The incredible Sonoran Desert in bloom – Arizona

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Palo Verde flower

“WOW!” was the first word that came out of my mouth as we approached Tucson on I-10 from the east.  We were looking at a sea of yellow as the Palo Verde blooms had virtually exploded!  This was our “nth” visit here, the unofficial home base where we’d spent several winters and one long hot summer.  During most of those visits we’d seen a lot of brown and dark olive colors, and some uniformly lush green.  But this time it was yellow all around!

The Sonoran Desert in springtime, after an unusually wet winter

The weather Gods were finally with us during our two-week May visit, the coolest in more than 40 years according to the National Weather Service.  The locals also confirmed the desert would be more colorful longer this year, and they couldn’t remember a more intense and widespread Palo Verde bloom.  It looked like our timing was good!

The Palo Verde is Arizona’s state tree

Palo Verde is Spanish for “green stick”

Our priority on this visit was doctor appointments, everything from cancer follow-ups to eye and dental inspections.  Fortunately we both continue to have eyes and teeth, and no cancer!

While driving around we couldn’t help but notice the vibrant colors along every road, hillside, wash and just about everywhere else:

We managed to hike two trails: the Cactus Forest Trail at Saguaro National Park-east and the Douglas Spring Trail at a nearby city park.  During both outings we were awestruck by how lush, colorful and vibrant the desert was:

A Cholla cactus bloom brought red highlights to the landscape

The desert was awash with yellow and splashed with red from Ocotillo blooms.  Hints of pink to light yellow from Prickly Pear flowers, and deep red or bright yellow Cholla blooms added to the mix:

Red Ocotillo blooms added brilliance to the scenery

The usually drab Chollas and Prickly Pears were bursting with color:

Not to be outdone, the stately Saguaros were sporting green crowns on their heads, bulbous nubs blooming into beautiful flowers.  They usually start to wake up in mid-May, but a large number were already showing off their milky white blooms that are Arizona’s state’s flower:

A single Saguaro can produce as many as 100 flowers in a season, with each lasting only one day.  They usually open at night and close soon after the sun starts to beat on them:

This Sonoran Desert beauty was sporting white headdresses

All doctors gave us two thumbs up, with extra happiness about two years cancer-free for Steve.  Even Betsy got a full bath to remove filth carried many miles from Texas.  A great visit all around!

Oh, Steve (a habit copied from one of our fellow RVers, you know who you are!) 🙂

Wickenburg, Arizona

We moved on to Wickenburg, 60 miles northwest of Phoenix, to explore it as a possible place to settle down one day.  We placed it near the top of our list after driving around, hiking, talking to locals and looking into real estate prices.  It met most of our requirements and we intend to come back to take another look later this year.

We consulted several pioneers who were milling around downtown.  They seemed to be frozen in time, but each had a story to tell via audio stations:

With the Sonoran Desert as a backdrop, the surrounding mountains keep residents close to nature with access to numerous hiking trails.  We tackled two of them during our stay;  Vulture Peak and Sophies Flat.

At an elevation of 3,660′, Vulture Peak is the highest point in the Vulture Mountains

We had hiked Vulture Peak in 2015, but Steve wanted to give it another try.  It’s only four miles out and back, but the last half going up is a strenuous climb up a steep hillside on loose rocks.  We ran into a terrible gnat invasion this time which pretty much spoiled the hike, but Steve was happy that he made it without the exhaustion he experienced the first time around.

Dozens of gnats seemed to like our hiking pants

Assessing the challenge ahead

Scrambling through a rocky gully

Made it to the saddle!

He attempted the summit, but a rock wall and no available ropes stopped him 😦

The view from the mountain’s saddle is worth some scrambling

Sophies Flat Trail was a fairly easy 7-mile trek through washes, over hills and around Red Top Peak.  It was another scenic desert hike with yellow remaining the dominant color:

Soap Yuccas were in bloom too

Wickenburg in the distance

The Teddy Bear Cholla blooms were waning

Barrel Cactus showed some buds

Our lucky day, we spotted not one but two venomous Gila Monsters along the trail.  One of them hissed at me!

The Palo Verde put on a spectacular show, turning the desert a gorgeous yellow-gold.  We were delighted to be here during a special spring brought on by the unseasonably cold and wet winter that several of our RV friends had endured.  Simply breathtaking!

 

Next up:  Summer plans revealed, more hikes and meet-ups with friends!



 

The long road to recovery – Tucson, AZ

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First off, a big THANK YOU to everyone, family and friends who have reached out to us, left supporting comments, sent texts and private messages extending warm thoughts and virtual hugs for Steve.  We continue to feel the positive vibes from prayers sent our way and we couldn’t ask for more.

Just when my stress level was at an all-time high after Steve’s operation, Jim and Diana of exploRVistas arrived in Tucson to give me a warm hug and much needed emotional boost. It was our first meeting, and they came at the right moment.

Explore vista

With Jim and Diana

Steve had a 4-hour minimally-invasive robotic surgery that went well.  He was so curious about the robotic surgical system da Vinci used for the surgery that he talked the surgical team into showing him the machine before they put him under.  We learned that the da Vinci system is named in part because Leonardo da Vinci’s study of human anatomy eventually led to the design of the first known robot.

Steve is taking it one day at a time.  With the challenge of surgery behind us, we still have a long way to go.  In a few weeks he will begin his radiation therapy to kill the bad stuff that the surgeon could not remove from the base of his tongue.  At this point we’re glad that chemotherapy won’t be needed – he gets to keep his hair!

Lowes Travels

Following surgery we take twice-daily walks around the RV park

What this means is we’ll be in Tucson through the summer.  It may be sizzling hot here, but Betsy is parked under a towering 28′ high “Power Parasol” solar system, keeping her in the shade at all times.

Lazy Days KOA

Betsy is comfortably tucked in under the solar arrays

The good stuff

The reward for being in southern Arizona beyond winter is that we get to experience the progression of the desert wildflowers in bloom.  So while we were in waiting mode for Steve’s doctor appointments and surgery date we hiked daily to enjoy the remaining cool temps and desert landscape.

Staghorn ChollaWe would usually miss seeing these flowers, as we would be somewhere north by now. Unlike other wildflowers, cacti don’t bloom together in great masses of color.  Different species dominate at different times and vary in their showiness, depending on weather conditions.

Beyond this point the post becomes flowery, so if you don’t like flowers or cactus now is the time to end your reading 🙂

In  March the Ocotillos were showing off spikes of crimson red flowers, to the delight of many birds:

Ocotillo

House Finch

House Finch snacking

In early April, the Palo Verde trees turned the Sonoran Desert landscape into a sea of yellow, covering the area with dense blooms:

Palo Verde

Palo Verde

Palo Verde

This tiny bright yellow flower is what covers the Palo Verde trees in a blanket of yellow

The yellow creosote bush blossoms from late February turn into white wooly seedlings ready to be scattered by the wind:

Creosote Bush

The creosote seedlings give an iridescent glow when viewed against the light

Each time we followed a trail we were amazed how plants as spiky and homely as cacti produce such spectacular flowers.  The first one that caught our attention was the Engelmann Hedgehog for its bright beautiful fuchsia flowers:

The Prickly Pear were showing their best as well:

 

We’re seeing many colors in the desert in mid-April.  The Chollas are starting to display their blooms that range in color from bright red to yellow, pink, green, orange and peachy hues.  During our hikes in past years we never saw a single bud, much less a flower, and we just overlooked these Chollas as just another thorny desert plant.  But this spring we stopped, scrutinized and admired their colorful flowers.

The fuzzy Teddy Bear Cholla has a yellow-green flower

Staghorn Cholla

The top section of this Staghorn Cholla had red flowers, while the lower half had green ones

On the trail we came across the various hues of  Staghorn Cholla blooms:

 

Jumping Cholla

The nasty Jumping Cholla or Chain Fruit Cholla spreads a bright pink flower!

And now in May, the Ironwood Tree unfolds its beauty with lilac-colored blossoms which are abundant at Tucson Mountain Park.

Iron wood tree flower

Isn’t it pretty!

The Sonoran desert is alive with splashes of colorful desert flower blooms in the spring.  But admiring this beauty comes with a caution.  As temps warm up, the rattlesnakes that have been dormant are awakening, and one of them was waiting for us on the trail:

Rattlesnake

His appearance reminded us to stay alert!

 

Next up:  The superstar of the Sonoran Desert