Where the shimmering sands of the desert beat
In waves to the foot-hills’ rugged line,
And cat-claw and cactus and brown mesquite
Elbow the cedar and mountain pine…
~Sharlot M. Hall, “Two Bits,” 1902 [a sad poem of the death of Two Bits, an old race horse
We raced, the tumbleweed and I,
beneath a blue and whipped-cream sky
along the mesa, running free,
breath-full of sun and wind and glee.
What joy to sing and run and race
across this wide and windblown place!
~Jeanne DeLamarter Bonnette, “Wind Running,” in Arizona Highways, February 1971
A rainbow on the desert is truly the Creator’s touch. It is a sign of life renewed, and the verdant growth brought forth by these storms is perennial enrichment to man and animal alike. Covering a vast area of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, the Sonoran Desert is like a giant botanical laboratory. Here, in this land of strange climatic conditions and even stranger plants, the astute observer is brought to the sudden realization that these life forms, like man, must balance themselves with their environment in order to survive. ~Joseph Stacey, “Arizona… Premier Cactus State,” in Arizona Highways, March 1973
God bless the cottonwood trees, whose ranks
Still spread their shade along the banks
Of old canals, and country ways!
God give them strength, and length of days!
And save them from the vandal hand
Which moves to cut them from the land,
Or mar their native form and grace
For sordid ends, or commonplace!
Give each its meed of soil and sun;
About their roots let waters run:
Let each forever be a psalm
Of living praise, in storm and calm…
~V. O. Wallingford (b.1876), “The Cottonwood Trees”
All through the summer’s drouth and heat,
How many hearts have found retreat
And comfort, in the friendly shade
Which these old cottonwoods have made…
They gently spread a checkered shade
O’er swelling bud and springing blade…
~V. O. Wallingford (b.1876), “The Cottonwood Trees”
At times we would march for miles through a country in which grew only the white-plumed yucca with trembling, serrated leaves; again, mescal would fill the hillside so thickly that one could almost imagine that it had been planted purposely; or we passed along between masses of the dust-laden, ghostly sage-brush, or close to the foul-smelling joints of the “hediondilla.” The floral wealth of Arizona astonished us the moment we had gained the higher elevations of the Mogollon and the other ranges… The flowers of Arizona are delightful in color, but they yield no perfume, probably on account of the great dryness of the atmosphere. ~John G. Bourke, On the Border with Crook, 1891
There are flowers that bloom in gardens
Under a gardener’s care,
And their lavish beauties charm me
As they flourish in luxury there.
There are flowers that blow in the meadows,
Kissed by the rain and the dew
In a riot of happy blooming
And I love their loveliness too.
But the flower that fills me with comfort
And makes Life’s meaning sweet
Is the flower that blooms in the desert
In the midst of sand and heat;
Whose roots draw strength and beauty
From a land forbidding and wild,
Whose face turns bravely skyward
Nor pines for lot more mild…
~Hattie Greene Lockett (1880–1962), “To a Desert Flower”
The cacti holding their wristless arms
To the trembling sky, yucca, tumbleweed,
And clumps of mauve grass, drawn like wire,
Dotting the desert earth…
~Reeve Spencer Kelley, “Generally, You Know This Land,” in Arizona Highways, October 1973
Prickly pear in a pebbly patch,
“If you pluck me or pull me,
I’m liable to scratch.”
Stalwart saguaro, stretching up high.
“Sunset blossoms I steal from the sky.”
Sprayed ocotillo, octagon arc,
“I’m just desert octopus out for a lark.”
Yucca with stalk blown so wispy and free,
“Bell blossomed springtimes are my symmetry.”
Friends of the desert, what will you sing
When all of your promises burst into spring?
~Jeannette Shean, “Desert Mnemonic,” in Arizona Highways, January 1971
There was a time, millions of years ago, when there were no flowering plants, and no seasons as we know them now. There was also a time when there were no cactus plants in certain moist valleys, but only the ancient ancestors of the roses. When earth upheavals created the deserts, the roses in those areas that survived, changed their leaves and stems to cactus to retain moisture, and their thorns to spines for better protection from hungry animals, but they kept their rose-like blossoms. Science explains the transforming morphosis in technical terms, but I, whose business it is to translate technical terms into laymen’s language, and who love the desert flowers because they give my spirit a lift, still wonder what inscrutable force gave them the knowhow of survival. ~Ida Smith, “Mysteries of the Desert Flowers,” in Arizona Highways, August 1971
Yes indeed, there is nothing like a day in a flower-carpeted desert to convince a man that everything spiritual and material is born of the earth, and Man is no more important to God than the dormant seed waiting to be born again. ~Raymond Carlson, “Wildflower Paradise,” in Arizona Highways, August 1971
There is gold in every sunset,
There’s a whisper in the breeze.
Quiet night birds are calling
As they nestle in the trees.
Yucca candles, snow-white candles
Pointing to the sky,
Lending color to the desert
With a glow to magnify.
Stately pines are swaying
Making music soft and still.
As silence spreads her mantle
Over crag and over hill.
There is a hush at every twilight
With sunset curtains drawn.
While the glow of yucca candles
Awaits the light of dawn.
~M. Denise Shea, “Yucca Candles,” in Arizona Highways, March 1973
Arizona mesas are arid and barren — broad plateaus of wild, rugged, waterless deserts; the marvelous mountains are rugged, ragged, rough, red, and rude — barren to summit and bleak to every sense. The shadeless mesquite is not essentially handsome or inviting; the valde-verde tree, with its mockery of leafless branches, is not an object of delight; the clouds of hot alkali dust that arise are not agreeable to eye or taste… the numerous varieties of the grotesque cactus, from the little cotton-like bulb of the smallest that hugs the earth, to the monstrous columnar fungus that outlines itself against the sky, are not especially inviting specimens of the freaks in which dame Nature occasionally indulges. Yet, and yet, the wonderful atmosphere that bends above and embraces us, is the most marvelous of magicians. ~Richard J. Hinton, “Over Valley and Mesa,” The Hand-Book to Arizona, 1877