After all the educational programs at the Saguaro National Park were finished on our first day, we prepared to leave the Visitor Center. First we needed to find a place to stay for the evening. We purchased a National Geographic map of the area, which showed BLM land, and inquired about boondocking possibilities at the information desk. The first person we talked to warned us to be careful to not cross over onto reservation land, and another person overheard the conversation and gave us helpful pointers about how to get to a parcel of BLM land they knew to be active for boondockers. Finally they all warned us to be careful and watch out for drug smugglers sneaking across the border. People are really worried about these criminals, but a quick Google search did not reveal any concrete stories of the violence we were warned about.

The directions we received did not lead to a place to camp, but after some searching we came across information on the BLM website about the Ironwood Forest National Monument managed by the agency, and we drove there. We camped at this monument at the Manville Street entrance for three nights. The first morning the police came by to ask if we had seen any drug smugglers and warn us to be careful, and that evening a ranger stopped by to say the same. We saw the police vehicle drive by a couple more times while camped there. The third night we had company, a fifth wheel (trailer-style camper) parked close to the road, which we pulled as far away from as practical to not impede on their privacy.

In reading about the Ironwood Forest National Monument, which is established to protect the the ironwood tree, I found my way to the website soliciting volunteers. Reading this along with our experiences at the Saguaro National Park with the volunteers there caused me to reflect on the ways in which our national conservation and nature education programs depend on volunteer labor. I found this both inspirational – I look forward to the day when we are settle and I can contribute – and  a little sad that these programs need the volunteers because they cannot support enough motivated individuals to make a living working in these important fields.

Sunset in Ironwood Forest National Monument on our first evening.

Sunset in Ironwood Forest National Monument on our first evening.

Each afternoon after the programs we went for short walks on trail in Saguaro National Park, and on the third day we hiked a short mountain contained in the park. The whole time we scanned each cactus in our view in search of the perfect, archetypical specimen that sports two arms opposite each other and just offset vertically. In the search of this “perfect” cactus, we saw many beautiful sights and had a lot of fun.

Scenic road leading to the hiking trails in Saguaro National Park.

Scenic road leading to the hiking trails in Saguaro National Park.

Hiking into the saguaro forest.

Hiking into the saguaro forest.

I mimic the shape of a typical two-armed cactus.

I mimic the shape of a typical two-armed cactus.

John mimics a boxing cactus.

John mimics a boxing cactus.

Together we mimic a pair of hugging saguaro.

Together we mimic a pair of hugging saguaros.

This saguaro offers a comforting arm around the shoulders. Don't get too close, though!

This saguaro offers a comforting arm around the shoulders. Don’t get too close, though!

Gettin' friendly with a three-armed saguaro.

Gettin’ friendly with a three-armed saguaro.

Bird on top of a saguaro. How do the animals deal with the spines on these things?!?

Bird on top of a saguaro. How do the animals deal with the spines on these things?!?

Silly saguaro...you are not going to get very big rooted into a rock!

Silly saguaro…you are not going to get very big rooted into a rock!

Leafy ocotillo with saguaros.

Leafy ocotillo with saguaros.

Sunset on our second evening at Ironwood National Monument off Manville Street.

Sunset on our second evening at Ironwood National Monument off Manville Street.

Mountain flanked by two saguaros in the saguaro forest.

Mountain flanked by two saguaros in the saguaro forest.

Beautiful shot of a cholla.

Beautiful shot of a cholla.

Bright yellow flower jumps out from desert color scheme.

Bright yellow flower jumps out from desert color scheme.

Another yellow flower!

Another yellow flower!

Delicate yellow blooms.

Delicate yellow blooms.

And a purple one.

And a purple one.

Tiny white blooms hug the ground. False spring sure is beautiful!

Tiny white blooms hug the ground. False spring sure is beautiful!

View from the top of Wasson Peak.

View from the top of Wasson Peak.

John on Wasson Peak.

John on Wasson Peak. 

Little bird begging for food on Wasson Peak.

Little bird begging for food on Wasson Peak.

Two room stone building in the middle of the wilderness. We entered this building and I immediately felt claustrophobic because the rooms are so small. I don't even think they are big enough to lay down in, but it was probably used as a house.

Two room stone building in the middle of the wilderness. We entered this building and I immediately felt claustrophobic because the rooms are so small. I don’t even think they are big enough to lay down in, but it was probably used as a house.

Just as I was pointing out a beautiful ocotillo flower to John, a humming bird found the same flower! Zoom in and see if you can find the humming bird-blur!

Just as I was pointing out a beautiful ocotillo flower to John, a humming bird found the same flower! Zoom in and see if you can find the humming bird-blur!

This saguaro has an interesting pattern - I suspect is is a scar.

This saguaro has an interesting pattern – I suspect is is a scar.

Sunset on our final evening camping at Ironwood National Monument.

Sunset on our final evening camping at Ironwood National Monument.

Just as we were nearing the end of our time at Saguaro National Park, we finally came across the perfect quintessential cactus.

Just as we were nearing the end of our time at Saguaro National Park, we finally came across the perfect quintessential cactus.

3 Thoughts on “Quest for the Quintessential Cactus Part 2: The Search

  1. Theresa Smith on February 27, 2014 at 8:21 am said:

    Wow John and Heidi. I really enjoy reading your blog. The photographs are great and love the stories. I’ve spent many a night camping in the intermountain west. Have fun with your mom, John. She deserves a break.

    • Thanks Theresa! We really enjoy creating and sharing it. In fact, the comments we receive are the highlights of our day. We’ve been having a great journey so far and I’m so happy Mom is here with us for a bit. She’s having a great time and seems to be at ease with everything that’s going on back home.

  2. Louisa Treskon on March 1, 2014 at 12:08 pm said:

    Wow, these posts were a fascinating read. Thanks for sharing so much about the ecosystem. I actually learned a lot and have a whole new interest in the desert now!

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