On Desert Time

I had a good time visiting my brother in the desert. When the weather is just right, as it was this weekend, there is no better place to be. Conversely, during the scorching days of summer, it is best to seek water, shade, and air conditioning as fast as possible. Touch a metal surface on your car, and you can hear your skin burn.

It is difficult to imagine ponds in the desert, yet they exist, as the above image shows. It’s mostly because they are near the San Andreas fault, where subterranean water sometimes pools at the surface.

The only palm tree native to California is the Washingtonia filifera, or California Fan Palm. On a hot day, they not only provide excellent shade, but somehow seem to lower the shade temperature by several degrees. The best place to see this in the Coachella Valley is at the Thousand Palms Oasis off Ramon Road.

Stretching at times all the way to the ground, the dead fronds provide a safe habitat for various critters.

Cholla cactus look so inviting, so huggable even. But beware, the spines are barbed and difficult to remove. Many dogs have chased critters into a cholla and find themselves in great pain. An Arizona hiking site gives instructions for removing cholla cactus spines:

  1. Do not touch your face or put the injured area into your mouth. The cactus needles can easily transfer, so putting it near or face and/or mouth will only make the problem worse.
  2. Carry a plastic hair comb or a multi tool in your pack. It’s been said that if you get stuck with a cholla, you can use the comb to go underneath and pluck it out of your skin. Just make sure your aiming the cholla pod away from everyone else around.
  3. Use tweezers to remove the left over needles. They will likely be small and hard to see so make sure you get to good lighting to see better.
  4. Place duct tape over the area and then quickly pull it off like a band aid. This will hopefully remove the needles, and not your skin!
  5. Use gauze and white glue. Wrap the area up in gauze and then soak it in white glue. Once the glue dries, peel off the gauze which should take the needles with it.

Huggable Death

“Teddy Bear” Cholla Cactus

“Teddy Bear” Cholla Cactus

Their scientific name is Cylindropuntia, and they are beautiful but deadly. I am referring to what are commonly called cholla cactus (pronounced CHO-yah). One finds them all over the deserts of the Southwest, particularly in California, and in parts of Mexico’s Sonora desert.

On one hand, chollas can be astonishingly beautiful. Even on a cloudy day, their silvery green spines shine as if from an inner light. One almost wants to hug them. Beware: The spines are barbed. In no time at all, the desert neophyte can sport almost as many spines as the cactus.

There are many varieties of cholla: The above looks like the notorious Teddy Bear or Jumping Cholla (based on the false perception that the spines jump onto their victim even if the victim does not quite brush against them.)

They make wonderful photographic subject—just so long as you remember to keep your distance.