You might call it our national cactus park where the monarch of the desert makes its last stand the unmistakable saguaro towers over its domain a gem of a park it's often overlooked some see only a wasteland of thirst but it's secretly humming with drama.
And intrigue little heroes take on dragons fairies hum and monsters hunt with young lives at stake under every thorn a desert with a double life it explodes with beauty at a few magical drops never underestimate the fickle beauty or.
The raw power of saguaro national park just a stone's throw from tucson arizona the old west never died and a seemingly barren place is a buzz with nervous anticipation because the park's desperados are facing off and they've got ancient scores to settle.
It's a high-stakes game of nerves pitting venom against guts terrors against tricksters who will prevail come high noon welcome to the badlands of saguaro national park it may be the most recognizable plant in.
The world always standing tall behind clint eastwood or john wayne a spiky shorthand for the west but always a bit player except here here the saguaro rules over the little park that bears its name some of these majestic cacti are 200.
Years old four stories high and precious beyond belief maybe one in a million cactus seeds will live long enough to grow arms literally surrounding the city of tucson arizona guarding its suburbs to the east and west saguaro national park was created to save the cactus from.
Extinction and preserve the thousand different showdowns in folding in the cactus's shadow every minute the tongue of a western diamondback rattlesnake cautiously tastes the air she flicks airborne particles against.
The roof of her mouth to be analyzed sorting out potential food from potential threat like this other icon of the old west and he's hungry himself the roadrunner is a tough old bird you have to be when the slithering lunch.
You've got your eye on could kill you the queen of rattlers the western diamondback is a recipe for deadly indigestion she's venomous enough to kill a human but she's missing something in this looming face-off legs.
the roadrunner has got serious legs and he knows how to use them native americans revered the roadrunner for its speed strength and especially its courage the bird circles spiraling in on its.
Target but the snake's not going down without a fight the plan is to grab the snake behind her head and bash the poor girl's skull in in this face-off guts versus venom.
Is a draw and our snake gets away with her life finally after months of bone-dry desperation winter months bring a gentle baptism to the park the saguaro like a giant pleated sponge soaks it up.
A big cactus can store two tons of water to get it through the months of drought ahead and the park glows with new life january receives only an inch or so of rainfall but it works magic.
The desert flaunts its colors and a male costas hummingbird responds to the siren call of necter he seems to know exactly which angle of sunlight sets off his electrifying violet cap and throat understandably inspired the female hummingbird gets to work she carefully steals gossamer threads.
From a spider's web for her nest spider silk may look delicate but it's the perfect building material thinner than the finest human hair but strong is steel the sticky fibers anchor the nest securely and make it tough as nails.
A perfect nursery with tiny arrivals due any day someone else is planning for another generation our rattler after her close call with the roadrunner she lets a male cozy up to her.
But another male wants to crash their party the first male sets out after the challenger and the strange combat dance of the serpents begins.
Rattlesnakes don't actually try and kill each other they wrestle and try to overpower their rival our girl awaits the outcome the challenger relents and gets the heck out of dodge with the first male in hot pursuit one or the other will be back soon.
She's not picky lovely cholla cacti shrublike amongst the towering saguaro are just as prickly when it comes to self-defense a phenomenon the javelina knows only too well.
It's best to pick your way carefully here which the javelina's youngsters are finding out the hard way the choya forms clusters of fine barbed spines that stick like velcro to everything the birds hitch a ride on unfortunate passers-by.
Eventually dropping off and taking root to give birth to new choice but there are worse things than spines for the little ones to worry about these tiny javelinas are leaving their birthing ground for the first time just born they stick to mom like cactus thorns.
Because they're just perfectly bite-sized for a wily coyote and the babies seem doomed but javelinas are fearless and aggressive and detest canines mom claps her teeth and threat and the coyote thinks better of it.
His abandoned lunch may look adorable but angry javelinas will even attack humans to leave them in peace perhaps a nap instead but there are sprites here who cannot rest even in this heat with her own.
Metabolism set on broil the female hummingbird flits and feeds with few blooms left to sip from she becomes a hunter snatching insects out of the air she can eat more than her body weight every day and now she's hunting for three.
Her silken nest is bursting at the seams with two hungry chicks she feeds them protein-rich insect puree sweetened with a little nectar she's on her own the flashy male has no interest in nest building or chick-raising meanwhile snug in her rocky nook the.
Diamondback awaits a mate she's normally solitary slithering around and hunting on her own she eats lizards and birds and loves little mammals she does her part for the park by keeping rodent populations down but now she seems to have other things on her mind.
He's been on her trail since he battled the other male for her he coily lays his head on her and begins his twitchy seduction the neck hold is not particularly romantic but she'll tolerate it for the good of her species the dance becomes more sinuous as he.
Snuggles alongside it's a delicate business serpent love finally he finds the perfect alignment and uses one of his two penises to culminate the act rattlesnakes can lie locked together for half a day and less than six months from now she'll.
Give birth to about a dozen live youngsters each venomous from its first breath the scorched earth of the dry riverbed looks lifeless but the drama never stops with his jaunty headgear the gamble's quail is quite the ladies man he and his mate have a growing brood already.
But the neighbors are still waiting nervously on their nest it's well hidden but here be monsters ravenous unstoppable gila monsters and the quail's worst nightmare is about to unfold in horrifying slow motion among all the other prehistoric.
Creatures in saguaro national park the gila monster stands out he's a rare venomous lizard extremely slow moving he prefers his prey motionless and helpless like these quail eggs ever so gently not wanting to waste a drop he takes the.
Egg into his mouth the quail will now have to start all over again but he's just getting started egg after egg goes down his throat hey even monsters have to eat gila monsters digest in slow motion too that meal could tie them over for a week.
the rains are long gone and the sun is high the saguaros are impervious keeping their water to themselves any creature that can has gone to ground by now those that can't.
Simply suffer but some can't even slow down instead the hummingbird is working overtime only one of her two chicks has survived but after just three weeks he's now as big as she is and could fend for himself.
But he'd rather not that's a big mouth for a little chick mom still brings home the goods but in a day or two he'll leave her to a well-earned rest by may it hasn't rained for months in the mountains near tucson yet the saguaro with its internal supply of water still form small buds.
Covered in sweet dew they immediately attract prospectors the park's few water holes draw the desert animals like magnets young harris antelope squirrels are busy tasting the world around them and generally having fun they're blissfully oblivious.
To danger slithering near but mom's not and she alerts the babies the long-nosed snake wants to squeeze the life out of her kids at her signal they retreat to their lair but the snake has smelled them mom knows what she has to do put her life on the line.
And go nose to nose with her little kid's enemy in saguaro national park heroes come in tiny packages this snake will get past this mom over her dead body to get a tasty meal she's four ounces of true grit.
Nerves of steel and fabulous reflexes too much effort for the snake and mother knows she's won finally the sun tips towards the horizon.
It hasn't rained in months but the saguaro hoards so much water it can dictate its own seasons and as the moon rises beyond the lights of tucson the flowers on the silent cactus prepare for their once yearly night on the town.
the saguaro buds open milk white petals unveiling butter yellow centers as day returns the cactus reveals its secret define the tyranny of rain in the desert.
The saguaro cacti take turns blooming for a few weeks the flowers will only last a day and everything is riding on them our heroic squirrel mother greets the dawn a quick grooming and a dirt bath start.
The morning right the saguaro blossoms have no time to lose so they give off a rich ripe melon smell irresistible to the gila woodpecker diving head first into the flowers the bird gets a face full of pollen which it will obligingly carry off to pollinate other cacti ensuring their.
Future the roadrunner needs to warm up after a chilly night temperatures can drop by 30 degrees fahrenheit each night here he fluffs up his feathers to let the morning sun soak into his black skin once the engine is turning over nicely.
It's time to take it for a spin the road runner is an awkward flyer but a sleek runner reaching speeds of up to 15 miles per hour in some mexican lore it's the roadrunner not the stork who delivers babies.
In the park black harvester ants are a well-oiled machine each scurries after its appointed task carrying seeds insects and building materials to their underground nest the venomous bite of the ant is incredibly painful but it's not much against godzilla this impressive armory belongs to the.
Harvester ants nemesis and if ants made horror movies this would be their star the regal horned lizard this early in the morning the horned lizards too cold to move much even if breakfast is clamoring all over him.
But not for long the ants look nasty going down but the reptile can't get enough they can eat over 200 of them at a sitting and once warmed up they can get quite agile by midday it's time to seek shade.
our ground squirrels like to flop spread eagle in the shade of the saguaros pressing their bellies into the cool dirt it's called heat dumping and they constantly duck into the cactus shadow throughout the day everyone needs air conditioning here.
The desert cotton tail pumps blood to its giant ears where it cools off the road runner does the same thing except his blood vessels run under his chin which he flutters to fan off the heat in june the sun blazes at its zenith temperatures of over 115 degrees fahrenheit have been recorded here in.
Summer probably the only living thing that is comfortable in its own skin now is the cactus for everyone else the first wisps of a long promised relief swirl in from the ocean at first the moisture from the pacific.
Is no match for the desert air but gradually it marshals its forces takes form and falls the real manna from heaven is always rain.
Even those cast out from eden get to taste its purity again the black-tailed rattlesnake hasn't had a drink for months she winds her body tight to catch rain and drinks deep with luck this means the monsoon season has finally arrived.
everything here depends on the summer deluge and the whole place seems to be waiting even the little rain makes the opuntia cactus bear sweet fruits and somebody's hungry.
But getting it will be a thorny issue these are cactus fruits to die for unfortunately with these thorns a squirrel really could die trying the low-hanging fruit isn't ripe yet so how do you get up there very carefully somehow the ground squirrel manages no one knows exactly how.
Delicious like a kid with a popsicle the greedy squirrel's face turns red with smeared juice but how to get a meal to go deftly he twists and twists till it pops free and he's got takeout as big as his head.
The sweet cactus candy is almost intoxicating water doesn't last long in saguaro national park the moisture from the brief rains seeps into the soil or gets sucked up by the cactus saguaros only live here in the sonoran.
Desert it's the cactus's goldilocks zone not too hot or cold just the right amount of rainfall the choices appeared to be plumper after the reigns and shelter little surprises the roadrunner has brought home takeout too.
But not for himself deep inside this fortress are his chicks and mom's in there too keeping watch but they won't all fit so he has to wait for mom to leave the two took turns incubating their eggs.
And now they share the feeding duties finally dad can deliver the goods road runners form lifelong bonds and are clearly great parents another day comes to an end the saguaros flash one last time in the evening sun bathed in light of a full moon the park looks impossibly tranquil the crystal desert air brings the stars.
Close enough to touch the saguaro will keep watch through the long night but beneath the silent cactus it's time for the night stalkers to emerge snug in her den the grasshopper mouse tends to her pink youngsters.
outside the giant hairy scorpion lives up to its name six inches long it can kill lizards and small snakes and will happily eat baby mice but this is no ordinary mouse which is about to become clear it's guts versus venom all over again.
Any sane mouse would retreat but the grasshopper mouse is fearless and hungry she takes a direct hit of paralyzing venom and seems doomed but as usual in the desert the outcome is anything but predictable.
The battle to the death of mouse vs scorpion should be over the scorpion seems to have won the mouse has been stung badly with paralyzing venom but within seconds a cocktail of venom blocking proteins pulsed through the mouse's body and she attacks.
This most carnivorous mouse has very powerful bites the tiny wolf of saguaro national park will eat well tonight and like a wolf she even throws back her head and howls.
a quiet dawn breaks after the nighttime drama the waterless riverbed looks utterly inhospitable nothing stirring here but just under the surface someone is waking up hungry.
It's our regal horned lizard recharged by the sun warm sands he briskly starts off after breakfast thinking mmm ants ants but someone else is thinking hmm lizard lizard the coach whip snake.
the horned lizard spots him but what to do plan a is to hightail it out of there but he'll never outrun the lightning swift coach with time for plan b invisibility be the sand.
He freezes but the coach whip has him right in his sights so much for plan b let's try plan c inflate and present impressive armored back to snake look big and hard to swallow.
the snake figures there's got to be a in the armor somewhere time to throw out the playbook and just flip out.
But it seems to buy him some time one last flip and the snake is off just as well coach whips have choked to death on horned lizards this big at peak summertime moisture moves inland from both the pacific ocean and the gulf of mexico.
The electricity in the air builds ominously any creatures still out and about head for cover thunderheads become massive crackling with pent-up energy finally the heavens open violently.
It looks like a tropical hurricane in the middle of the desert the desert soil cannot absorb so much water all at once little dry beds swell to torrance within minutes washes become rivers dark currents that swamp everything in their paths.
It looks like complete disaster but the storm passes as quickly as it arrived and the valley dwellers waited out the rattlesnakes have survived by seeking higher ground now they descend to enjoy the water.
In summer monsoon storms are part of everyday life in the sonoran desert everyone seems reinvigorated for a short time water ceases to be a scarce commodity and sometimes it's too much of a good thing when the soil is saturated some of the saguaros drink in too much.
Water their shallow roots can't hold the heavy cactus anymore and the weakest fall over so for others in the park this time of year feels like paradise.
Food and water in abundance for once there was only hunger and thirst and for the javelinas it's pure hog heaven under the long withered blossoms of the.
Saguaros shiny fruits have been ripening the gila woodpeckers and the clever curveville thrashers are among the lucky harvesters they make sure others also get their share for a few weeks the saguaro desert will be a bountiful place and its grand cactus.
Having drunk its fill will keep its majestic vigil over the wonders of saguaro national park you