It began drizzling as we rolled into the eastern half of Saguaro National Park (did you know that this park is split into two parts with the city of Tucson between them? This was news to us...) and the rain was a cool balm to my dusty, thirsty skin.
After more than a week in the desert, I admit that as we drove from New Mexico toward Arizona, I wasn't thinking very much about Saguaro N.P., that I was sort of expecting the same general landscape we'd been looking at since Big Bend- scrubby mesquite bushes and ochre mountains and clustered prickly pear. It wasn't that I was bored (I mean, c'mon, how does one get bored when it comes to wide spaces and even wider skies?), but it hadn't really registered that this desert would differ significantly from the desert we'd been spending time in. Which is crazy considering that we all know saguaro (pronounced sah-WAR-oh...something else we learned there...isn't the world just full of surprises?) cacti are THE cacti that we all picture when think of cacti at all, all arms and elbows and looking for all the world like they are asking for a hug or giving praise at an old time tent revival.
I was staring out of the passenger window as we approached Tucson, caught up in my thoughts and not really seeing anything I was looking at, so Justin's exclamation startled me a bit and I craned my neck to see what he was pointing toward. Our first sighting of the mighty saguaro. They dotted the open spaces as we passed in ever increasing numbers, sentinels standing watch as we inched toward the keep.
The desert isn't the landscape that calls me home. Don't get me wrong- I genuinely appreciate it and very much treasure my time there, but when my heart hurts and calls for wilderness, it's mighty trees and secret streams and mountains rich with foliage I crave most deeply. After more than a week of heat and dust and air so dry that my skin was cracking, I looked longingly at the building storm clouds but held no real hope for rain in this desert full of cactus royalty.
The first drops fell as we got out of the truck and walked toward the visitor's center. I paused to let the wet hit my skin and took a deep breath, inhaling the distinctive smell of creosote in the rain. It was a little bit sharp and a little bit metallic and will be how I remember the Sonoran Desert smelling for the rest of my days.
Maybe it was the rain or maybe the cool air that came with it, or maybe just simple good timing on our part, but the desert was blooming in full force. The saguaros looked as though they were holding bouquets or wearing midsummer flower crowns in preparation for dancing around the bonfire, and the prickly pear and cholla were eager to keep up with their own festive looks. There is something distinctly special about seeing tender blooms sprouting from such spiny survivalist plants. A reminder that there lies within even the prickliest among us, a fragile and tender heart.
That night we were treated to a thunderstorm that shook the ground beneath our camper. We turned off all of our lights, pulled out a bottle of whiskey, and watched the desert light up. It flung its light and flashed its fury and the rain grabbed the dust from the air as it fell.
Just when I thought I was beginning to know the desert, she showed me her version of tall trees and lush foliage and rushing stream. And then threw in a light show to drive home her point, cheeky thing.