Crested Saguaro Society
Crest Quest Reports
February 15 - 20, 2022 — Arizona and California Deserts
Report by Joe Orman
Plants and animals may be subjects of contemplation by poets, artists, and other romantics, but as far as science is concerned all things have a life of their own. When we study them, we peer through a window into the lives they live for their own sake — not for ours.
— Anthony Aveni, Uncommon Sense: Understanding Nature's Truths Across Time and Culture
The destination for this trip was California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park ... but I couldn't resist stopping to look for some Arizona crested saguaros on my way there — and my way back?
On the drive to California, I made a quick stop south of Phoenix to pull off on a side road and scramble up a small range of hills. From a photo that someone had posted online, I'd previously figured out that these hills were the location of a big crested saguaro.
Once in California, I visited Salvation Mountain, a hillside decorated and painted over the course of three decades by the late folk artist Leonard Knight.
I soon entered Anza-Borrego, where I would spend the next four days. Anza-Borrego is not home to any large columnar cactuses, such as saguaro or organ pipes, so if I were to find any crested specimens I'd have to concentrate on smaller varieties of cactus.
I returned to a bajada, a slope running along the base of a mountain range, where I'd previously found several specimens of crested fishhook pincushion cactus. As I wandered back and forth across the slope, I wondered if any travelers on the nearby roads noticed me and wondered what I was doing studying so intently the ground around me. It would be hard to explain how pleasurable this contemplative activity was, and how delighted I was each time I spotted a new crested specimen of these tiny cactus ...
After a few hours, I decided to take a break and explore a different area, a nearby wash that could be driven far up a desert canyon. I saw a few pincushions, but relatively few and none that were crested, However, I did find an excellent specimen of crested prickly pear cactus.
Afterwards, I drove up a different wash that passed a low hill whose boulders were covered with morteros, ancient Native American grinding holes.
The same wash took me past another hill, where I found a solitary crested pincushion — which looked like it was dying.
The next morning, I returned to the bajada and found several more crested pincushions.
To give you an idea how rare it is to find so many crested pincushions in one area, in all my desert travels before discovering this treasure trove I'd only photographed four scattered crested specimens. Counting the twenty-three I found over these two days, I've found thirty-five in this area which is barely more than a mile long!
Before leaving Anza-Borrego, I drove one last desert backroad. This road passes through an area called Cactus Garden, so-named for its dense concentration of six different varieties of cactus. I walked among countless barrel cactus, but only found one crested barrel cactus.
On my walk I stumbled upon several cleared patches on the desert floor — ancient Native American sleeping circles.
I drove back into Arizona and made camp in a mountain range in the central-western part of the state. Before driving the rest of the way home, I spent the next morning crest-hunting, and found three crested saguaros, each successively bigger.
I ended this Crest Quest as I ended all previous ones — grateful for the opportunity to briefly peer through a window into the lives that these odd plants live. I hope my photos opened a similar window for you.
Revised: August 24, 2022