Crested Saguaro Society

Crest Quest Reports

December 1 - 3, 2023 — Near Florence (Something Lost, Something Gained)

Report by Joe Orman


Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone
                                                              — Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"

This crest-rich cactus forest near Florence is where the Crested Saguaro Society can trace its beginnings. Lately I've tasked myself with checking up on the crested saguaros that other members have discovered before me. Since some of these discoveries stretch back almost 20 years now, it's only to be expected that many of these saguaros have since fallen. I should know and accept this, given that the desert is a harsh place where life is a contant struggle, but still I feel a twinge of regret for that which we've lost ...

After driving to the area and making a late-night camp at a favorite spot among the saguaros, I was up early the next morning to start my rounds. I found Bob and Pat's crested saguaro C1647 still standing, but having lost most of its arms in the 13 years since they documented it:

A different kind of deformation — a glomerate saguaro:

As I drove the back roads, I spotted this new arm crest:

A leaning barrel cactus displays a golden ring of fruit:

The first of several red-tailed hawks that would give me the eye on this trip:

At one point, I parked and scrambled up the dirt berm around a cattle tank. From this vantage point above the saguaro forest, I spotted a crested saguaro in the distance and took this photo at the limit of my telephoto lens. After a quick glance at my map, I assumed it was a certain one that I'd visited before, and didn't hike out to it. Spoiler alert: after investigating further with Google Maps upon my return home, I realized it wasn't the same saguaro. I hiked out to it on my next trip to the area (as described in an upcoming report) and confirmed it as a new discovery!

I also spotted a second crest in a different direction ... I would hike to this one the next day:

Back on the dirt roads, I came across Bob & Pat's C509/C1604:

Back in 2010, this was a big double crest (C1605), but the crest has snapped off since:

Bob and Pat's 2010 photo:

My route took me right past this crest I'd photographed before, so I paused to take an updated photo:

I found C1601 still standing tall in the sunlight:

On my hike back to my Jeep, I noticed this not-quite-crested arm:

... and this spiral saguaro (a sign that the cresting gene is present):

Along one road I found this Y-split with one side newly cresting. Per my records, this was the 2200th crested saguaro that I've photographed!

Getting to this one (C503) took some creative route-finding due to power-line construction. But I made it, and found that the crest has grown a lot since Bob and Pat photographed it in 2006:

Just a couple hundred feet away, I noticed this little arm crest:

C1594 was a big top crest, but is now just scattered debris:

Bob and Pat's 2010 photo:

C1593 — still standing and reaching for the sky:

C1584 is also still standing ... it's hard to see the crest among all those arms!

C1592 was a big top crest with a crested arm ... now just the ribs remain:

Bob and Pat's 2010 photo:

... but just a stone's throw away, I noticed this saguaro that looks like it's cresting. I took a waypoint so I can come back and check up on it in the coming years:

A Y-arm saguaro nearby ... another sign that the cresting gene is present:

Another fallen giant — C1590 was a tall top crest but now lies toppled and decaying on the desert floor:

Bob and Pat's 2010 photo:

I had time for just one more before sunset ... C1598 is the biggest fish-tail crest I think I've ever seen!

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
                                                              — Joni Mitchell, "The Circle Game"

I had to hurry to find a campsite before the sun went down, and settled for the first flat spot I could find. The winter night was long, but the earth never stops spinning round and round, and eventually the new day dawned. At first light, I noticed this Y-split saguaro right next to my campsite:

Morning sun through cholla branches:

The day's driving route took me right past this arm crest (C507) that I'd photographed before, so I paused just long enough to take an updated photo:

Newarby, I found C1582 still boldly standing against the sky:

Hiking back to my Jeep, I noticed that someone had harvested these saguaro ribs:

Another disappointment — the crest had broken off of C1603 and was decaying on the ground:

Bob and Pat's 2010 photo:

Another red-tailed hawk surverying its domain:

But hope — and crests — spring eternal. This is the top-crest I'd spotted from a distance the day before, which turned out to be a new discovery. Embarrasing confession: I parked along the bearing-line I'd taken the day before, but hiked more than a mile in the wrong direction and didn't run into the saguaro. When I got back to my Jeep, I spotted the crest just a few hundred feet in the other direction!

Another red-tailed hawk, this one perched on a power line:

The last time I'd driven the wash past the much-photographed "Bull Durham" top-crest (C441/C1581), I hadn't seen it, so on this day I revisited the coordinates and was saddened to confirm that it was down. Coincidentally, this was 19 years to the day after it was first photographed by Rex and Ted!

Next I did a long loop hike to check out two of Bob and Pat's crests. C749 was down:

Bob and Pat's 2007 photo:

C810 was also down:

Bob and Pat's 2007 photos:

Hiking back to my Jeep, I came across this California Kingsnake. I was surprised it was still out in December, but on closer examination it seemed to be injured and possibly blind, which may be why it hadn't found a burrow to hibernate:

One last Bob and Pat saguaro (C1528) before heading home. This one was easy because I could photograph it from the highway shoulder without getting out of my Jeep! Since 2010, it has grown into a tall Y-tip:

I've been coming to this particular cactus forest, myself, for 15 years now — long enough that I've seen plenty of crested saguaros live and die during that time. It pains me to see them go, but that's part of the bargain we strike every time we set out on the quest.

Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
                                                              — Joni Mitchell, "Both Sides Now"

Dedicated to all those who have gone before me.
RIP Rex Harron and Bob Cardell

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Revised: January 4, 2024
All photos copyright © 2023 Joe Orman