Crazy Cat

After a most satisfying breakfast at Crave, in and out before the Sunday crowds, I was in the mood to walk over to an old bike shop project.

As usual, the planting bones are what’s left, while smaller plants like Chrysactinia mexicana and Bouteloua curtipendula are needlessly gone. You can scroll down for past blog posts on Crazy Cat Cyclery, showing before and progress scenes. Photos from 10/30/2022 in El Paso TX:

But on the bright side, the volunteer Yucca torreyi is hanging tight with the usual Dasylirion wheeleri and Yucca pallida. With help from Adobe Illustrator or some other software magic, I still might change the three live oaks along the street to what they should have been.

If I do that fun exercise, you’ll know first.


Peering down into the communal sitting area, that Quercus fusiformis clump is the only live oak that should be there. It’s in need of some interior, structural pruning, to remove the tangle of crossing branches and grow more vigorously, with character.

The rock walls that retain and define a few garden spaces worked, as did my seat walls. More than once, I relaxed there after mountain bike rides on nearby trails. Rectilinear forms are often the best solution, in spite of or because of their simplicity.

That same sitting area is now seen from below in the parking area. Those tough and evergreen Yucca pallida just keep on, but do you see what I mean about pruning to benefit this live oak clump?

24/7 is the truth – all the things that go wrong never stop working. While mortals like me must rest, eat, and so on.

Yet it’s amazing that we or what we do manages to prevail!


Past posts on this project:

July 2014

August 2014

October 2014

December 2017


Chihuahua: Meet Sonora

Over the last few years, I’ve finally explored areas spotted on Google, near a location I suspected was near the Sonoran Desert. The mysterious hills and mountains above sleepy Benson, Arizona called.

This is a classic example of an ecotone, or as some say, a transitional area. It’s where different natural environments overlap, though almost always one is more dominant. Including when climate or flora are considered, as they should be.

East of the San Pedro River, March 2020:

My first detour from so many drives between New Mexico and Phoenix or Tucson, was at the Pomerene Road exit from I-10.

Several miles north of the freeway, I turned right off Pomerene Road, where it became Cascabel Road. Several miles and over a hill and bend in the road, a large grouping of Chainfruit Cholla / Cylindropuntia fulgida appears. This cholla is seen in higher elevations of the Sonoran Desert but rarely, if at all, elsewhere.

I’ve read about this finger of the Sonoran Desert on this website, but it was time to see for myself. Where does the first saguaro cactus grow going north and lower in elevation from I-10? Or the typical companion plants of the saguaro, such as palo verde or jojoba? Which to many means, “where does the Sonoran Desert begin?”

Like the previous stand of Sonoran indicator, Chainfruit Cholla, a few miles north and another indicator plant began to appear – Parkinsonia florida / Blue Palo Verde.

That palo verde was observed as single plants, or increasingly as several plants. But the next plant was what I was looking for most – Carnegia gigantea / Saguaro. This lone cactus was larger than how it appeared in 2011 Google views, though it has no arms.

The typical associates to saguaros include palo verdes, britlebush, or bursage. Those were lacking with these upper elevation saguaros, however. The understory is much like the full assemblage of plant species found where I live, the Chihuahuan Desert. Even down to the Chihuahuan genotype of Creosote Bush, and its distinct open, vase shape.

This smaller saguaro was just north of the previous one, and its companions also appear to be mesquites and creosote bushes.

On the hill adjacent to where I spotted the saguaro, Eschscholzia mexicana / Mexican Gold Poppy and Ericameria laricifolia / Turpentine Bush appear. Those are common in upland and foothill areas where I live, too.

A mile or two north of the second saguaro, a third saguaro appeared on this south-facing hill among more dormant mesquites and near creosote bushes. But alas, it was time to return to the freeway and get home, still over 3 hours away.


East of the San Pedro River, March 2021:

Time flies, and right before I started working again, botanist Russ Buhrow took me plant exploring over Redington Pass, which is on the saddle connecting the Rincon and Catalina mountains east of Tucson. At the bottom of a long, winding dirt road, we crossed the San Pedro River and intersected with the same Cascabel Road I saw the 2020 saguaros, only some distance further north.

While there were saguaros towards the end of the road 15 miles south, these are clearly larger, older saguaros than there. Many of these have arms and companion plants like Parkinsonia microphylla / Yellow or Foothill Palo Verde instead of those found in the Chihuahuan Desert.

I recall seeing some jojobas mixed in with the above plants towards the end of our descent into Redington, here in the San Pedro River valley.

At this slightly lower elevation near Redington, Sonoran Desert species are numerous. Unfortunately due to a couple hours of detours and delays earlier, I was unable to see where this Sonoran plant community faded into a mix of Chihuahuan and some Sonoran. Next trip.


West of the San Pedro River, June 2022:

Longer days mean hotter days, but they also mean the ability to make the 4 hour trip from Tucson to my home before dark. Including a 75 minute detour to observe plant geography in action, as the intense heat of late June intimidated. One long and hectic year after my 2021 Sonoran Desert and saguaro recon trip, I tried the different, west side of the San Pedro River valley.

At Benson, I exited I-10 and drove north on Ocotillo Road. And after 15 minutes driving through peaceful farms and ranchettes, there was a lone saguaro spear. Again, on a south-facing hill.

If you look closely or click to enlarge the photo, another smaller saguaro is growing to the left and a little downhill. And like the first plants on the east side of the river, mesquites seem to be the companion plants, not palo verdes. A little Sonoran in the top layers, but Chihuahuan Desert elsewhere especially lower layers.


A couple miles up Ocotillo Road, and around a bend, and voila – larger, older saguaros with arms. More than I could make out using Google satellite view.

Looking closely at many of these cacti, they’re at their bitter end, as far as susceptibility to the rare but periodic deep freezes. How do I know? There are so many sprouts on the arms and main stems, compared to few to none in warmer, lower elevation locales to the west that are further from the reach of cold air from the north and east.

Don’t believe me? Take a drive and hike through the Catalina Foothills in Tucson, or better yet one of the countless, excellent trails in the Tucson Mountains west of town.

But saguaros are multiplying more here than the east side of the San Pedro River valley, and the larger ones extend about 10 miles further south here on the west side.


Monsoon season clouds blowing up towards where I’ll be driving home, past the lonely hills in the foreground and the more distant Dragoon Mountains. Do those lower hills harbor other saguaros? That’s for another trip, at least from the road with binoculars – I drive a Toyota Corolla!


Driving the opposite direction back towards I-10, more saguaros were spotted low and high on the ridge leading NW towards the Rincon Mountains.

Wherever those saguaros are growing or nearby, no blue or foothill palo verde were visible as single plants or in larger stands. The only companions to these saguaros are creosote bushes and bright green mesquites.

Such an ecotone with the Chihuahuan Desert is something I never read about, but it’s quite obvious when here, as it is researching area climatology or day-to-day weather.

Except for the saguaros, every other plant looks similar to arid but cooler Chihuahuan Desert, seen for hours driving any direction from Las Cruces.


Now, for one last surprise.

Facing the opposite direction, look at what’s standing boldly to the left between hills. Another saguaro under this deceptively cloudy sky – it’s broiling hot right now, with hardly a breeze.

Such a stereotypical form of the warmer, SW half of Arizona


It’s time to drive home, and once at I-10, it began to cool by at least 10 degrees as I quickly climbed to about 5,000 feet at Texas Canyon. The rest of the drive at either side of 4,000 feet elevation, temperatures became cool and pleasant though humid, as I headed east into those storms. Though the storms and rain were only spotty, the sun was mostly gone, and I barely had to run my car’s AC.

Well within the Chihuahuan Desert, still 90 minutes from home, it was familiar country again, and the promise of another monsoon season, starting early. Instead of healthy or damaged saguaros, Yucca elata / Soaptree or Palmilla stand sentry over the vast desert grassland.

Back to ecotones, other population centers are located where different natural environments overlap including Tucson, Albuquerque, Saint George, Abilene, or Tulsa. Such places are interesting to explore the outskirts of and get inspired.

Designing landscapes or having a garden in an ecotone, one discovers the need to make plant selections that embrace reality. Not unnecessarily limit possibilities.

A Home in El Paso – Fall Follow-up

After a hot summer interrupted by bountiful monsoon season rains, this front garden is coming into its own. It was great to visit in the afternoon light, nearing the start of early autumn weather.

Photos from 9/28/2022:

A trio of Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’ canopies and Yucca rostrata provide height. While native species work with limestone slabs unify the scene: masses of Bouteloua curtipendula are punctuated with small numbers of Agave neomexicana. Dasylirion wheeleri, also found on nearby mountain slopes, forms staggered rows and is accented with some Muhlenbergia capillaris.

This is a way of abstracting plant and slab forms from nature into architecture.

That is the same area, but seen from below looking uphill across the front. Dermatophyllum secundiflorum clumps, plus more agaves and a groundcover plant, anchor the downhill side.

Smaller native species are tucked into the limestone slabs, but not easily visible here, include Echinocereus dasyacanthus ssp. dasyacanthus, Melampodium leucanthum, and near-native Chrysactinia mexicana.

The Kornegay containers I specified here are massive and filled with various agaves throughout this front area. Slabs and sotols seen earlier are at a different vantage point, here.
These Bouteloua curtipendula are growing in the best, causing me to question: 1) should some drip emitters serving the more vigorous be changed out to those of a higher flow, or, 2) should these more vigorous grasses in the foreground have their emitters changed out to a lower flow?

I’m enjoying this, looking into the fading daylight.

Now, imagine how this would look if the often rote act of chopping back grasses had already occurred? The March photos in a previous post have the answer.
The motor court uses similar species already described, but arranged into the tighter and enclosed space. This proves the benefits of a well-studied design, not by over-thinking, but from extra time spent, to reduce it to that which is necessary.

For my end-of-winter visit to this garden, click here.

9/28/22 weather: 85 / 57 / 0.00

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