Crested Saguaro Society

Crest Quest Reports

October 29 - 31, 2023 — Off Highway 93 (A Wash Runs Through It)

Report by Joe Orman


You may ask yourself, “Where does that highway go to?”
                                      — Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime (co-written with Brian Eno)

My curiosity leads me to the blank spots on the map. For this trip, I'd been looking at my atlas and found a promising area along a wash on both sides of Highway 93 — thus far unexplored, but close to areas where I'd previously found crested saguaros. Zooming in on the Google Maps satellite view confirmed that there were plentiful saguaros in the hills on the north side of the wash (saguaros typically prefer south-facing slopes). I plotted a route that would get me there, via highway, dirt roads, and afoot.

As I drove a ranch road close to the first set of hills, my binos picked out a possible crest. Even with my telephoto lens, I wasn't sure — could just be a broken-top or bird's nest — so I made a note of the location and planned to check it out on my loop hike:

I had to hike over a mile cross-country to get to any saguaros, but once there I saw Y-arms like this one — a good omen that crests could be found nearby:

I debated whether one side of this Y-split was crested, but I couldn't see whether it had a seam, so I deemed it "not quite crested":

But as I continued hiking into the hills, I soon found my first definite crest ... a nice arm crest:

I surprised a herd of 5 deer ... they stared at me curiously for moment, before bounding off:

From atop a ridge, my binos picked out a newbie top crest in a side gully, and I started to detour over to it ... on the way I stumbled upon this bigger top crest in the same gully:

Here's the newbie top crest:

From another ridge, I spotted an intricately-crested saguaro. As I hiked closer, I saw that the saguaro just to its left also had a crsted arm! The sagauro trunks were only three or four feet apart — probably too far to be a twin (shared-root) saguaro, but certainly relatives:

The arm crest:

The intricate crest:

Another Y-tip saguaro ... this is definitely crest country!

Finally I reached the saguaro from my telephoto shot ... crested indeed!

This land was on the boundary between saguaro habitat and Joshua tree habitat — my hike back to my Jeep took me past this especially large Joshua tree in a wash:

I found a campsite with a view across the Joshua tree forest to distant mountains, dramatic in the last light of day:

The sun sets behind a Joshua tree:

Later, the just-past-full moon rises behind a Joshua tree:

... and the next morning sets behind another Joshua tree:

Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.
                                      — Albert Einstein

That day, I accessed a different set of hills by driving down a large wash. Planning this trip, I'd noted this large saguaro in the satellite photo, and had chosen it as a good location to park and hike out of the wash. When I arrived, I noticed the saguaro had a Y-arm ... a sign that crests could be close!

Sure enough, as soon as I started hiking up a side-gully, I encountered this top-crest:

I climbed a nearby hill, whipped out my binoculars, and spotted little arm-crest nearby:

I also noticed this odd saguaro, but couldn't tell if it was crested until I hiked far enough to see it straight-on ... a not quite crested Y-split:

Another multiple-Y that I passed at telephoto distance:

Looping back to my Jeep, I found this nice arm crest:

Through the binos, I wasn't sure if this was an arm crest or a top-crest among the cactus forest ... turned out to be a tall crested arm:

Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.
                                      — James Stephens

Continuing to drive down the wash, even with four-wheel drive and my tires aired down, I had to keep moving to avoid bogging down in the soft sand. Here's what remains of the last vehicle to attempt it!

I managed to make it to my next chosen parking spot, and from there I spot another Y-tip saguaro:

For this photo I stood on the sand-filled cattle tank behind a rock dam; earlier in the satellite photos I'd traced the pipeline for a mile and a half down-canyon to a metal tank:

I don't know who was more startled — me or this cow I encountered on the hike:

I'd spotted this big ring crest from a distance ... I was awed to stand beheath it:

Looping back to my Jeep, I picked up another tall crested arm:

I'd seen (and heard!) pairs of F-35 Lightning II fighter jets practicing maneuvers above me all morning. On this run, the lead jet released several flares:

Another evening, another campsite, another sunset ... this one behind power lines:

The more curious and open to your experiences you are, the greater your reserves of energy to explore.
                                      — Judson Brewer, Unwinding Anxiety

The next morning I was energized by the good crest finds I'd made so far, and looking forward to exploring one last set of hills before heading for home. I didn't even let this bad omen dampen my spirits:

On the drive in, I was able to position myself to get a shot of the moon setting behind the saguaros on a distant ridge:

A good omen to start the hunt — a double-Y saguaro:

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.
                                      — Albert Einstein

Our late friend Bob Cardell liked to see how many crests he could get in a single photo. Here, I positioned myself so my telephoto lens could capture two crests I'd spotted on adjacent ridges; after hiking to them, I realized my photo actually captured four crests!

First crest:

Second crest:

Third crest:

Fourth crest ... just a newbie, but with such a strong cresting pattern I'm sure it will be a beautiful fan in a few years:

Twice on this hike I happened to come across flare components on the ground — the jets must have dropped many, many flares in this area over the decades!

Then I extended my loop hike to include three more crests I'd spotted in different directions. Arm crest:

Top crest:

Hiking out to the last crest, a couple of mineral specimens caught my eye. Colorful swirl of chalcedony:

Thick chunk of translucent chalcedony?

... and the last crest, making a total of nineteen for my 3-day outing!

Hiking back to my jeep, I crossed a hillside with more devil's claw plants than I'd ever seen in one area:

One last mineral specimen — a sparkling cluster of tiny quartz crystals:

My curiosity had paid off — I'd found beautiful areas to hike and camp, discovered many new and varied crested saguaros, and returned home feeling energized with the question of what surprises the next highway would lead me to.

The future belongs to the curious – the ones who are not afraid to try something, explore it, poke at it, question it and turn it inside out.
                                      — Harvey Mackay

Back to Crested Saguaro Society Crest Quest Reports page.

Revised: November 10, 2023
All photos copyright © 2023 Joe Orman