Total Miles: 470.7
Another day, another few million scrapes, jabs, cuts, and pin pricks from all manner of plants that seem dead set on reaching out and getting a bit too familiar with anything that might be passing by. In this case: us. So it seems only fitting to turn the spotlight on these floral “friends” whose penchant for inappropriate touching is downright criminal.
Since leaving Pine, the trail has been positively brimming with them, a rogues’ gallery of plants overgrowing our path and forcing us to deal with their impressive armaments one way or another: under, around, and sometimes straight through.
Some of them even seem to be downright taunting us...
But despite the annoyance, pain, and occasional bleeding they might inflict, the question on my mind all day as we passed through thicket after thicket of them was: why? Why has seemingly every plant of the desert evolved to include such weaponry? The answer, it turns out, is simple: water and survival. Because here, they are one in the same.
Among their many adaptations to persist in a landscape where water is the most precious commodity, the flora of the desert go to great lengths to protect what little water they have. Think of it as nature’s greatest living example of what conservation and efficiency can achieve. The spikes of cacti and a litany of their compatriots are a simple deterrent to prevent animals from taking a nibble at their flesh. Due to the lack of fertility in the soil, plants of the desert tend to be incredibly slow growing. As a result, the loss of any tissue at all—tissue that is critical for water conservation and future growth—could be life threatening, hence their impressive outward defenses.
But the obvious prickliness of desert plants is only the beginning. Fat or non-existent leaves to minimize water lost to evaporation. Shallow root systems to maximize access to surface water when it does exist. Leaves—for the plants that do have them—that tend to be lighter in color to absorb less heat. Or taken to the extreme, the ability of a plant to poison the soil around itself to kill off its competition for water—I’m looking at you creosote.
It’s worth paying homage to these incredible adaptations, even if we were the unfortunate ones paying for the consequences of those adaptations today and for much of the past week. Without further a due, a brief rundown of the daggers of the desert...
Some of them even look downright cuddly, like the aptly named Teddy bear cholla:
And Ace’s poor legs show the score of our daily losing battle against all of the many spiky plants we’ve had to navigate lately...
Of course, hugging them might be making the problem worse.
When we’d finally dropped low enough into the floor of the desert, the thickets of pointy plants relented and beautiful waves of golden grass and the outline of Picketpost Mountain crept closer. Somewhere to our east, just out of view, the town of Superior waited with a bed, a shower, and more than one adult beverage to nurse our wounds.