A Hike Through Sonoran Desert Flowers

Missed you all the last couple of weeks! Our family has been on vacation, and away from cell phones and computers, so I’ve had no contact at all with the blog.

We live right by a mountain park in Phoenix, and I regularly hike the trails there. This is supposed to be wildflower season for us, and I thought I’d take my camera out and get a bunch of pictures. But with very little rainfall this winter–even by our desert standards–only the most faithful plants produced blooms. Still, they were lovely, and I thought I’d share this most precious place, where I go to think and to pray and to “see” God.

Flower from the creosote bush: Probably the most ubiquitous plant in the Sonoran Desert. It has a distinctive smell, especially noticeable in a rainstorm, and it always smells like “home” to me after we’ve been away.

As you can see, the bees love it. This huge old bumblebee scared me with his loud buzzing and erratic flight. I was delighted to have captured him in the photo at all.

This is a common sight on my walks: Certain types of cacti seem to “buddy up” with a shrub, or a small tree, and the two of them grow together. In this case, a desert wolfberry (I think) is paired with a young saguaro.

Kind of like a marriage: They start their life together, protecting and complementing one another as they grow, and they cannot be separated without severe damage to both of them. But left to grow together, they both just might reach their full glory:

This is a saguaro cactus, almost certainly more than a hundred years old, married to a palo verde tree.

The next one is scorpion weed. In good, rainy years it turns whole hillsides a hazy purple. I think it’s so named because the buds are inside a curled-up stem (and open as the stem uncurls) like a scorpion’s tail. Kind of makes you feel all cozy inside, doesn’t it? Scorpions are nasty, creepy things that hide in my laundry baskets, just waiting to give me goose bumps; they’re nothing like this pretty blossom. I hereby re-name it “fiddle-neck flower.”

I wish I could stick your noses in this brittlebush flower; it smells like…like…a spicy cookie, maybe. The shrub secretes a resin that we pick off and chew, like gum, and collect at Christmastime in place of frankincense and myrrh:

All my growing-up years, I kept cacti in pots in my bedroom. I loved them, loved their showy blossoms, and loved how they thrived under considerable neglect. They still grow in my parents’ greenhouse; Mom will call once in a while to tell me when they’re flowering.

Now I live in a cactus wonderland. I found this barrel cactus well off the trail…

…and slid down an embankment (not by choice) to get a close-up:

I think it was worth it. I could have stayed all day, just admiring its beauty.

I think this is a pincushion cactus. They’re everywhere, and always-faithful bloomers. I’ve seen squirrels eat the bright-red fruit.

Shortly after I began regularly hiking in the Sonoran Desert, I discovered a pretty orange flower, the desert mallow, a relative of the sweet little poppy mallow that grew all over our farm in Kansas. I loved it for its beauty, and picked some to put in a vase, just like I had done as a child in Kansas…and found I’d tangled with The Meanest Pollen in the West. So when I saw it in bloom as I neared home, I tried to take a very-careful-from-a-safe-distance photo…and ended up with an accidental self-portrait instead.

Hope you enjoyed our short hike. When you ask for prayer from me, (and some of you have) this is what you’re getting: me out here, in this harsh and aching beauty, freely pouring out my heart to a God who hears. And I’ve seen sweet, good, cactus-flower-in-the-spines sorts of answers to those prayers. Have you?

Next week: I hope to have a few vacation pictures, and a book review.

17 Responses to “A Hike Through Sonoran Desert Flowers”
  1. i tend to not appreciate our desert, thanks for helping me see the beauty!

  2. Courtney says:

    Love the marriage analogy! Great pictures!

  3. This is beautiful… the descriptions, the reflections, and the photos. It’s nice to have a “picture” of where you go when you do your prayer hikes!

    • Julie says:

      Those photos couldn’t have happened without you! Thanks for all the coaching you’ve given me. The camera, by the way, survived the slide down the embankment better than I did. Canon makes ’em pretty tough.

  4. Karen Wolfe says:


    David and I have become cacti/succulent enthusiasts over the past years, so this was a delightful walk to share with you. As for the praying part of it…we would so appreciate your prayers specifically for Juan, Rey, and Noelani. They need Jesus; it’s as simple as that. They burden my heart more than David’s broken body and 24/7 care that have dramatically changed my life this past year.

    • Julie says:

      I’ve been praying for you all for the last year. Your faithful postings on CaringBridge make it easy to be specific in my prayers. He is the Faithful Redeemer; we’ll keep clinging to that for you kids!

      • Julie says:

        Hah! I meant YOUR kids! That wasn’t meant to be patronizing. What a difference one little “r” makes!

  5. Emily says:

    Lovely photos and reflections. Love both cactus analogies.

    • Julie says:

      Thanks, Emily. I really appreciate your comments–and your blog! I totally related to your laundry pictures.

  6. Oh my goodness. I just adore your pictures from your vacation! How much fun you must have had! I love that you got to be away from cell phones and technology for a bit! It can be so oppressive to always be connected to everyone!

  7. Mom says:

    Julie, I love this post. The pictures and the fact that you’re out there taking them and the analogies and knowing you’re walking (and I’m jealous!) and your writing. I’m ready to put a great big fold in the map! And, by the way, your cactus with the little yellow flowers is blooming its heart out. No buds yet on the God’s Extravagance cactus.

  8. Annie says:

    Julie, you’re beautiful.

  9. Good Morning Julie,
    This is my first time to your beautiful blog. I too, am a prayer warrior and consider it such an honor to pray for any one in need. I can tell through your posts you have a sweet, sweet spirit.
    I have been to your beautiful desert twice and smelled the bold creosote bush…one will never forget the smell, once they have sniffed the auroma. I love cacti…I think the desert is just as glorious as a rose garden…an oasis and oh so appropriate you go there to seek the face and wisdom of God.
    Bless you my Sister in Christ
    Have A Sugar Sweet Day
    Simply Debbie

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