We’ve just returned from two excellent days in the Anza-Borrego Desert of southern California. There’s a lot to tell, but I have to sort through photos and notes first. To kick things off, I’ll simply convey a lesson I learned. It’s one I already thought I knew. I even mentioned this useful bit of information recently in a blog post. I should’ve taken my own advice.
Practice, Practice Practice
Your mother taught you not to run with scissors, to look both ways before you cross the the street, put on clean underwear and so forth. Do you invariably, unfailingly practice those life lessons? I didn’t think so. This is one of those sorts of things.
We were hiking in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, due south of Palm Springs, northeast of San Diego. It’s a big place: 600,000 acres (green areas).
The Pacific Ocean is about 90 miles east. The Salton Sea is in the upper right corner. The red flag marks where we were: a dirt track leading up through Mine Wash, which climbs from Route 78 into some mountains to the south. Here’s the terrain:
Sere, lovely, hot: 95 degrees on that mid-April day, about 11% humidity. As you can see, the desert was still blooming from the enormous amount of rain southern California received this winter. That’s what drew us there, as if we need an excuse to indulge our love of the desert. We spent hours hiking, photographing details like this blooming mammalaria cactus …
… this barrel cactus
… and this cholla cactus, already familiar to regular readers from the blog I wrote about a visit to the Cholla Garden in Joshua Tree National Park at the link above.
It’s that attractive little Teddy Bear Cholla cactus that is the source of today’s lesson. It’s precisely what I warned about in the article I wrote. I said, “Those spines are extremely sharp and will easily pierce your clothing and then your skin with extreme prejudice.”
There I was, veteran of a hundred desert hikes. I know not to put my hand over a rock when I’m climbing a steep trail, because there might be a snake there. I know to watch where I step, and keep an eye on where I’m going, because there are all sorts of unfriendly things in wild places.
But, absorbed in getting an extremely close-up shot of a tiny desert flower blooming amidst the gravel of the wash, I folded one leg under me, turning one foot to the side to lower myself into a squat.
I rolled my shoe over a tiny cholla. Here’s the result:
With my full weight on my foot, those spines pierced the leather of the shoe and then the foot inside the shoe. My foot.
The problem wasn’t simply pain (although I noticed pain). The challenge was finding a way to pull the darned thing out without filling my hand with cholla spines, too. There’s nothing to grasp except more spines.
It’s embarrassing to give advice and then get injured when ignoring it. Well, at least I listened to one piece of Mom’s advice: I was wearing clean socks.
I eventually just yanked the shoe off, which removed the spines from my foot, and folded up a page from a handy little pocket notebook all writers carry (The Counselor, in this case) to use as a “glove” and extracted the spines from the leather upper, one at a time. You’d be impressed by how far they penetrated.
Lesson Learned (?)
So, hikers, take a tip from the canny ol’ veteran of desert places. Watch where the heck you’re putting your body parts out there. Things that grow in harsh lands have ingenious and effective ways of defending themselves.
Oh, the picture I was shooting? Um, not worth it. I was distracted by something.
I’ll be back with more Anza-Borrego landscapes, flora (and fauna) in less painful circumstances as the week progresses. At least I don’t have any rattlesnake bites to report.
© Brad Nixon 2017. Shot of Brad © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission. Map © Google.