September 26, 2020

Sonoran Desert, 9/20/2020 (Inktense pencil and watercolors on watercolor paper)

My latest virtual sketching journey actually took us to a location pretty close to my actual Southern California home—the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert includes parts of SoCal, a big chunk of southwestern Arizona, a small corner of western Mexico and most of Baja CA. With our recent triple digit temperatures you might wonder why anyone in CA would want to even virtually traipse through a desert right now. Probably one of the best aspects of a virtual journey to a such an arid climate is you can do all the traipsing around desired hills and dales you like without actually breaking a sweat—unless the ceiling fan is making a funny sound and you have turned it off. But you may have noticed, with this first sketch, the desert can actually be quite lovely without a hint of heat. What you see here is the Sonoran Desert in spring. I’ve posted a story or two about our nearby desert areas, and springtime in such an unlikely place can give you quite a spectacular color show when spring wildflowers come into bloom. There is a trick to really enjoying such a scenic journey and it has to do with very specific timing. First, you must be prepared to go there at a moment’s notice. No one really knows when great displays will appear. As if by magic great fields of every imaginable colored flower begin to show, usually after some kind of rain. I’ve heard it said that you can expect lots of flowers after a particularly wet winter, but not always. There’s another important thing to keep in mind if you want to see such a sight and it again has to do with the timing—it just doesn’t last very long, only a few precious weeks at the most. Once the sun comes out in earnest again, the color fades and everything get crispy again. It lasts just long enough for a few pollinators to show up and secure future generations of flowers. Because soon the flower goes to seed, somehow hiding away on the ground to hopefully grow again at a future flower extravaganza. The flowers could care less if we are there to see them at all. And they go through this process over and over again, but not in any predictable or particular way. Maybe that’s just as well, as you might imagine this ecosystem is quite delicate and doesn’t need lots of yearly traipsers stepping on the flowers. So, if you ever decide you want to visit the Sonoran Desert to see the wildflowers, have your bags packed in early spring, ready to go when you get the word. Also, be sure not to ever plan a visit in the summer unless you are part of some weird science experiment where you are asked to count horn toads while sitting in the shade of your truck or the shadows cast by a giant saguaro cactus.

Among the many college prep classes I took in high school, I will always remember an oceanography class senior year. Over that spring break we traveled to Baja CA to study the inland waters of the Gulf of CA as well as its salt water creatures. It was quite a trek from San Jose by bus to Puertecitos. And to get there we had to go through a bit of the Sonoran Desert. I already mentioned that we had all given up a week of spring break for this adventure and that would make it mid-April I think. I do not recall seeing any wildflowers, but I do remember the heat of the desert even though we were right next to the ocean. And when the afternoon sun was particularly nasty we all looked for shade. There were no shade trees, with no trees to speak of at all. In fact the only shade I remember was the shadows cast by the bus and various trucks that had made the trek with us. If you were lucky you could actually lean against a truck and visit with a friend while listening to music. (Yes, some of my friends actually brought cassette tapes to the Sonoran Desert.) You might think you could find a tall cactus for some shade. In researching possible larger flora that could be found in this part of the desert, there aren’t any. There is a huge tree-like cactus called the saguaro, but it does not appear to be native to Baja. So, it would be unlikely to find even one. It looks like there might be some in the southernmost part of the Sonoran Desert in SoCal. But most seem to be in Arizona and in the Sonoran state of Mexico. Even if there had been such cacti in our vicinity, I’m not sure leaning against such a prickly plant would have been considered, even with the promise of listening to the Doobie Brothers. 

One afternoon we saw the superintendent of our school district and his wife breeze past our parched group in a speed boat. I wouldn’t have known who they were if our oceanography teacher hadn’t pointed them out. I was surprised. I hadn’t seen them on the bus, nor had I seen one of our trucks pulling such a large boat. Our teacher told us they had come down to join us for our educational experience. You might imagine that we thought we would be taking excursions on that boat for the various projects we had planned while we were there. But we never saw them again. That was it! You’re not surprised, right?

Sonoran Desert with giant cactus, 9/20/2020 Not sure what kind of flowers are in the foreground. They are not CA poppies. They look a little like something from the mallow family–checkerbloom I think. (Ink with Fude nib fountain pen, watercolor, Inktense pencil, Prismacolor colored pencils for the sky on watercolor paper)

Looking at these cactus I was struck by the fact that these human looking tree-like plants seem to be an image I conjure up in my mind when picturing a desert landscape. (Maybe not so much for the Saharan Desert. For me, that’s camels and huge red sand dunes I guess.) What about you? Of course there are many kinds of cactus out here, but the distinctive tall tree-like saguaro aren’t everywhere in our nearby deserts. As I have already said the saguaro can only be found in a thin strip of SoCal. I can’t remember ever seeing one. Old cowboy movies seemed to proliferate a desert filled with such cactus for sure. And my brothers and I watched a lot of Looney Tunes cartoons growing up, and Wile E Coyote and the Roadrunner were certainly part of our viewing pleasure. (Coyotes and roadrunners can definitely be found in our nearby deserts. And coyotes are everywhere—even in a Glendale neighborhood.) Aside from Wile E. Coyote buying items from Acme Corporation there was never a shortage of giant saguaro in those cartoon backgrounds. Actually, Looney Tunes was part of Warner Brothers Studios—far away from a desert filled with actual tall cactus. Only in LA do such strange and dreamy desert landscapes occur. Such is life in this so-called SoCal Dream Factory of past cowboys and cartoons.

First day of autumn was 9/22/2020

I love this time of year. The light is definitely different–less harsh I think. Hopefully our evenings will become cooler. If only the Santa Anas will be kind to us this fall–we all might breathe a little easier without those intense winds stirring up more fires. Here’s to hoping that comes true. Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “September 26, 2020

  1. Many years ago I drove from Melbourne through the centre of Australia up to Darwin – through the red central Aus desert. And I was just lucky with the timing – hot and dry for the first couple of days. And then it rained – torrentially. Like standing under a waterfall. And then flowers came out over about 2 to 3 days.
    I really enjoyed reading your post – it reminded me of that trip.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s