TOUCHDOWN PHOENIX !
The pilot extended a warm welcome to the land of the deserts and the city embraced us with a lovely 75 F weather. I was ever so thankful to have sidestepped the bomb cyclones hovering over the east coasts and to be spending the weekend in the southwestern state of Arizona. I had no presumptions about this city other than that I found the name ‘Phoenix’ to be exceptionally gorgeous. Especially, because I drew parallels to the phoenix, named Fawkes, in one of the Harry Potter books. *Nerd much?*
As we picked our bags off the carousel and headed out, I started to imagine this new city to be as red and golden as the plumage of the magnificent bird penciled in my memory.
We picked up our rental car and N was at the wheel whilst I hung my head out the window like a curious puppy. The very first things that I realized on our way to the hotel, was how different the aesthetics of this city was. Throughout our route, the streets were predominantly lined by these ‘plants’ that seemed indigenous to this region.
These ‘plants’ were called Cacti – Cactus for singular! I single-quote them because it was my first experience with these photosynthetic beings and they looked nothing like the plants I’ve seen all my life. They had no leaves, for crying out loud! My revelations aside, there was at least one cactus at every corner and they were surely giving a solid competition to the ‘Starbucks store at every corner’ phenomena! With their imperious presence, I was forced to get used to them. They looked like decorative succulent bowls, methodically placed at every quarter of a mile, welcoming tourists into this city. They were the Queen’s guard of Phoenix, if you will.
We finally reached our room and I couldn’t stop thinking about these plants – so ubiquitous and domineering, yet so compellingly beautiful. It was definitely tickling my fancy. I snoozed the second my head hit the pillow, dreaming about the ensuing weekend.
We woke up to a bright and sunny morning – a day apt for shades and hats and lots and lots of hydration. Our first pitstop was the Saguaro (pronounced Sa-wah-ro) National Park, 100 miles southeast of central Phoenix. I was settled in the passenger seat with my book as is customary, but little did I know that the city was planning otherwise. I was constantly distracted by the aesthetics of the route. The oddly shaped flat plains looked like small towns which brought vistas of memories of the train journeys in India- minus the clickety-clacks of the train wheels against the railroad tracks and intermittent croons of the chai vendors.
The interstate 10 freeway seemed to be running into infinity with occasional pop-ups of hills and cotton fields that looked like a firefly infestation in broad daylight. There were sudden puffs of dust storms, too, that engulfed our car as we drove through it. The roads were fenced with cacti and other smaller shrubs that looked like a green version of tumbleweeds. The more I looked at these cacti, the more they seemed to start looking like people. There were tall ones, stubby ones, some with five limbs, and some that looked like a lotus flower stretching and waking up under the golden orb. I waved my overdramatic cloud of imagination away and continued with my book for the remaining thirty minutes of our journey.
After a bumpy entrance with undulating roads (it reminded me of San Fransisco, to be honest), we arrived at the Saguaro National Park. The roads, needless to say, had cacti overlooking us. I started to feel like an intruder in this land of Cacti overlords, reaching out tall to welcome us into the western region of the Saguaro National Park – A Sonoran Desert Preservation.
The Saguaro National Park is a kingdom and home to the local Saguaro cacti. Unlike other regions, the Saguaro desert witnesses 5 seasons – the summer is subdivided into fore-summer drought and the monsoon season. There are three main varieties of cacti – the medieval spiked club cacti called Saguaro, the flatter Prickly Pear and a rather deceptively bushy looking Teddy Bear Cholla. The O’odham tribe are one of the indigenous tribes of the Sonoran Desert who are greatly involved in harvesting the saguaro fruit and cholla buds. They also rely on these plants for shelter and sustenance to some extent.
After an informative visual demonstration of this park at the visitor center, we headed out on our trek into this beautifully preserved landscape. There were several trails with different difficulty levels. We challenged ourselves and hiked two of the intermediate level trails. I got a closer look at the cacti that straddled our paths. They were all oddly shaped, human-like to some extent, and had accordion pleats-like features on the outer layer with glistening thorns sprouting outwards. I also learnt later that the O’odham tribe believed the Saguaro cacti to be their ancestors. Not.At.All.Creepy! Hiking and posing for photos and more hiking and more posing was all that we did here. If it’s not obvious enough, I loved the cacti and I wanted to take them all home. There, I said it. All this physical exertion (posing for photographs burns calories – my apple watch seems to think so!) heightened our appetite considerably. After what seemed like years, we were stuffing our faces with some mouth-watering Thai food. Just before we called it a day, we were off to click pictures of/with/against the very touristy hole in the rock, just in time to catch it before the bright star retired to bed.
*Look out for Part 2 of this two-part series
** If you are new to my blog, N is my husband, shortened for convenience and prevention of jargon.