Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Desert Is Trying To Kill You

Some of you may already know that I'm out in the southwest for a bit. I am, technically, in a desert. The ground is what I would call brown if it were more enthusiastic and tan if it were less dirty. The plants are pointy, as are the mountains. My mountains back home would be jealous until they figured out that the lack of erosion comes from a stifling lack of water.

Of course, humans haven't actually been stifled by conditions that are seemingly trying to drive us all away. Therefore we get to see the mountains, which are a different shade of purple-brown or blue-purple or blue-brown every day.

I've been here a little over a week, and have found some things out about the surrounding land.

One of those things seems to be that the desert is trying to kill us all. It's trying everything. 

1. Heat.

It's been over one hundred degrees every day I've been here. Clouds were really exciting a few days ago because there were, y'know, some present. We live in a bowl formed by a bunch of mountains, and the sun stares down into that bowl like a cook wondering if their soup is done warming up yet.

2. Dry. 

It doesn't really rain. The creatures have adapted, the people have adapted. I know this is a thing that everybody learns in their earth science textbooks, but for an East Coast girl it's a different thing to be in it. Plants guard their water like people guarding gold. 

But then sometimes there's the...

3. Wet.

We had a monsoon today. A monsoon means that the wind howls, the water comes in through every microscopic hole in the wall or garage door, you can't see an inch in front of your face if you're standing at one of said windows, and trees and roof shingles end up a lot closer to the ground than they're supposed to be.

This lasted for a little less than an hour. Afterward, suddenly there were rivers where there had been ravines.

4. Plants.

Cactus. I have now seen a saguaro, but there aren't any in the immediate area. We have mostly prickly pear and barrel cactus. The former is a five foot tall bush with paddle-like structures that my Eastern mind insists on calling leaves.   The Wiki tells me they're actually called cladophylls. Prickly pear fruit-- which we did not pick by hand but bravely got at a grocery store and had to pick the spines out of my hands anyway-- taste like watermelon. Or at least, as much as I could tell around all the seeds. 

Barrel cactus rarely get larger than R2-D2, and it can take them decades to do it. Makes it kinda sad when you see one tipped over from the monsoon. They're cute until you see the "ribs" and spikes. This is a serious plant.

5. Animals.

Rattlesnakes. Red ants. Scorpions. Coyote. 

Luckily, I have avoided seeing these thus far. Our fauna experiences have been pretty tame: road runner, lizards and skinks, hawks, bats, and innocent musk rat. But they tell me that things are lurking out there.

I'd say "who am I kidding, this town is very civilized, the worst thing that's going to happen is you falling down the stairs", but we lost one tree already.  

Man this desert is exciting.


  1. Oh Nem. Those of us who live in the desert have known of its hazards for years. Welcome to Tatooine. There are reasons why we are far from the bright center of the galaxy. *derp*

    Regardless, your descriptions are marvelous.

    Oh Nem, your cactus inexperience is adorable. Cacti are srs bsns.

    Coyotes are actually nothing to be afraid of--they're a little smaller than mid-size dogs and are far more afraid of humans than any human might be of them.

    Good to know you're getting plenty of excitement there.

  2. We actually do have coyotes where I'm from, although I haven't seen one. I just know they occasionally take chickens.

  3. You have a point there.

    (I, I don't think so. Although it's possible.)

  4. Tell me about it, the heat has been unbarring, but at least here where I live the temps have now been in the low 90s, so it's not as hot as it was a few weeks back. And thanks goodness the monsoon had started.
    from your story, I guess you have been in the Sonoran desert, near Tucson. Funny enough, here where I live there aren't any Saguaros, but there are a lot of a plants called ocotillos.

  5. We are indeed in the Sonoran desert, and it's getting cooler here as well. I'm not used to not being able to go outside in the afternoons!