Dispatches from Two Deserts

desertroad desertroad2

We arrived in Phoenix, Arizona on the hottest day of the year. We got a car at the airport and hightailed it to the Desert Botanical Garden where a day that started out unbearably hot got worse. And worse. Few people were in the garden that day, except us, the crazy Canadians.

desert botanical garden agave queen victoria

Despite the heat and nearly stroking out (the desert is no joke. I’ve been much more careful since), I was absolutely thrilled to see so many incredible plants including this Queen Victoria Agave (Agave victoriae-reginae) and the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) seen in the photo above.

saguaro faciated
A Saguaro cactus with some fasciation.

hummingbird_nest joshuatree

We woke up early the next morning and headed to Joshua Tree, California (the town and national park), arriving just in time to catch some amazing views of the park as the sun lit up the rocks and then went down. Once darkness came the night was spectacular — it felt like walking into the stars. It’s such a treat to be able to see things in the sky that are not visible from cities.


We started our third day with a hike into the park where we saw several petroglyphs. I asked our host where we should go to see fields of Joshua Trees and then felt like an idiot a few hours later when we passed field after field of them literally everywhere.

joshua tree joshua tree

There are giant trees flanking people’s homes and we even stopped to take photos of trees in an empty lot next to a schoolyard.

desert christ park
A Joshua Tree among the odd sculptures at Desert Christ Park. I wasn’t expecting much from this site, but it was fantastic.

Just a few days into this trip and I’m already getting quite an education on desert plants, landscapes, and culture. We’ve already been to two deserts and it’s been really fascinating to see how vastly different they are. The diversity is staggering. We are headed up to the Mojave Preserve next. And then it will be back down to the Salton Sea and on to Arizona following along the southern border. I am loving the driving out here in the open areas (save some mountain driving that had me a bit on edge), but hated, hated, hated the drive out of Phoenix. For that reason I’m a bit wary of our journey back to Arizona.

I intend to update with a few more photos from the road as we go, but if you’d like to see more I’ve also been posting cellphone photos to my Instagram and Flickr accounts. I can’t contain the excitement of all of the new things that I am seeing and experiencing. When the trip is done I will put together some larger galleries and more detailed posts highlighting some of the specific plants I have learned about.

We’re still on the road so please keep your suggestions coming.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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10 thoughts on “Dispatches from Two Deserts

  1. I love botanical gardens! I have never visited one in the desert, just ones with a desert section. I love that Saguaro with the hole. My oldest son had a book, Elf Owl, when he was little, about owls living in those holes.
    My favorite botanical garden is in California, in Tilden Park. I don’t live near it anymore.

  2. Love your pictures.And yes the Desert is really not the place to go in the summer!.Your a Brave Women lol.
    I do live in California, and Joshua Tree is amazing.
    I’m not a lover of the Desert, but there is something special about Joshua Tree..It’s like your on the Moon!! It Is also a very Spiritual place.

    If you have time, Yosemite National Park, California, is a must See..
    The Water Falls are amazing, but where ever you go in the park is Awesome etc.
    If you do go to Yosemite, Another must see is Glacier Point.. You can drive there. The weather will be cooler !!
    Ansel Adams has Art studio in the valley of Yosemite, and other things to see..When your in Yosemite Valley , just take a walk into the Ahwahnee Hotel..The bathrooms are fun to see!..It is a Very Old Beautiful Hotel..To stay there you need reservations a year in advance.!..I think all our USA Presidents have stayed there.Encluding Kennedy with Marlilyn Monroe!

    Have a Great trip,

    • I’d love to go out that way someday! Yes, Joshua Tree was really, really great. We drove straight thru the park and could not believe how much there was to see.

  3. Glad you had a decent visit to the DBG despite hitting us on a heat spike. (You get used to it, honest.) The crew who keeps it is pretty proud of the collection, and you caught us at a good time of the year, right after we got it all dolled up to host the annual APGA conference. Hope you have a blast for the balance!

    • Our timing was terrible but it still set us up well for the trip. I can’t imagine what it must be like working in that garden during the summer months…

      I forgot to mention that we saw a roadrunner up close shortly after entering the park. That was such a score for us as seeing a roadrunner was on our desert must-see list.

  4. A friend of mine visited from PEI last August. He was oppressed by the heat and I’m only in Chicago! Beautiful pictures, am looking forward to more.

    • The summer humidity in our neck of the woods is a killer. The temperatures are high in the desert but as long as you drink lots of water the high temps aren’t as bad. 90F here is far more bearable than 90F in Chicago. Mind you 115F is NOT nice regardless of how dry it is.

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