OK, true confession time – we love the desert and this time of year, it is spectacular with its riotous blooming. It’s as if every plant is attempting to outdo the neighbors. The full range of cactus – several varieties of cholla, the willowy ocotillo, the stout little barrel cactus, the ironwood, the prickly pear – are in bloom.
The addition of desert marigolds; a round little plant called brittlebush, with velvety leaves that look like sage; and something called desert globe mallow, with spiky pink flowers, round out the pallet. This is anything but brown and dry and the delicate fragrances that greet us each morning invite us to venture out into the clear, bright, cool morning and begin the day bathed in this sensory delight.
Cave Creek Regional Park, about 2,900 acres in size, is north of Scottsdale and is adorned with a forest of magnificent saguaro cactus. We have been in this area on earlier visits but this is our inaugural trip with our camper, Traveler, and the first time we have hiked these trails.
This morning we hiked about one mile up a trail called the Clay Mine Trail, eventually crossing one from the corral where one can rent horses and, with a wrangler, venture higher up the hills. We smiled as we watched several family groups ride by, each led by a wrangler from central casting. Our friends from the Triangle X would recognize the template created by wranglers we have known over the years – tall, lean, great looking 20-something men, with big-brimmed cowboy hats, and dazzling smiles sitting easily in the saddle of a fine looking horse, wearing it like an accessory.
On our way back down the trail, Boy Scout Troop 39 from Mesa, Arizona scrambled up the trail in the unorganized and mildly chaotic way that a group of 12-year-old boys presents, not quite sure of what their bodies are going to do and full to the brim with a mix of wild anticipation and fear at the prospects. The four adult men with them were successful in keeping them moving generally up the hill and on the trail. I did wonder how long it took the adults to be sure they were coming back down the hill with the same number as they had in the ascent. These are courageous men.
This visit to the desert at Cave Creek follows our last post about the desert when we were further south in Arizona, visiting with a friend and teacher who knows the desert in ways beyond the senses. He took us out to huge and empty places where surprises greeted us, inviting us to consider the stories behind each encounter and to move us beyond the comfortable surroundings that can prevent us from truly seeing. First, we came upon the bleached and scattered skeleton of a horse whose skull displayed a bullet hole. Next, we stumbled on a pile of furniture, trashed and broken, and left at the base of the mesquite trees. And then, we found a flock of sheep – at least 150 – foraging for grasses.
Later in the afternoon of the second day, he took us into the desert along a single row of palo verde trees, to a deep well that was covered only with an old metal bedspring. When we tossed stones down the well, they careened along the sides, sending back haunting, rhythmic echoes, like Tibetan bowls, that resonated right through the body. And on the drive home, as we bounced along a rutted dirt road, we came upon a rattlesnake curled in the middle of the road, searching for warmth as the sun set. We stopped and watched it, coiled up and then lifting its head and turning it, inquisitively. The soft shake of its rattle sounded through the air, apparently indicating he was paying attention but was not alarmed. Since this was my first encounter with a rattlesnake, I was leaning a bit more toward the alarm end of the pendulum, but in still in awe.
What are the stories that I created for each of these moments in my life, that day? What is my attachment to the stories? These are some of the questions that come up for me during this pilgrimage. Much more to come …