Breaking Stereotypes: The Sonoran Desert is Anything but Deserted

May 4, 2019

As I sit in the airport waiting for my last flight back to North Carolina, I find myself thinking about how full of the life the Sonoran Desert is. My preconceived notion of the desert was a hot, dry, lifeless place where humans easily perish; an environment meant to be escaped not sought after and celebrated. In reality, as least in the Sonoran Desert, the desert and the waters that surround it are a place of great diversity, abundance and activity, quite unmatched in beauty and full of diversity in both life and experience. From our first day in Puerto Libertad, I was in awe of the number of clams gathered by our host Gabriel; 300 in just 2.5 hours of work! Our hike the next day certainly didn’t disappoint with lush, colorful Boojum trees standing like giants and spiky cactus art surrounding us.

Image 1. In the top left corner are Gabriel’s clams reading for processing, in the top right corner a Boojum tree standing tall next to a Cardone cactus.

Traveling to and from Tiburón, we were bombarded by dolphins jumping, twisting and bow riding along our boat and occasionally accompanied by sharks –we saw both mako and hammerhead! We ran into fishermen with boats near filled with snail or shark to be sold. The snails patterned beautifully black with intricate shells, the sharks dark grey and sleek with piercing green eyes. On the island, we fell asleep under a thick blanket of thousands of stars to the sound of nearby coyotes and pill bugs swarming our tents and walked to the bathroom at night in slight fear of rattlesnakes or scorpions. We saw plenty of deer tracks and even some rabbit track in the sand.

Image 2. In the top left, you can see the dive fisherman’s boat filled with snails; In the top right, the three sharks given to us for dinner by the nearby shark fisher

Our trip to Rasa was no different with regards to abundant life. The island is a seabird haven – thousands and thousands of Heermanns gulls and terns nest here each year. The sky and ground were full of birds flying this way and that, constantly yelling at us to stay away from their eggs. There was never a point when something was not happening. The next day, our trip to San Pedro Matir seemed just as full of seabirds, but this time the island was covered in brown boobies and tropic birds. The island was nearly completely white from the abundance of birds covering it in guano. Life below the water was as busy as the rocks above. Here we were able to get in the water with sea lions! A pack of 15-20 sea lions would pass you underwater, eye you, disappear into the depths, and return again to eye you once more. We also saw sea turtles and large pillars of sea weed, small schools of fish and sting rays. Simply put, life was everywhere. in abundance matched only by what I’ve seen in rainforest areas of Alaska!

Image 3. At the top, Isla Rasa, at the bottom left a brown booby inspecting our boat, and at the bottom right sea lions checking us out.

I had not expected to be so captivated by the abundance of life here in this area of the Sonoran Desert, moreover finding myself making comparisons to Alaskan wildlife abundance (where is technically a rainforest!). There was consistently something new to see, something new to inspect the entire trip. I’ll never think of the desert in the same way again.