I got to spend a few days training with Saguaro National Park’s trail crew during the monsoon season. It was hot and humid but clouds thankfully hid the sun and hung so low that the seemed to pour down the sides of the mountain rather than float. the misting rain is sweet and the smell of creosote bushes rises as the droplets fall.
The Saguaro fruit is ripe and plentiful for a few brief weeks of the summer monsoon. The fruit is sweet and mild. Similar in flavor a slightly sweet melon when freshly ripe. Its flavor intensifies as it dries and blackens in the sun to a condensing into gummy seedy energy bar with a fig-like flavor. (Yes, you are allowed to taste the cactus fruit in the park but you can’t take it with you or have more than one piece.)
A great many animals feast on the bounty. Birds and bats enjoy the freshly opened fruits of the Saguaros crown and Rabbit, Rodents, Tortoises, Javelina, and even Coyotes race each other to devour what tumbles to the ground.
The Tohono O’ohdam Tribe retains their rights to harvest Saguaro Fruit within the Saguaro National Park, National Forest and BLM cactus forests. One family even has a harvest camp grandfathered in at Saguaro National Park Tucson Mountian Region. The family has done harvesting for sustenance, ceremony, and demonstrations at this site for decades. I soon as I learned about this opportunity to participate I reserved the last day available on the Harvest Crew eager to take part in this Cultural Tradition!
Unfortunately, that harvest day was canceled due to rain. The danger of lighting while holding 12 foot long Saguaro rib harvesting pole was seen as too great to be worth the risk. I didn’t learn this until I was on site standing in the rain with 8 Next Gen Rangers and my fellow CVA Rachel. I was crushed, but decided to make the best of it. The weather was lovely (wet & cool) and I was already dressed to work, so I drove back to where the Trail crew was working and joined them for another day brushing Kinney Road.
While working along the road I discovered many things you might easily over look. Such as Jojoba Bushes covered in beans, now I am embarrassed to say that I failed to realize they were native plants! I’ve never seen one in our native plant nurseries and they are usually represented as an exotic oil on the labels of fancy shampoos I’ve used. Turns out Jojoba grow well out here and are beautiful bushes! I really need to add some to my re-naturalized front yard’s landscape!
Also discovered off the trail was this Tiger Rattlesnake! Poor thing was nearly crushed underfoot, luckily we are vigilant for just such an occurrence, and the beauty was spared. We simply had to adjust ouroute to avoid the snakes hiding spot until we were sure it had moved on. One more reason why closed-toe shoes and long pants are mandatory attire for everyone working out here! I think the photo below illustrates pretty clearly how working out here can be exciting!