Tag Archives: Arizona

Can a saguaro be famous?

If so, the Michelin Man is.

For a famous thing, a desert icon, the Michelin Man isn’t easy to find. Cave Creek Regional Park is barely on the map, and the guy at the nature center has to give a lot of hints about how to get to it. Turn off the main trail at a certain memorial bench.

When you get there, the guy does have a lot of character.

On the other hand, who wants to be famous when you can be anonymous? So much of the desert’s beauty lies in its sameness. One teddy bear cholla looks pretty much like the next.

Except when you see its tiny offspring rooting themselves nearby. That’s a little different.

A field of anonymous chollas, all pretty much the same, can be magnificent. Did dinosaurs range here?

So prehistoric looking. Do we really need to see another saguaro? They’re all the same.

Well. Yes. We do. Ocotillo in winter, bare and alone. There will be raucous red bracts later, but not now.

Another cholla, vicious.

A rock. Just an ordinary rock in the sun. Nothing special.

A scrap of grass stands out only because it’s rained some here recently and that’s unusual.

Sometimes you get a sense of nurture. Almost. Nestling.

Sometimes one specimen sticks out – kinda funny, somehow.

But that of course is anthropomorphizing. The landscape that stretches on either side of Slate is barren. Only the most intrepid seek it out.

A good place to hike or ride that is un-famous, in the middle of nowhere.

Silly humans traffic the road nearby.

But not here. It’s beautiful desolation. Green trees in washes.

One solemn vista after the other.

The quiet and peace of the nameless.

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From the sublime to the ridiculous

is a saying that that has become part of the vernacular, though no one quite knows who said it – Talleyrand? Napoleon? Gertrude Stein? It captures the spectrum of experiences I had today on my desert trip north.

Sublime would be the weathered, battered signs that dot the old west.

Up in Wikea, not an official ghost town but a real, ramshackle, dusty, spread out region, a speck on the map.

A place of pies and honey. We had black walnut cream pie, which tasted a lot like maple and was the specialty of Lucia’s, a joint on the fringe of town.

More recent signs will someday deteriorate, I’m sure.

Farther down 93, the Joshua Forest Scenic Parkway, a forest of the plants, which are not actually trees but belong to the yucca family.

The highway is the site of some gruesome collisions, with 13 deaths this past year.

The descansos by the side of the road brought the statistic to life, and I have to say they were both horrible and very sweet.

Then there is the town of Nothing, current population Zero.

Also sublime in its own mysterious way. Founder Richard “Buddy” Kenworthy had a bar, a service station and a general store here, back in the ‘70s,  but it all went south. The sign and an over-tagged shed are all that’s left.

Finally we come to Wickenburg, founded in 1863. Ridiculous? Sublime? You tell me.

It is a true western town, with 6,000 residents and a least four saloons. Stores selling various essentials.

We met a guy with a cherished Chevy Nova who came to Arizona from unspoiled Molokai, Hawaii, once the home of a famous leper’s colony.

Now, he said, he only makes the daily roundtrip from his home south of Wickenburg in to the American Legion.

Another fellow runs a café where you can get a very un-Western latte. The local government is getting too liberal, he said, but his wife sits on the town council and has managed to put the brakes on so far.

Signs outside of town announce Gold Panning Here and Abolish the IRS. A church sign says, “Trying times are times for trying.”

Local store windows further offer a picture of the Wickenburg worldview.

The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association is a political association of local police officials who contend that federal and state government authorities are subordinate to the power of county sheriffs. So-called constitution sheriffs assert they are the supreme legal authority with the power to disregard laws they regard as unconstitutional. It has its roots in the Posse Comitatus of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Great.

Everyone tries to be cheerful about everything.

This is what I find ridiculous.

But finally, just outside of Wickenburg, we find the Rancho Rio Weekly Wild West Rodeo. Wickenburg is the Team Roping Capital of the World. Sunburnt cowboys, fantastic horses, the pleasant aroma of horse dung.

We didn’t see some of the more interesting events, like wild cow milking and trailer loading. Just the roping, impossible to document with a still camera.

Champions all around.

A puppy that would be ready for adoption in a week. As yet unnamed.

And the most sublime, a cow roper with an elegant mustachio.

Worth traveling to Wickenburg for.

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Does it make you think of your own mortality?

asked my brother as we scaled Pinnacle Peak in the late afternoon, among throngs of pleasure-hikers and trail-runners who didn’t seem to have a care about possibly spraining their ankles in the grit.

He didn’t mean the cactus, which had an interesting appearance.

Some of the saguaros appeared charred, girdled, as if they had been torched by lightning.

Peter was referring to our visit to the Valley of the Sun, to sit by our father’s hospice bed as he faded in and out, in and out. He had always been a rock, along with our mother.

Well, no, I said, I’ve mostly thought of my mortality when I’ve struggled with my writing and wondered how many books the future would be generous enough to offer me. We climbed among the ocotillos and the globe mallows, the wolfberry and the bedstraw, wondering where the sun-basking chuckwallas went in winter.

Jojoba had berries.

We saw no flowers beside from the penstemon. It’s winter, a cold snap.

You’ve got to think about how much they’ve given you over the years, Peter said, referencing our parents. How much they’ve stood by you.

Pinnacle Peak Park can be a nurturing place.

We saw a metal guard snugged around a young crucifiction plant  to coax it to maturity. Even so young it was all slim green spines, but the higher ups had decided that that level of protection wasn’t enough.

A cactus wren had built her nest on a palo verde branch, and we admired her handiwork as we made our way down.

By the water fountains, a dish of water to help thirsty bees along.

Wayne opened the window at the visitor center to answer my question about the blackened saguaros.

He didn’t know the name of the disease they had had. Only that it had started a long time ago and that it was a normal part of the life cycle. When they get old, he said, it’s natural to die. Other ones grow in their place.

Or maybe I’m putting my own words in his mouth.

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