had a drive around wondering how on earth someone had decided to make a city this big in the middle of the desert, but then decided that Vegas and LA were equally abnormal, so who was I to judge. Picked up Katie, yay! and then we headed off to....Another time, another place, another story...
Startrails over Saguaro
Orion rising over Organ Pipe and Saguaro Cactus
Palo Verde tree (named for it's green branches)
Organ Pipe cactus, with Ocotillo growing in it (Cholla and Saguaro in the background)
Ocotillo closeup (dry climate)