Feeling at Home

A view of the crested saguaro I call Witch Hazel with Brown's Mountain in the background, taken from the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

When we arrived in Arizona the desert was both exciting and bewildering, like I had been plunked down into a new earth that only hinted at the shapes and forms I had known all my life. Brown’s Ranch helped orient me in two ways, both on display in this view of the crested saguaro on the Vaquero Trail. First were the saguaros themselves, they tower above the desert floor and while initially most seemed similar there were some with features so memorable that just by seeing them I could orient myself without consulting the map. But towering even above the saguaros are the hills, such as Brown’s Mountain in the background, and the three I saw readily from the trail each had a distinctive shape that made them easy to distinguish from one another. The trails are well-marked (and maps readily available at the trailhead) so I wasn’t in danger of getting lost, rather it was a way for me to relax by developing an instinctive feel for where I was, and where I was going.

Witch Hazel, Patron Saint of Woodpeckers

A close-up of the crested saguaro (also known as cristate saguaro) I call 'Witch Hazel' on the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

I’ve seen a few crested (or cristate) saguaros, where instead of their iconic arms they grow these unusual shapes, and love them all but this one is my favorite. I named her Witch Hazel as she reminds me of the green witch from the Bugs Bunny cartoons I watched as a kid. I always had a fondness for her but I’m not sure why as I usually didn’t feel any affection for his pursuers, but perhaps she was written rather sympathetically. My witch looks over a woodpecker nest in an adjacent arm and I like to think serves as its protector, and not just for this nest but for all the woodpeckers in the area that I so dearly love. Long may you live, long may you serve.

Who Am I?

A close-up view of the top of a double crested saguaro along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I am not broccoli.

A close-up view of one of the crests of a double crested saguaro along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I am tall, taller than you.

A close-up view a gap between the two crests of a double crested saguaro along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I am rare, doubly so.

The two crests of a double crested saguaro along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I am a double crested saguaro. While most saguaros have tips of the familiar shape, some grow into fan-like shapes know as crests. Crested saguaros are rare, this one has two crests. This is the only one I’ve seen so far, a reader pointed out its location near Granite Mountain where the Coyote Canyon Trail meets the Desperado Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

A double crested saguaro grows along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve