A lot of people think of the desert as a wasteland, devoid of life and in some cases, value. To me the desert is a place that is subtle, where life is hidden, often waiting for an opportunity to spring into action; whether that opportunity is the setting sun or a seasonal rain storm. It’s easy to see life in the rain forest with its trees covered in epiphytes, the endlessly calling frogs and insects, the flitting birds and jumping monkeys high over head. The desert doesn’t offer anything so obvious, it has waxy, threatening cactus, stunted and twisted looking trees (at least in semi-arid deserts like western Colorado) and lizards scattering to hiding spots as soon as you pass. While it’s true that forests, coral reef, rain forests, etc. have more biodiversity, the life in the desert is no less magical. In some ways seeing a desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), a collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) or even a desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii) is more rewarding, because it’s less common to see any animals in the harsh desert daylight.
Plants in the same way are less obviously charming, many people see pointy, threatening, uninviting plants with no aesthetic beauty, in my opinion those people haven’t looked long enough. Some plants like the so called century plant (Agave americana) can live for a hundred years, blooming only once to signal the end of their life. The century plant is the same genus as the agave that produces tequila and related to the similar yucca genus we have around western colorado. What’s interesting about both Agave and Yucca belong is that they’re mostly pollinated by night, an adaptation to the desert and a way to avoid competition. The Agave genus is pollinated mainly by bats, Agave tequilana certainly is, while Yucca has specialized moths to pollinate them, many species of Yucca have specific species of moth. Yucca and their moths could not survive one without the other. The desert at night isUp-close shot of Yucca flowers. The local species is Yucca harrimaniae but I found this growing on a street corner, so I’m not sure of species. a completely different world than in the day, many animals (and plants) wait for the night to come to life. Bats flying out of their hidden caves to sip a nectar a hundred years in the making, moths and yucca, canyon tree frogs (Hyla arenicolor), scorpions and tarantulas all come out at night. We’ve been getting a lot of rain around Grand Junction and it shows in the desert. All the plants are in an orgy of blooms right now, taking advantage of the generous rain to do their best to reproduce. Below I’ve posted some of my favorite desert flowers I’ve seen while I’ve been out hiking and in one case, a flower I saw on a street corner but is still a native desert plant. Hopefully you enjoyed this post and it’ll encourage you to see the American desert, in it’s best season, the spring. And when you drink a margarita, think of a long life with only one burst of reproduction. A dance with bats on a cool desert night, just before death; that’s what brought you that most ominous of liquors, tequila.