Crested Saguaro Society

Crest Quest Reports

December 10 - 14, 2023 Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (Crested Pincushions)

Report by Joe Orman


The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.
                                                              William Butler Yeats

California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, south of Palm Springs and west of the Salton Sea, is one of the largest state parks in the country. It is also one of my favorite places, and I've made countless trips there over the last forty years ... this four-day mid-December visit was my latest.

There are no native saguaros in Anza-Borrego, so I set my sights on smaller cactus. One of the tiniest cactuses is the fishhook pincushion, typically being less than 6 inches tall. Four years ago, I was lucky enough to find a rocky slope (bajada) which has not only plentiful pincushions, but the richest concentration of crested specimens that I've ever found, by far! Since then, I've returned regularly to search for more. Due to their small size, a pincushion search requires careful and close attention to the ground; patience is key. These are the crested specimens I found on this visit:

1st specimen:

2nd specimen:

3rd specimen:

4th specimen:

5th specimen:

6th specimen:

7th specimen:

8th specimen:

9th specimen:

10th specimen:

I also kept my eye open for wildflowers; Anza-Borrego can experience "super-blooms" in the spring, but in mid-December I only found a couple. This flowering ground cover is called trailing windmills:

11th specimen:

And as usual, I looked for interesting rocks. The colorful bands on this one caught my attention:

12th specimen:

I collected any trash I came upon, including this pull-tab beer can. According to my research, in the USA the last pull-tab cans were produced in 1983; amazing to think that this can has been sitting here for 40 years!

That evening, I photographed the brilliant sunset colors from my campsite:

I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again.
                                                              Anna Akhmatova

The next day, I returned to the bajada and continued my pincushion hunt. The only other wildflower I saw was this chuparosa:

13th specimen:

14th specimen:

15th specimen:

16th specimen:

17th specimen:

18th specimen:

19th specimen:

20th specimen:

After finding 20 new specimens in two days, my pincushion safari came to an end. According to my records, I've now documented 56 specimens of crested fishhook pincushions in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park more than ten times the number I've found in all other locations combined!

To me, the most beautiful thing is vulnerability.
                                                              Alec Soth

I stayed in the park for another two days, exploring many of its secret places and admiring its rugged geology. I will leave you with a black-and-white Anza-Borrego portfolio:

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.
                                                              Linda Hogan

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Revised: January 11, 2024
All photos copyright © 2023 Joe Orman