Crested Saguaro Society
Crest Quest Reports
January 6 - 7, 2023 — Out Wickenburg Way
Report by Joe Orman
It came to me then, with the mesquite smoke sweet around me and the stars above,
that the supreme quality of the desert was its ability to sublimate the ordinary,
to lift a man above himself, to give him a deeper vision.
It was, above all else, a state of mind. Everything it could offer,
from the worst to the best, had to be experienced and appraised.
From the composite effect upon the individual the Desert emerged
as an entity, distinct, full-blown, in the mind.
— Edward Maddin Ainsworth, Beckoning Desert
This journey beyond the ordinary began with a simple call to adventure — a range of hills, a mystery, a starting guess. My friend Rick Scott and I accepted the challenge and were rewarded with the experience of seeing the rarest variety of crested saguaro.
After a challenging Jeep ride far into the hills, and only a small bit of wandering on foot, Rick and I located this Ring Crest. Ring crests are so rare that only about one in 40 crested saguaros is a ring; this is the 96th one that the Crested Saguaro Society has documented:
Check out Rick's drone photos here, which lift us above the saguaro for a unique vision:
Nearby we found an outcropping of white quartz with black tourmaline and collected some specimens:
We decided to continue to the top of the ridge behind the crest to get a deeper vision of the surrounding hills. From there, we were offered an unobstructed view of distant hillsides covered with thousands of saguaros. A quick sweep of my binoculars revealed an arm crest — we didn't have time to hike over to it, so I took this telephoto shot:
Also on the ridge I found a decayed desert tortoise shell ... I've found many such shells, and it has always been a bittersweet experience:
In the afternoon Rick and I had dinner in Wickenburg, then he left to drive back home. I returned to the hills by myself and hiked up one a small roadside hill to take a look around. In the day's last light, my spotting scope and telephoto lens picked out this saguaro with an odd shape at the base of one arm. I judged it to be a glomerate mass, not a crest, so didn't hike over to it:
No matter how many times I have seen the full moon rising over the desert, it is still a sublime experience:
In the growing darkness, I quickly found a campsite — from which I was offered a magnificent view of Venus in evening twilight, above the lights of distant Wickenburg:
The next morning, my Jeep retraced its tracks back into the same saguaro-rich area we had been in the day before. Glassing the hillsides from the road, I spotted this arm crest and hiked over to it:
I continued afoot up a high ridge; didn't spot any more cresties but the desert had other delightful sights. A backlit patch of teddy bear cholla may be one of the photographer's best subjects, but with a careless touch can turn into a hiker's worst nightmare:
At one point I found myself the subject of an appraising stare; apparently I was judged non-turstworthy and a moment later the deer quickly bounded away:
After the hike, from the road I spotted this saguaro with a golden (variegated) patch:
On the drive back out to Wickenburg, I paused to take this updated telephoto image of a crested saguaro I'd first found in 2018:
Later that afternoon, I kept an appointment with a woman who had contacted me about two crested saguaros she found while riding her horse on the other side of Wickenburg. They turned out to be excellent specimens and we enjoyed the short walk to them in the quiet calm of the late-afternoon desert. Here's the first:
... and here's the second:
Driving home, my spirit was lifted by the sight of a half-dozen hot air balloons floating above. I'll leave you with one last saguaro image:
As always, the time came when I had to return to the ordinary. But I knew the desert would remain, indeed, distinct and full-blown, in my mind.
Revised: October 21, 2023