Based on a pro-tip from Rick I drove out to try the Ballantine trail in Tonto National Forest park, which from what I can tell, doesn’t actually have a forest.
If I was in charge of naming the park, I would have given it a clever name like Middle of Nowhere National Park (This is also why I’m not in charge).
I was told that when hiking in the desert, it is best to go very early in the morning or late evening. So I do the smart thing and head out around noon. The trailhead parking lot was completely empty and it was 102°F (or 39 Celsius for those of you that don’t use Freedom units).
Due to the rainfall patterns specific to this area, the Sonoran Desert has a wider variety of plants species than any other desert in the world. Maybe it is a forest after all?
I believe this is a type of Echinocereus cactus in bloom.
I have no idea what kind of cactus this is, but it looks kind of cool. I also saw a few of these with red flowers.
I also don’t know what kind of cactus this is either. Anybody want to share some knowledge?
You guessed it! I have no idea what this is, but it looks cool.
Finally, I can tell you about this plant. It is an Ocotillo Cactus. It normally looks like a dead branch as the plant only grows leafs after rainfall. They can grow up to 20 feet tall.
Close up of the flower from the previous picture. Apparently, during dry years, this plant will always flower but won’t grow any leaves if there isn’t enough rain.
I believe this crazy looking plant is a young barrel cactus. Apparently, a puncture from a barrel cactus to your skin is considered one of the more dangerous cactus to get cut with. If the puncture is deep enough to draw blood, you may even need antibiotics to heal and it can take several months for a full recovery. This is information I probably should have read about before heading out, rather than after.
This little guy was just hanging out on the rocks soaking up some sun. I can ensure you, there was no shortage of sun on this trail.
Did I mention how hot it was? Once this buzzard started circling around me waiting for my almost certain demise, I decided perhaps it would be a good time to start heading back. I was alone, in the middle of the desert, nobody around and perhaps a little dehydrated.
Very sweaty summit selfie! What kind of idiot wears a black hat in the desert? This guy!
On the way back I found this cool looking rock balanced standing up. Much to my surprise, there was a climbing anchor bolt on the top of it. Somebody has been climbing this rock!
Of course no tour of desert plants would be complete without talking about the Saguaro Cactus (the ones that make you think of the road runner cartoons). The Saguaro cactus grows very slowly, about 1” per year. Even at this slow pace, they can grow as high as 40 feet tall over their 150-200 year lifespan.
The Saguaro cactus absorbs water when it rains and stores it for droughts. In the event of prolonged rainfall a Saguaro can weigh up to 4800 lbs as it is full of water. These cactus are protected by law in Arizona; cutting one down is a felony and could land you up to 3 years in jail.
On my way back to the car, I didn’t see a rattlesnake on the trail hiding in the shade from a small bush. I was about 2-3 feet away from it when it started rattling its tail to let me know I was getting too close. I was faced with a tough decision; take a picture or follow the instructions I read the previous day on a sign and slowly back away. Unfortunately (for you), I backed away and don’t have any pictures of the snake. The rattlesnake then very slowly moved away from the trail and eventually allowed me to pass. I’m happy to announce I made it back to my car where I could change my shorts. I also realized the handy sign didn’t say what to do if you get bit by a rattlesnake, I probably should have looked that up.