Our family vacation in Maine was wonderful, but this trip was just for the two of us and beautiful Arizona.
I guess I haven’t been out of the condo much since the monsoon started, another record monsoon year at that, because just driving up the Oro Valley was a startling landscape. I’ve been up that road many times, but it has never been so green and lush, until the occasional cactus or cholla look ridiculously out of place among vegetation more like the Northeast than my ideas of the Southwest.
Hilltop in Mammoth
With the monsoon clouds building over our shoulders and the desert shifting character once again, we found ourselves a hilltop with a clear view of the mountains to grab some panoramas.
We caught more than monsoons dumping torrential rain on the mountains. We also found ourselves surrounded on all times by hordes of bright yellow, big-as-my-pinky-and-twice-as-long white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars.
Saguaro of Unusual Size
As we drove on, I was struck by how unusually large the saguaro were. It can take up to eighty years for a giant saguaro to bud its first arm, but these had multiple arms, and their arms even had arms. They can grow to over seventy feet high, which means old men like these stand out above the rest of the desert flora, which are mostly well under ten feet at most.
There wasn’t any way to pull over and get up close, but I managed to capture a few on the fly.
The palo verde trees grew pretty massive along the way, too!
Gila River Recreation Area
Then we found a canyon rising above us as we followed the Gila River up into the mountains. It was hard to resist a pull-out offering a closer look at the scrubby trees in the bottomlands overshadowed by the stark vertical walls of the canyon.
While I’m reviving my grandmother’s pursuit of birds, my travel buddy is reviving his old hobby of geocaching, which is what lead us to….
In this little BLM campsite in the bottomlands of the Gila River, the air was heavy and hot, but the mesquite-willow and cottonwood woodland was very pretty. We heard lots of birds, but only managed to set eyes on a pair of Gila Woodpeckers.
Next, the road took us up into new terrain and fauna as we rose towards…
Pinal Peak and El Capitan Pass
These saguaro, smaller, were impressive in a different way, clinging to the rocky slopes at altitude. The agave was blooming, the cactus wren were feasting, and the weather was much more pleasant, too.
But the day was only halfway over…!
[…] we came down out of El Capitan Pass, still in search of an enormous old man saguaro to snap my crazy mug beside, we pulled off […]