Thursday, May 31, 2007

Arizona Weekend

I just spent a lovely weekend with my son and his family in Arizona. That's one way to beat the "June gloom" we get here in LA every year. That's when the land starts to heat up but the ocean water is still cold so the result is daily fog. Where I live and for most of the LA basin, that means gray skies and cool weather. The sun may break through in the afternoon, but sometimes that doesn't happen until very late in the day. Just when you want to change into your summer clothing, you find yourself still wearing jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and jackets. It always takes visiting relatives by surprise to find that sunny Southern California has this gloomy side.

But Arizona is just right now—a warm, dry 104 degrees, with balmy 84 degree evenings. My son and I did some astronomy and it was so nice to be comfortable while gazing at the stars. In fact, it was nice to SEE the stars period—no fog—even though the moon was almost full. We didn't want to do any hiking during the day, but swimming in the pool every afternoon made up for it.

My grandson and I went for a walk around the block one morning so I could take some pictures. I was surprised to see so many flowers in bloom. Even the cacti were blooming. One of the most interesting plants of Arizona is the saguaro. The one above was outside a restaurant and is covered with flower buds. While I took the picture in the evening, the flowers had not opened yet. They open at night and are spent by late afternoon the next day. The flowers are always up on the top like a crown. These plants can grow to be 50 feet tall and live for 150 to 200 years. It's not until they are a venerable 75 to 100 years old that arms start to appear. It's all desert driving along Route 10 from California into Arizona, but you will not see the saguaro until you cross the border. And then suddenly, there they are.

The prickly pear (above right) has flowers on it while the barrel cactus on the left has finished blooming and is setting fruit. One year we went on vacation to Long Island and I was surprised to find prickly pear growing all over a cemetery there. We were doing some genealogy research.

Some cacti grow in very weird shapes like the ones on the left and below. I don't know the names of these plants but a bird has managed to build a nest inside one of them! I guess that makes sense as the nest will be well protected by the spines of the cactus.

These plants were all in someone's backyard, and are well-watered compared to plants that have to survive on the rainfall alone. They are therefore fatter, greener, and more apt to bloom. Crossing the desert on my way to Arizona I didn't see any flowering plants, not even the ocotillo, due to the very dry winter we have had this year.

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