My May 2021 Arizona road trip is in the can

2000+ miles and a week on the road: Another trip to Arizona is in the can. This was the first time I visited Arizona in May, and things sure looked different than they do in late December, my usual time slot. 

California may be in a drought, but Arizona is even worse off because their megadrought has been accompanied by record-breaking temperatures. Prickly pears are wrinkled like centenarians, and saguaros are exhibiting mass flowering in response to extreme environmental stress.

Still, the beauty of the desert is undiminished, and being surrounded by it for five days was exactly what I needed to recharge my batteries.

I took lots of photos—that goes without saying, doesn't it?—and will have a slew of posts in the weeks to come. As a teaser, here's a brief overview of where I was.

On the road

Arizona isn't around the corner from Northern California, so being on the road is a major part of any trip. Audiobooks—entertaining, not too brainy—help pass the time. And there are occasional stops, of course.

“A desert road from Vegas to nowhere. Someplace better than where you've been.”

“A coffee machine that needs some fixin', in a little cafe just around the bend.”

I am calling you. Can't you hear me? I am calling you.”

I was very excited to find some Echinocactus polycephalus growing right off an I-40 frontage road. This rare cactus is exceedingly slow-growing; a two-header like this is probably 50 years old. It's endangered because of poaching.

Approaching Lake Havasu City, Arizona, my first overnight stop

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) in flower

Forest of Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) not far from Destination:Forever Ranch near Yucca, Arizona

Jan Emming, Yucca, AZ

My first visit, on Tuesday morning, was to Jan Emming's Destination:Forever Ranch near Yucca, Arizona.

Jan Emming in front of the papercrete house he built himself

Flowering agave next to a flowering saguaro

Just some of the many plants Jan has for sale

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

I visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix both on Tuesday evening and on Wednesday morning, making the most of my membership.

This opuntia field is always a breathtaking sight

Aloidendron dichotomum—yes, they can (and do) grow aloes in Arizona

Diamond cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima)

Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris)

A grove of palo blanco trees (Mariosousa willardiana)

Flowering Yucca rostrata

Banana yucca (Yucca baccata) in a tall urn

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, AZ

After my Wednesday morning visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, I headed east to Boyce Thompson Arboretum outside of Superior. 

Golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii) may be a common sight in public and private landscaping, but there's a good reason why: they're very easy on the eyes!

Totem pole cactus (monstrose form of Pachycereus schottii)

Picketpost Mountain

A gnarly place to sit

Greg Starr, Tucson, AZ

On Thursday morning, I visited agave guru Greg Starr at this home in Tucson.

Greg was busy potting up astrophytums

One my purchases, Agave megalodonta, a recently described species (2019) in the Agave titanota complex

This saguaro is right off Greg's driveway. Greg set up a tall ladder so I could photograph the flowers close up.

Although saguaros are typically pollinated by bats, bees play and increasingly important role as bat populations continue to dwindle

Jeff Moore/Arid Adaptations, Tucson, AZ

On Tuesday afternoon, it was on to Jeff Moore's place northwest of Tucson proper. Jeff grows more than 250,000 plants on his 4 acre property. This guy has everything!

Saguaro on a stick, anyone?

One of many hoop houses at Jeff's place

Not just succulents, snakes, too!

Echinocereus viereckii

Mammillaria sp. with fruit that is as attractive as the flowers

Agave chazaroi and flowering gymnocalyciums

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, AZ

I visited both the western and eastern units of Saguaro National Park, and, oddly enough, found far fewer open saguaro flowers than elsewhere in Tucson. Since the flowers only stay open a day or two, maybe it was just a timing thing. There were plenty of unopened buds as well as spent flowers. 

Flower buds on saguaro

Saguaros in the western unit of Saguaro National Park

Ocotillo silhouette

Bach's Cactus Nursery, Tucson, AZ

No rest for plant nerds! On Friday morning I visited Bach's Cactus Nursery. A friend of mine had put me in touch with Bach employee Jordan Mantz, who gave me a tour of the grounds.

Proper entrance to a cactus nursery!

One of several retail greenhouses

Ironwood tree (Olneya tesota) in glorious bloom

Petrified wood in the display garden

In-ground saguaros ready to be dug and relocated

Trichocereus hybrids in bloom, 'First Light' on the left and 'Flying Saucer' on the right

Tucson Botanical Gardens, Tucson, AZ

My last stop in Tucson was at the Tucson Botanical Gardens

The Cactus Car, a favorite photo spot

Agave sobria and monstrose Pachycereus schottii

Colorful rocks are abundant throughout the garden. They used to belong to Harrison Yocum who founded the Tucson Botanical Gardens at his home in 1964. After the TBG moved from there to its current home on the old Porter property in 1975, the Yocum’s extensive rock and mineral collection moved along with it.

Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage, CA

On Saturday, I began the long drive home. But there were a few more stops ahead of me, including Sunnylands, the former Annenberg estate outside of Palm Springs.

Sunnylands is widely known for its mass plantings of succulents

California Botanic Garden, Claremont, CA

My second stop on Saturday was the California Botanic Garden (formerly Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) in Claremont. I'd bought a few plants online that needed to be picked up, and I took the opportunity to stretch my legs, forgetting that this is a large garden (55 acres). I got lost a time or two on the many trails, but I enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Agave shawii

Romneya coulteri

Hesperoyucca whipplei

Huntington Desert Garden, San Marino, CA

After spending Saturday night in Pasadena, I made a quick stop at the Huntington on Sunday morning. The upper portion of the Desert Garden (the Old World section) is undergoing a major renovation and many paths are closed. But the lower portion (the New World section) is open and spectacular as ever.

I arrived home on Sunday evening, exhausted but happy—and with a car full of plants. More on that later.

Look for detailed posts in the days and weeks to come!

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  1. I'd no doubt that you were going to make good use of this trip but I think I still underestimated just how much territory you could cover in a week. If this is the teaser, I can't wait to see the rest of your coverage.

  2. Yay! What a fabulous itinerary. That flowering Yucca rostrata at the DBG looks like a cheerleader with pompoms in her outstretched arms.

  3. I can imagine you were exhausted. Making up for lost time. Looking forward to upcoming posts about your exploits in more detail.

  4. What a trip! Of course I love the Arizona section being from Phoenix myself. Can't wait for more!

  5. We do love following you on your road trips, and seeing all the amazing photos you take!

  6. Bagdad Cafe!
    One of my favorite movies; I never get tired of listening to that haunting song. Excellent reference!
    I love the first photo from the the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.


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