January 24, 2010

Death and Rebirth in the Sonoran Desert

Do you want to know how strong that storm was that struck earlier this week? How about this 200+ year old giant saguaro that met its fate? What is fascinating about this was this provided me the first ever opportunity to look inside a live/fresh saguaro to see what it looks like.

The inside of a saguaro is a moist, gelatinous, and pithy material. The solid "ribs" provide the structure that holds it together. It looks woody in this photo, but really isn't.

On the way down, this saguaro ripped the arms off a neighbor, resulting in a huge pile of cacti.

The effects of the rains are already obvious on the desert floor. A thin green carpet has suddenly appeared as herbaceous seeds have sprouted in profusion. This picture was taken less than 48 hours after the storm. Today, the carpet is significantly denser.

The storm left huge quantities of snow in the mountains above 4000 feet. Here you can see 7000 foot Mount Ord in a blanket of the white stuff. This snowpack should be good for the high elevation forests who have suffered from recent droughts.

And the Four Peaks (behind some clouds)

Another curious thing came to the low desert...frost. One thing that indicates you are in the Sonoran desert is the presence of saguaros. The range closely tracks the frost line, because they are damaged by freezing temperatures. But, we awoke to a frosty morning today. They can survive a little bit of it, but a severe cold will kill them. Another "frost line" exists down by Organ Pipe Cactus NM, where the organ pipe cactus literally dies with a single frost. So, they live in a region that never sees freezing temperatures.

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