Crested Saguaro Society

Crest Quest Reports

November 5 - 7, 2023 — Off Highway 93 (Taking the Roads Less Traveled)

Report by Joe Orman


"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where—" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"—so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
                                      — Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Crest-hunting is a strange kind of journey. Often one doesn't have a particular destination in mind, in fact the goal is often the "blank spots on the map" — an anti-destination, if you will. Of course, there must be saguaros. But usually the trip looks a lot like taking random forks in the road. Sometimes, deliberately losing our way is the best way to find the unexpected!

It's not just saguaros I seek ... I also keep my eye out for other crested plants. On the drive out of town, I stopped to photograph this crested mullein beside the highway:

After the highway descended into the desert, I paused to take an updated telephoto shot of Heather's Crest (so named because it was spotted by my daughter Heather when it was first cresting out in 2009, 6 months before Bob and Pat found it — a rare instance of someone beating them to the punch!):

Nearby, I parked and hiked up a boulder-strewn canyon. The unseasonal heat and the rough terrain prevented me from getting too far, but I did find this big arm crest:

And the next saguaro over had the "starfish" arm:

Farther up-canyon I spotted this mutated arm, but upon closer examination I judged it to be "not quite crested" (Extend-O-Cam view):

I sat down to rest ... and noticed several of the prickly pear cactuses right in front of me were crested!

This saguaro arm was another close call, but I didn't detect a "seam" so it's also "not quite crested":

But only about a hundred feet away, this arm was definitely crested:

On the way back to my Jeep, there was a canyon, and in the canyon was a spring, and below the spring was a pool, and in the pool was a frog:

Next, I drove a nearby ranch road up a hill to take a look around ... this suspicious saguaro caught my attention, but again, no seam so "not quite crested":

While on the hill, I collected a bunch of firewood, because I knew there would be none around the campsite I planned to stay at. To my surprise, when I arrived at the campsite I found that the previous campers had left a big pile of wood, so I had an extra-big fire that evening:

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
                                      — Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

The next morning I met fellow Crested Saguaro Society member Ted Codding, who had made a long drive from his home to join me for the day. First, I showed him this crest just off the highway ... has grown a bit since I first photographed it almost 4 years ago:

Our next goal was a natural arch that Ted had gotten a tip on (from someone in France!). We took a rough road as far as my Jeep could manage, then proceeded on foot — the steep terrain was a challenge but we made it! Here's Ted striking a gallant pose in the arch:

Y-arm saguaro ... a sign that a crest might be near.

What critter lives here? I didn't stick around to find out!

I'd spotted a nice crested saguaro on a nearby ridge, so that became our next objective; when we got there we had an incredible view out over the wilderness:

The Parry's nolina was everywhere, its flower spikes reaching for the sky:

After we drove back out to the highway, Ted had to head for home, so we said our goodbyes. But since I was camping locally for another night, I used the remaining hours of daylight to check out a different road. Just after leaving the highway, I noticed this Y-arm saguaro — but I also noticed a suspicious bulge peeking out from the other side:

Sure enough, on the other side was this fantastic arm crest!

And a bit farther in on the dirt road I spotted this ring crest. This makes 100 ring crests that the Crested Saguaro Society has documented!

As the sun neared the horizon, I had just enough time to run up a ridge and photograph this newbie top crest:

My campsite that night had an expansive view, and the solitude also stretched for miles ... the distant lights of the town of Wikieup were my only reminder that I wasn't totally alone:

If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going.
                                      — Professor Irwin Corey

The next morning, from my campsite I scanned the surrounding hills with my binos ... spotted a small top crest about a mile away ... a side trip on a power line road brought me within a quarter-mile:

Then it was back down the highway to a different side road, hoping to find three undocumented crested saguaros that Harry Ford had gotten a tip on. The first side-road-off-a-side-road I tried turned up nothing; the wild burros laughed at my foolishness:

But the road did give a distant view of four crested saguaros that I'd found on a hike four years earlier. Updated telephoto shot #1:




Back on the "main" dirt road, I looked at the surroundings carefully, since it had been at least five years since I'd driven this stretch. This saguaro just off the road looks like it might be cresting; I'll check back in a few more years:

Y-split saguaro photographed from the road:

I'd driven past it at least twice before, but hadn't noticed this small crest just off the road:

From there, I noticed the top of this saguaro peeking over a ridge, so up I went:

I took another side road to get an updated photo of this double top-crest I'd first photographed 5 years earlier:

Just up the same road, I took an updated photo of this saguaro. In the same 5 years, it's gone from "looks like it's cresting" to clearly just a "Y-split" — so I've taken it off the CSS web site:

From there, I spotted one that escaped my attention 5 years earlier, probably since it's on a steep slope well off the road. The hike over to it was well worth it — a beautifully symmetrical crest!

Speaking of symmetry, I was amazed by the horns on this local inhabitant! My telephoto lens allowed me to keep a safe distance:

Back on the main road, I was able to easily spot the three crested saguaros Harry had gotten the tip on (thanks for passing on the tip, Harry!). The first was this small arm crest by the road:

The second was the biggest:

The third was a "twin" (shared-root) saguaro with one side crested:

This turned out to be an especially rich area for crests! Within a few hundred freet of that biggest one, I also found three other crests. The first was another small arm crest by the road:

The second was this small top-crest:

... and the third was this newbie top-crest which looks like it will be magnificent one day:

Unfortunately I also found this mylar balloon — a reminder that we're never really away from civilization:

It had been a long day and the sun was getting low. To get back on the highway, I followed the loop road past this creek crossing which was awash with fall colors:

Driving the winding highway home as twilight fell, I made one last discovery — a new roadside shrine which was lit by solar-powered lights:

Thanks for joining me on another somewhat-random journey. Striking out with no destination in mind may seem an odd way to travel, but I think I'll keep doing it — it always seems to lead me to a place I'm happy I've been.

No matter where you go, there you are.
                                      — Buckaroo Banzai

Back to Crested Saguaro Society Crest Quest Reports page.

Revised: November 21, 2023
All photos copyright © 2023 Joe Orman