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Make Like a Saguaro

Sunday, 18 January 2004
written by Teresa

I can only assure you that the title of this article was appropriate when I first put pen to paper, metaphorically that is, back in mid December. However, in the approach to Christmas the days mysteriously shortened, whole weeks disappeared and before I knew it, we were in the wonderful damp greenness of England, with the desert a mere fleeting memory. As always in these situations, I would ask you to take your mind back in time and imagine that you are in Arizona, before the holidays.

The sun is shining, daytime temperatures are warm and the desert landscape stretches off into the distance with its sparse vegetation. Travelling south through the state we began to notice an inordinately large number of RV's. By the time we reached Lake Havasu City, mid way down the state, there was a serious congestion with vehicles crammed into numerous RV parks and a fair number already set up on BLM land. Rigs from the snow bound northern states and Canada feature prominently in this milieu and we began to experience a vague sense of belonging to a vast migratory herd moving towards the winter-feeding grounds at Quartzsite.

Quartzsite, Arizona is more a phenomenon than a town. A post office, three tiny food markets, two truck stops and twenty-seven solar energy shops do not reflect the diversity of requirement found within the average community. The outside collection window at the post office has a never-ending queue of people shuffling forward to pick up their general delivery. It is one of the few permanent buildings in town, on one of only a handful of paved roads, the vast majority of space being taken by temporary stalls set up to cater for the arriving hordes, in enormous outdoor markets known here as "Swap Meets". Exchange of currency for goods is now the order of the day and new vendors were arriving daily in the gradual build up to the anticipated frenzy of January when numbers swell exponentially and every square foot of land is accounted for. The main attractions in the post holiday month are an RV show and a gem, rock and mineral market that bring the multitudes flooding in.

The temporary population is almost exclusively white and retired with many of the RV parks in town refusing access to people less than fifty-five years old. Needless to say we're not welcome and of course given our propensity for loud, anti-social behaviour, this is perfectly understandable. RVs scattered across BLM land outside Quartzsite Luckily there are a number of areas of BLM land surrounding the town that allow free parking for up to fourteen days and had we the inclination to stay, there is also long stay parking available. However, a few days in this most bizarre location was enough, and as the English would say, "It's not our cup of tea". Having said that, it gave Sterling an opportunity to buy more solar panels and a new bank of batteries along with enough wire to wrap twice around the camper and sufficient hardware to open a stall of our own.

Most stereotypical images of Arizona involve a caricature of the Saguaro Cactus and it was around Quartzsite that that we began to notice them standing in isolation among the creosote bushes. Dawn Saguaro While a few conform to the cartoon image, on the whole they are far less uniform than the picture book images suggest, many having multiple arms projecting at strange angles from the trunk. Closer inspection reveals numerous holes excavated by animals and birds and areas where the outer flesh has been removed, revealing the intricate lattice of the supporting structure. They are amazing plants, towering up to fifty feet and in some areas covering the land in an amazing density giving the skyline a most distinctive appearance. There is something humorous and endearing about them and we vowed to return in the springtime one year to see them in flower.

Driving east towards Phoenix we stopped in the small town of Wellton while Sterling did a couple of days work and I performed some amazing feats with a duster and damp cloth. The small RV park we stopped in was gearing up for Christmas with most residents entering into the spirit of things. The density of lights and other holiday paraphernalia was truly astounding and called for the nightly ritual of walking round the loops, mouths dropping in amazement at the sheer weight of wire and bulbs being supported by some rigs.

The town itself is a small cluster of buildings around a central crossroads and the overall appearance is not one of opulence. We learnt to our cost that there was a feedlot and slaughterhouse close enough to send its fragrances wafting towards the town when the wind was in the wrong direction. In light of this my experience with tripe in the local Mexican restaurant might seem appropriate. I enjoy trying different foods and given the homogeneity of dishes found in most Mexican establishments I was instantly attracted to something that I didn't recognise. The young lad acting as the waiter was unable to furnish me with many details about my chosen delicacy but I decided to go ahead anyway. A bowl of reddish soup arrived full of pieces of well-cooked tripe. Now I am usually willing to eat most things and especially when someone has gone to the bother of cooking them from scratch but I have some very deep-seated memories regarding tripe. They are from childhood when there was a tripe shop lurking amongst the local emporia. The window was full of trays of uncooked offal featuring many varieties of tripe including my most dreaded, a dark brown one. Sonoran Desert Camp For some reason, the window held a terrible fascination as well as a stomach churning revulsion. I've never been able to shake the reaction and hence was not overly excited at the prospect of my dinner.

We were heading towards Casa Grande where we were intending to leave the camper while we flew to England for the holidays. On the way east we stopped for a night in the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Our first attempt at finding a suitable place to park found us amongst a disturbingly large group of beehives presumably left to winter in the comparatively warm temperatures. At my instigation we moved on quickly. Our second try brought us into a wonderful density of Saguaros where we stopped surrounded by the prickly giants enjoying the wonderful silence of the desert.

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