A Prickly Disposition

April 19, 2019

Our first camping trip in the Sonoran Desert was marked by the phrase, “Don’t worry, we have pliers.” Despite the variety of critters that make their home in the desert, the thing we were warned the most vociferously against was stumbling into a cholla cactus. And for good reason. Unlike shy scorpions and rattle snakes that will let you know if you’re bothering them, cholla attack without warning. They lay in wait in unassuming locations, ready to attach themselves to anything that passes carelessly by. And once they get a hold of you, they don’t like to let go. Just ask my shoes. Luckily, shoes seemed to be the only real casualties of the excursion.


Despite their prickly disposition, cholla are striking, especially when the light hits them just so. Their strange and wonderful beauty is a theme in the Sonoran Desert. Boojam trees look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, cardones cacti grow so large they look like they should topple, and spiders camouflage so well you can’t help but wonder how many you might have accidentally stepped on. And as if that wasn’t enough, you can stand next to a cactus while watching dolphins surf the waves and whales spout off shore—which we did.

Photo of the flowers of a cardones cactus. PC: Lily Huffman


Photo of boojam trees along our morning hike. PC: Lily Huffman

Camping in the desert was an experience that reignited in me a sense of wonder and appreciation, not just for the plants and animals, but also for the people who have made this area of the world their home. Looking out from the ridgeline of a mountain after our morning hike, I found myself wondering what it would be like to live in such a place. Making a living from the ocean is anything but predictable, and trying to survive in the desert is a punishing prospect. I imagine that it would be easy to become as hard and weathered as the landscape. But unlike the cholla, the people we have met have been nothing but kind and inviting.

Photo of the coastline sweeping away toward Puerto Libertad. PC: Lily Huffman

Getting back in the van to leave after our camping trip, I was struck by the feeling that the desert has many more lessons to teach. They’re rustling through the leaves of the palo verde, drifting past on a creosote-scented breeze, and splashing up from the waves cut by the bow of a panga. Perhaps the pliers aren’t for the cholla, but rather those of us who won’t want to be pried away after our two and a half weeks here are through.

Photo of a cardones cactus at night. PC: Lily Huffman