Nothing in the desert is cuddly or cute.

Traveling in the southwest means you’re going to cross terrain vastly different from most of the rest of the continental US. But that’s why we travel, isn’t it? …to see new things …have new experiences …maybe even develop new relationships?

One benefit of driving all over the country is that it encourages us to get out in it.  Our Roadtrek has always traveled to the end of whatever road we chose, and we have  hiking, climbing, snorkeling, dirt bagging, photography, and geocaching, to extend our travels even farther…we’re not always 100% “safe old senior citizens.”

The desert has been our most recent playground. We have driven from Texas, where high country scrub turns into desert; to Tucson, Arizona, where the desert shows what it’s made of. Color, texture, light and shadow radiate beauty. Hiking, and geocaching get us out into among the rocks, sand, cactii and thorns. Despite its beauty and all available to do there, nothing in the desert is cuddly or cute.

At both day’s beginning and end, the distant mountain vistas glow. Rugged slopes and layered mountainsides offer glimpses of glory. It’s a photographer’s challenge, and I take it as my challenge to capture the vision and the feeling of the moment, so that you might sense just a tiny pinch of the reality that gripped my soul.

By contrast, Geocaching allows you to appreciate the beauty…and then promptly cut through all of it to find a Geocache. For those unschooled in the ways of Geocaching, a small “treasure” is hidden by a stranger somewhere out in nature, left to be found by you. There are a few hints and GPS coordinates also left for you on a website, and the challenge teases you, haunts you, and cajoles you into finding this unknown cache.  Of course, it can’t be that tough. After all, the website says that four people have found it in just this last week.

To set the stage:

We have driven two or three days into the beautiful, but unending, desert of the American southwest. We stop at museums and visitor centers and exhibits all along the way. We admire all the beauty we can find and there is much to admire. But at all the stops there are signs reminding you to watch where you step, to touch very lightly or not at all, and to listen for rattles.
–Starting to get the picture?–   We both love this beauty, but from different perspectives. I like my beauty safely in front of a lens. My perspective requires distance.   Safe, sane distance.

To find a Geocache while being guided only by three or four satellites in geosynchronous orbits sending down little location blips (or however that works) to a handheld device, well, you have to zoom in on the details pretty closely for yourself. No lens will work there. You gotta’ move things, poke around in things, peer deeply into dark holes. And distance is measured in inches or centimeters, despite all the warnings.

So, after driving along a most beautiful road, stopping to try to capture the most beautiful images I could, we suddenly discover there is a Geocache hidden nearby.
Well, sort of nearby. Nearby is, like, two tenths of a mile, just over there, at the top of a little mountain, with lots of rocks and Cholla and other kinds of picky-sticky cacti covering it. The rocks in the Arizona desert are young ones, having had no water to lap over them for eons smoothing away their razor-sharp edges. The ground is littered in small rocks and stones. The paths around big rocks and thorny plants and cacti, if they are there at all, are narrow, and lined with sharp spines or needles.

Looking carefully, it’s easy enough to spot holes that were just the same size as scorpions we had just seen in the museums and visitor centers. Webs line holes which suggest spiders might be within. But not to worry, black widow spiders haven’t really killed that many people…

Am I coming through?

There is a particularly nasty little cactus called the Cholla. It is very pretty from a distance as it looks like it is covered by snow. The snow of course, is really needles, and the pleasant, graceful little curves of the plant, are actually sections which break off and attach to any unlucky passerby who lets even ONE needle touch him. The needles are barbed and very difficult to remove without pliers.

One such needle, or something like it, had brushed against the back of Rhonda’s leg and began working its way through her jeans. Being an attentive husband, the sound of her shrieks indicated to me that perhaps there was a problem of some sort.  Turning, I found Rhonda standing on the rock I had just climbed over, with a drop of blood coming from her jeans. Calmly, (really) I worked the needle out, and turned to stand upright from my work. Right there was a Cholla, just as calmly waiting to kiss my forehead.

I don’t think I made much of a sound other than the pre-Neanderthal roar of a wooly mammoth giving birth to triplets. I hadn’t seen this particular bush made up of hundreds of tennis ball sized hitchhikers, but earlier in the day I kicked at one on the trail to move it out of my way. It was then that I discovered that how easily those needles pierce not only the sides of hiking shoes, but rubber soles and soft flesh. I also discovered that every possible way to grab the base of the Cholla cactus ball was covered by very sharp, barbed needles.To actually grab the thing was impossible.

Standing still, with my prickly cactus orb dangling from my forehead just above my right eyebrow, I prayed while Rhonda gingerly grabbed the middle of one needle shaft and pulled. That solitary needle promptly fell out, leaving the rest of my ornamental piercing dangling by several other needles.

With no way to remove the cluster, I decided I would walk back to the van where I had a mirror and pliers for the extraction. Three steps convinced me otherwise, for each step bounced my new little friend around and drove his needles in farther.  Rhonda witnessed the entire event, and as the skin on her hands is even thinner than mine, she was also at a loss as to how to ease my predicament.  And though concerned she did seem overly excited with her pupils wide and dancing.

Luckily, I found a smooth stick with a “Y” shaped branch at the end and pled with my dear, wonderful, sweet, loving wife who got me into this mess to begin with, to work this fork of the stick between my forehead and the needles. After some careful consideration, she looked me full in the face.

Patiently, I muttered “go ahead, take the picture.” With a little squeal of delight, muttered back, “I really didn’t know how to ask you…” and she snapped two. THEN she began to find a way to insert the stick without too much pain and gave a little jerk.

“POP!” and there was no evidence of my little free-loading creep, save three bloody holes where the needles holding it on had been torn out, complete with barbs.

And so, with the aid of our Roadtrek, my camera, our GPS, and our spirit of adventure, we traveled Texas to Arizona …saw new things …had new experiences …even developed healthy new relationships with a rugged but beautiful area. And my beautiful devious woman continued to add more adventure to my life.