Holy Everything: Desert showered us with unforgettable sights

The desert does yell. It whispers.

The region around Tucson, Ariz., doesn't loudly boast its wisdom. It doesn't brag about its profound resilience and ecological interconnectedness. Instead, the desert humbly invites visitors to come close, listen and observe.

Justin and I went to Arizona a few weeks back for our belated honeymoon. It was a landscape unlike any I'd ever experienced.

An abundance of cacti dotted the terrain: prickly pear, saguaro, jumping cholla, and teddy bear cholla. I had no idea there were so many kinds of cacti. All I'd ever taken the time to learn about them was that they were covered in needles and could store large amounts of water.

Little did I know the critical role cacti play in the desert ecosystem. They are home to all kinds of birds, mammals, and insects. The fruit of several cactus varieties in the region are edible to humans and have been staples in the diets of many Native American communities for thousands of years.


Not all deserts are created equal; they vary immensely. The desert region near Tucson is called the Sonoran Desert. It stretches into parts of Mexico and California. Part of this desert's beauty stems from the amazing things it can do with only 12 inches of rain per year. Rochester, by comparison, gets about 34 inches of rain per year and 49 inches of snow.

Measurable precipitation happens only about 30 days per year in Tucson. We happened to be there on a rainy day. Everyone we encountered was overjoyed about it. "It hasn't rained here in eight months," they all said. "We really needed this rain."

Despite the downpour, Justin and I made our way to the visitors center. We watched as water dumped down from the sky and cars splashed through giant pools in the streets.

While the rain delayed our outdoor activities a bit, it also led us to a much deeper appreciation for how much water matters in the desert. By the time we got out on a hike, we saw its impact immediately.

There's a type of flora in the Sonoran Desert that's often called by its nickname, resurrection plant. It can go for very long periods without any water at all. It appears dry and dead. But then, within moments of getting any hydration, it becomes almost neon in color and its tiny leaves become lush and full. Its transformation was a mesmerizing example of what it looks like to bounce back. A floral resurrection.

Later, on a guided horse ride, we met an avian friend. A red-tailed hawk. The leader of our trail ride noticed it perched atop a tall saguaro cactus. The dignified raptor stayed in the very same spot for nearly an hour. Perhaps she was waiting for some supper, or maybe she was just gifting us with an extended viewing of her majesty. Whatever her intention, the hawk was patience in a feathered body.

At Saguaro National Park, we observed ancient petroglyphs. No one knows for certain what the symbols mean. They were a fabulous curiosity to observe. Hundreds of years ago the images were engraved by real people with real hands. They were emojis of yesteryear. The petroglyphs served as a kind of bridge connecting us to another time and place altogether.

From the Gambel's quail to the howling coyotes to Orion shining brightly in the sky, the trip was a beautiful mystery to behold. I hope someday we can go back and listen to the desert whisper once more.

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