Top Ten Things I Will Miss About Arizona:
10. The Saguaro cactus. The huge cactus with the arms that stick out The arms don’t start to grow until it’s 70 years old. They are only found in the Sonoran Desert and are so numerous, you become accustomed to seeing them often. At Usery Mtn, we had them in the campsite and all over the park. I took the ranger guided tour one morning and was intrigued by all he told us about the saguaro. They grow to the size of your thumb in 10 years, then in the next 10 they grow to about 2 feet. After that, it depends on how much sun and water they get. On the inside, they have “wooden bones” about 3-4 inches around, with about 15-30 inside. They form the skeleton of the cactus and water comes up and through them. We saw many that had huge ripples and he said that was caused by the dry years versus the wet years. As it was in the 80’s when we arrived, Ranger Bee was worried about the unusual heat and what would happen when a freeze came. Not only would it kill the early flowers, the lack of water would cause the cactus to shrink and they’ve already been contracting in the drought.
The saguaro start producing flowers at age 50, which forms into a fruit. (Will have to visit again in April and May to see this because the pictures look beautiful.) The natives used the broken cactus “bones” to reach up and pull down the fruit to eat. They produce over 450,000 seeds each year, but it only takes one seed to grow the saguaro. The rest are bird food or don’t germinate.
Of course, we all wanted to know what the huge holes were in the sides. The holes started as a bird pecked at a bug, then continued as the woodpeckers moved in. The hole becomes a “boot” (like a scab) inside as the cactus tries to repair itself, but the animals keep digging. The natives used these boots to hold water and the one I played with was big, heavy, and could easily hold water. The woodpecker then might move out, and other birds and owls move in. In our campsite, we had birds flying in and out of the holes non-stop. Very cool.
Another interesting fact was that saguaro are master water keeper and finders. They have an extensive root system that could reach as far as 50 feet and are very shallow. Contrast that with the pesky juniper trees (weeds) in Bend that send their roots way down to hog all the water and I realize why junipers don’t fall over like the saguaro do when they get old!
Anyway, I’ll miss them. We could have bought one in every gift store we visited, but it wouldn’t be the same as seeing them in nature.
9. The beautiful stars and city lights from Usery. Clear as a bell each night to see the stars, and west of us were the lights of Phoenix. We were initially surprised to see the stars and lights because of the pollution and haze during the day.
8. The great artwork on the new freeways around Phoenix and Tucson. I wish we’d had a guide to explain what they all meant.
7. The 4.2 million people driving like maniacs! Passing on the left, passing on the right, forgetting to use turn signals, eating and talking on cell phones. Just like everywhere else we’ve been, but the 75 mph speed limit made it seem a little risky. I don’t think the 4.2 includes all the snowbirds that should have to take a test to keep driving. Really!
6. The SE Regional Library where the kids did school for 10 days. Huge windows facing a pond, with birds and ducks always providing a show. Great computers, great working environment, nice people.
5. The sun. Have I said how happy I am to be warm?! To not have body parts screaming or not working?! It was a nice, warm orb and yes, I could handle the summers…
4. Bashas’ supermarket. Nicest people in town and the produce was amazing.
3. The capitol mall. The capitol itself is a dinky little thing wedged in between their house and senate buildings that are concrete blocks from the 1970’s. When we first drove to see it, we almost missed it because it was hidden. So they didn’t spend a lot of money buildling it, and they don’t really take care of it, but they did a great job on the outside mall. There are memorials to every war, and the Asian conflicts were very well explained. They also take great pride in the USS Arizona from Pearl Harbor, and have a huge portion of the inside museum dedicated to it, as well as an original gun outside. My favorite was the 10 Bill of Rights carved in stone and the area honoring the GI Bill dedicated to the difference it made in veteran’s lives. There were several school groups visiting while we were there, but the best one was the Catholic schools demonstration outside and the secular music they were blaring through the loudspeakers – music I wouldn’t let my kids listen to!
2. The Science Center. The best kids “OMSI” type museum so far. We were all engaged and trying each exhibit. The video on the brain tumor surgery was a little much, but the wheelchair exercise had us all wheezing. The top floor of the center was all about solar energy, recycling, urban heat and suggestions for how we can be better stewards of the planet. Next time we’ll go there first and work our way down.
1. Friends and family who live here, and all our friends who visited. John, Wilma, Steven, Robyn, Barb, Tom, Uncle Chuck and Aunt Betty – we will be back! To our dear friends who visited – so glad you did!