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Saguaro cacti at sunset in the Sonoran Desert

A Desert Walk

Article by Bob Payne 08.20.2016 Photographs by Emily Nathan

Covering much of southern Arizona is a desert made distinctive by towering cacti that grow naturally
nowhere else in the world. The desert is the Sonoran, and the cacti are the saguaros, whose arms are often raised like those of Old West stagecoach passengers being accosted by outlaws.

Contrary to the impression many people have of the desert as dun-colored emptiness, unchanging beneath a relentless sun, what I have discovered on my hikes is a landscape as varied, and as beautiful, as any on the planet. It is a landscape of wide skies and insanely painted sunsets.

Of flat basins, encircled by serrated mountains that can appear blue or golden, depending on the light. Of life brought forth by scant hours of raindrops, but sometimes likely to last, as are the saguaros, for centuries. In May, when daytime highs begin to climb back to 100 degrees, the desert awaits the life-nourishing rains and those saguaros, I realize, are raising their arms not in quavering fear but in welcome salute.

A man hikes up a desert hill in the Sonoran Desert