A view of the desert landscape before Brown's Mountain as seen from the Watershed Trail with a wide varienty of plants including many of the typical cactus species

At first every view in Arizona was a bit unsettling because it was so unfamiliar. The chance to explore somewhere quite different than my beloved Northwest was one of the attractions of moving here and the undercurrent of unease dissipated with each passing day. It took longer on the trails as nearly everything in my view was new to me and I couldn’t even put names to most of what I saw. I hiked as often as I could and studied when I got home and the desert changed beneath my feet into my home.

One picture can’t encapsulate all that is the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, nor even the Brown’s Ranch area that I haunt the most, but this is a mix of much of what I see. The tall cactus you probably recognize as a saguaro, that one I could identify even before I arrived. Embracing the saguaro in the center is a crucifixion thorn (there are several plants with this name, this is the canotia). Scattered around are teddy bear cholla, buckhorn cholla, compass barrel cactus, foothill palo verde, and Engelmann prickly pear. And a bunch of plants I can’t yet identify.

In the background with the long scar running down its flank is Brown’s Mountain with Cone Mountain behind and to the left. From where I was standing Cholla Mountain was to my right, Granite Mountain behind me. Each of these hills has a distinctive look which made it easier to orient myself on the many interconnected trails.


A strawberry hedgehog cactus with only a couple of blooms remaining along the Tom's Thumb Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

When we adopted our dog Ellie years ago, as we tried different dog toys we quickly discovered her clear favorites were stuffed hedgehogs that squeaked when you squeezed them. She so adored them that over the years we acquired a small army of adult and baby hedgehogs that were loved within an inch or their life. Some were loved too much and had to be thrown out, as once they developed a hole she would gleefully rip their stuffing out. In her elderly years she doesn’t have the agility to chase them anymore so they have fallen out of favor.

Most of the bedraggled lot didn’t make the trip to Arizona but I will always have a soft spot for anything hedgehog.

I was delighted in February when I made a brief stop to Pinnacle Peak Park on my interview trip and saw that there is a cactus named strawberry hedgehog. It’s the first cactus to bloom in the spring so when I saw the hedgehogs in late April on the Tom’s Thumb Trail most of their flowers were already spent, this one still had a couple of its lovely flowers in the interior. I have a pair of North Face Hedgehog waterproof hiking shoes so in the cooler months I’ll have hedgehogs on my feet and before them.

Looking up the hill at this scene with the blue sky behind it felt fake to me, more like a diorama in a museum than part of the vast desert landscape, so I couldn’t resist a picture of this delightful little cactus.