Saturday, March 24, 2012

Desert Appreciation Day

Yesterday was an "eat no dust" ride in the desert. I'm calling it "desert appreciation day" because there was no destination on this ride. It was strictly for fun and education and seeing a few things you just don't see if you pass them by too fast. I'll try to share a few of the experiences with you using photo images to illustrate what we saw and experienced on this day.

In this first shot there is some scrub brush... and then sticking out to the right of the shrub is what looks like a dead branch of some sort of old wizzled up cactus. But that cactus is alive. It is a variety of night blooming cereus. Frank, our leader and teacher for the day, tells us that the cactus has looked like this for three years now. Every time he and his wife Dolores drive out into the desert, which is pretty much daily, he brings a gallon of water to give it a drink. This species of cactus blooms one day (make that NIGHT) a year, normally in June some time. Although it looks like a dead stick, there is a root weighing probably close to a hundred pounds below the dust and sand of the desert surface- so when the time comes it will be ready to do its thing. This one has not bloomed the last three years because of the drought, but Frank is hopeful that this will be the year. While this cactus is deemed very rare, Frank knows where to find a number of them. And judging by the way they look right now, no one else is gonna find them any time soon.

This is Frank again in this shot. Not Moses. But look closely at the next several shots and you will see "the burning bush." Well, not exactly a bush. Rather, a teddy bear cholla. The scourge of the desert hiker or rider. Those barbs on the spines of that cactus will stick to anything and everything, and should they make contact with your foot or your hand, or anywhere else for that matter- it hurts! We carry a pliers to pull them out when we get stuck- they are so bad that when they are stuck in you somewhere, you can't really grab them with the other hand to pull them out.

BUT! The cactus is edible and provides water when all else fails in the desert. A match or lighter applied to the base of the cactus will "torch" the entire plant in a matter of seconds. No accelerant is used- it isn't necessary. And the plant is not harmed by the flash fire that occurs. But the spines are burned off (for the most part), at least to the point where you can then hold a section of the plant, peel it with a knife, then eat the soft and somewhat slippery meat of the inside of the plant. These cactus are pretty much everywhere on the desert and are sometimes burned in this fashion by desert farmers and ranchers so that cattle can eat them. They tasted very good!

Tom samples the "toasted"cholla."

If you told me to go find Lichens in Alaska I'd have no problem. Neither would the reindeer that love to eat them. But in the desert. Well, I would never have found them, but Frank did!

They call this Valentine Rock because the "window" through the rock is in the shape of a heart. Really? It looks like a chicken laying an egg to me. What do you see??? There were nine more windows in the valley we rode through next.

But big animals always seem to steal the show and on this day there was no exception. Two of the largest rams we have ever come across anywhere performed on the almost perfectly vertical slope just beyond the plain and the wash we were riding when we spotted them. They allowed us to come very close. Maybe too close for my comfort, but sometimes you just can't help yourself- they are just so magnificent.

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