Papago Indian Reservation 5 miles SW of Sells, ArizonaMarch 8, 1988
ARIZONA: Pima County
Papago Indian Reservation five miles southwest of Sells. Elevation about 2300 feet.
Saguaros, image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service, photographer Gary Stolz

Saguaros standing thirty feet tall and higher are abundant and easy to see. Just west of Tucson so many thousands rise above the scrub, looking plump and fuzzy like good-natured neighbors, that sometimes I just have to laugh. If the land levels out and the soil becomes deep, they disappear; but on gravelly slopes and rocky hills they're always there, holding out their arms as if to wave.

If Saguaros welcome us to the Sonoran desert, then more modest plants bear the message that we've made a quantum-leap into spring. In contrast to the Saguaros, which look the same as they must in mid-winter, these smaller plants bear leaves expanding from buds, green shoots sprouting from rootstocks, and many even possess flowers. Wildflowers are blossoming everywhere! On March 8th, this is a springtime desert.

The wind here feels hotter and moister than the Chihuahuan has at similar temperatures. Maybe this is because of higher humidity here, or because now we're lower in elevation. K-Bar was at about 3000 feet and in the Chisos foothills we climbed to about 4600 feet. In Coronado National Forest we ranged between 6000 and 7000 feet. Now we've descended to about 2300. As we travel farther west and continue to drop in elevation and approach the Pacific, will the diversity of species and our advancement into spring become even more conspicuous?

Later in the day, after I've found a spot in which to camp in the desert, as I sit in Henry's side-door typing the above, a Zebra-tailed Lizard orbits around us, becoming this trip's first reptile. It's about six inches long, grayish with pale speckles, and with wide, dark, vertical bands ringing its tail. Zebra-tailed lizards are distributed from central Nevada and extreme southwestern Utah, south through Arizona and southeastern California, into Mexico.

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