Crested Saguaro Society
Crest Quest Reports
October 1 - 3, 2023 — Off Highway 93 (Something out of Nothing)
Report by Joe Orman
In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they're still beautiful.
— Alice Walker
Once again, I had a secret that I held close through the long months of heat. Finally, the forecast promised a dip in temperature — it was again desert time, time for my first crest-hunting outing of the season, time to finally follow up on that crested saguaro tip! A canyon I'd never been to, with a wash road that I'd never driven, a contorted cactus I'd never photographed ... these beckoned me on.
On the drive, I paused and took a quick updated pic of this crested saguaro in a front yard — has crested out nicely in the 3 1/2 years since Max first found it!
I soon arrived at my targeted crest-hunting area, and not long after leaving the pavement made my first find — this small top-crest perched on a hill above the road:
I pushed on, following a dirt road that cut through a range of saguaro-studded hills, and spotted this ornate arm-crest on the slope:
This is a land of boulder piles. Here's one of many balanced rocks that I saw:
Late in the afternoon I found a nice spot to camp. Is a sunset behind power lines any less beautiful?
A while after dark, a waning gibbous moon rose and illuminated the desert with its pale glow:
Later, the moon was joined by some eerie clouds ... and the planet Jupiter:
Morning sunshine kissed my campsite among the junipers:
Throughout the area, the nolina yuccas raised their blossoms to the sky:
That morning, I drove the dirt road down the steep-sided wash that the tipster had given directions to. On the way I spotted what I thought was a newly-cresting arm up on a slope. After hiking up to it, I deemed it "not quite crested" — might turn into a crest later, or just a Y-split:
Right on the edge of the wash, growing from a crack in the boulders, the crested saguaro I'd had the tip on was easily spotted (thanks for passing along the tip, Harry!):
Farther on, this mutant saguaro had a Y-split arm:
Eventually the wash got too bouldery for further progress, even with my Jeep. So I parked, shouldered my pack, and hiked down the wash past the saguaro sentinels. This one looked like it had just started to crest, but it was way up on the canyon wall so I couldn't inspect it close up:
Where the wash emptied into a much larger creek, I found the extensive ruins of an abandoned mining operation. This building was apparently the miners' living quarters; now only the wind lives here:
Mill machinery, quietly turning to rust in the desert stillness:
An adobe shack, protected from vandalism only by its remoteness:
There was nothing. Only the rocks, the scrub, the stillness ... I listened to the wind. I thought about how little human endeavor means in the desert. How little anything means. Here, existence is its own meaning.
— Kathryn Marshall, "Death Valley Daze"
From the mine ruins, I had a commanding view of the terrain and my binos picked out two crested saguaros on distant slopes. This one was on a steep rocky slope, and I didn't feel like breaking a leg that day, so I settled for a telephoto shot:
This one was also on a steep slope, which I thought I could easily traverse across. Wrong! It turned out to be a horrible bushwhack across multiple steep and rocky gullies!
After making the sandy slog back to my Jeep and driving back up the wash, I briefly explored a couple of side canyons. In one, I spotted this arm crest high on a slope above. But again, I didn't feel like making the scramble. As the poet Wes Williamson once wrote, "There was a peak that I yet longed to climb ... Our constitution limits us, each and all."
I drove other canyons that afternoon, but spotted only a couple of Y-splits along the way:
I made camp for a second night, at the same spot as before since it was such a good campsite. The next morning, back on the highway, I paused to take an updated photo of the ruins of the deserted "town" of Nothing:
For the something/nothing/something/nothing story of this tiny roadside community, visit my Nothing, Arizona page.
Making my way out of the area, I decided to take a powerline road that wound between the rock piles. I got a couple more telephoto shots of maybe-crests-to-be:
I paused many times and glassed many saguaros on many distant slopes, then was surprised to suddenly see this nice crest right by the road!
This saguaro growing from an apparently-damaged tip was also judged "not quite crested":
I think I saw only two other vehicles the entire time I was off-pavement, but I had other company:
Back on pavement and heading home, I paused to get an updated (telephoto) shot of this magnificent crested saguaro:
Another maybe-Y or maybe-crest-to-be (telephoto shot from road):
A couple more updated (telephoto) shots from the highway ... I originally spotted both of these crests 3 years earlier:
At one point, I pulled off the highway to let a truck pass. I know I'd stopped at this pullout in the past and used my binoculars, but I thought I'd give it another try. Sure enough, I saw a crest just peeking over the top of a rock pile, so up I scrambled.
Once again, on a trip into the heart of the "barren" and "empty" desert, instead of just a bunch of nothing I found plenty of something!
In the desert, there is all and there is nothing. God is there and man is not.
Revised: October 21, 2023
All photos copyright © 2023 Joe Orman