A Festive Anniversary Week in the Sonoran Desert. Part 1: la Casita

December 11-17, 2022

Wow! 50! Can’t believe we’ve been together for so many years. Can’t believe it seems like yesterday. Countless adventures, miles, laughs, memories. How the good times fly! 50 years on December 12th, and I wasn’t about to let the winter doldrums keep us hunkered down at home. Surely a road trip was in store to properly round out our year of desert discoveries!  I booked us a week at a little one room home about 25 miles north of Tucson, AZ ….. in the land of the mighty saguaro cactus ….. where Roy and I, and of course Luna, could soak in some southwest winter sun and take our time exploring this new-to-us area of the Sonoran Desert. 

Come along with us for 7 days of discoveries in the Sonoran Desert!

We arrived early afternoon on the 11th and found our charming la Casita smack dab in the middle of a saguaro forest!  After the 500 mile drive from home, we were ready to stretch our legs, and Luna was anxious for a run. Settling into our “little home” would have to wait. Bordered on 2 sides by Arizona state lands, la Casita was perfectly located for daily hikes amongst all things poky, spiny, prickly, thorny, barbed and bristly. Our hikes turned into slow and careful walks. Luna was not impressed! 

It was during our rambling across acres of lands behind la Casita where we began our crash course in Sonoran flora and fauna, that would continue throughout the week. 

Some highlights from our time around la Casita

We learned that walking along dry washes lined with long-spine palo verde and mesquite resulted in snagged and sometimes torn shirts and pants.  But then escaping upslope was like playing pinball as we zigzagged too close to several species of abundantly spiny cholla and shoulder tall fishhook barrel cacti. It was all worth it to be surrounded by the 20-30 foot tall iconic symbol of the American Southwest .. the Saguaro.  

To our grand delight, we discovered a rare crested or “cristate” saguaro on these state lands. Crested saguaros only form in about 1 in 10,000 (although some sources state the number is 1 in 200,000).  Regardless, they are still very rare.  Scientists believe that due to a genetic mutation, the usually columnar/vertical growth of the main stem begins to branch and branch and branch, and branch again and again until it can branch no more, all the while forming a type of super compacted laterally spreading crest or crown at the very top.  The one we found behind la Casita had a camel face! Perfect for the desert, huh? From the time we spotted the Camel (at a distance of 200 yards, as the crow flies) to when we arrived at its base (we had to see this guy up close and personal), a full hour had passed as we slowly and safely dodged as many threatening cactus spines as possible. Almost made it unscathed. 

The saguaro provides food for many desert critters, like bats and mice, and nesting holes for owls and woodpeckers, like flickers and the Gila woodpecker.  Although it’s not breeding/nesting season during December, the very noisy/squeaky toy sounding Gila woodpecker were plentiful and easy to spot as they crept up and down the spine loaded stems of the saguaro.

A curve-billed thrasher voraciously munching on fishhook barrel cactus fruit behind la Casita

We enjoyed many fun hours exploring these state lands, both before and after our long days of visiting a number of other places in and around Tucson. 

Stay tuned for Part 2: Saguaro National Park West – Tucson Mountain District

9 Comments

  1. Congratulations on 50 years! What a wonderful way to celebrate — with the Saguaros! They are a most fascinating cactus, and I have never heard of the crested ones. Enjoy every moment and looking forward to seeing all of your trip’s discoveries!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Karen! We had a marvelous time.

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  2. Be lated Happy Birthday dear friend and so fascinating trip as well 🙏🌷👍🏻😊 Beautiful photography and
    exploring the beauty of the place marvellous 👏♥️thank you for sharing and grace wishes 🙏🌷💝🥂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely comments, Thattamma! It was a wonderful week of celebration, beginning with our wedding anniversary of 50 years, and ending (how did you know!?) my birthday (of 69 years!) Another hard to believe passage of time! Thanks for following my adventures in the desert southwest!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So double joy celebration 💐 beautiful and Happy Wedding Anniversary dear friend 🌹🙏💕
        Lots of love and grace wishes Dear Two also 👏🥂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jean Mackay says:

    What a great post! Congrats on 50 years and Happy Birthday! Looks like this trip was a great way to celebrate. The Sonoran desert is such a fascinating and rich landscape. I’d love a week there to explore and sketch…it’s been many years since I’ve been. I especially enjoyed seeing your gambles quail- a fun bird. I’ll look forward to Part 2.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Jean, for the comments on the post and our celebrations! It was a wonderful week, spent in deep desert immersion. My favorite way to learn. The quail were great fun as were the thrashers and woodpeckers.
      I found a week went by too quickly. Now that I’m more familiar with a lot of the plants and a few birds, I’m wondering what March or April will look like! Must return. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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  4. sgoodman56 says:

    Happy birthday and anniversary. I was going to say that you are not old enough to have been married for 50 years, but you explained it with your age. Although you don’t look over 60!

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    1. Ha! Thanks so much, Susan!

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