• Ecology of the Southwest

Desert Warriors: Extreme Stories Edition

It's a hard life here in the desert. Behind every prickly cactus could be a rattlesnake. Under every thorny bush could be a scorpion. At the end of every hike may be a spiny surprise. Here are some of the most extreme stories from Adventure Team Alpha at the Santa Rita Experimental Range.

Hannah and the Prickly Pear

In her field work today, in which she and I cut all the biomass in a 40 cm radius around Prickly Pear cacti in different locations, two of the Prickly Pear's unfriendly spines made their way into Hannah's palm.

"It was life changing," she reflects. "Honestly. It really called into question everything I believe. My life flashed before my eyes. I started praying. Ya know, you just don't expect that to happen every day. You know, I guess that prickly pear taught me something today."

Brian and the killer cacti

The "Jumping Cholla" is perhaps the most sinister of desert plants - it is said that the Cholla actually jumps off its stem when mammals walk by. Its spines have ribs, so although you can't feel them going in, there's always much teeth gritting pulling them out.

Brian, who is measuring water potentials on a slope, has had his fair share of brushes with desert danger in the past couple days. He took a Jumping Cholla segment to the thigh, Mesquite thorns to the knee, and Prickly Pear spikes to the calf.

"I learned it's okay to cry," he says.

His partner Rob, who removed Brian's cactus hitch hikers, says, "we learned that friendship feels better than any cactus spine could ever hurt."

Truly moving.

Mimi, Sarah, and their scorpion roommate

Mimi and Sarah noticed a little pal inside the light covering in their room yesterday. It was about an inch long, had pincers, and had the stacked, segmented body of a scorpion.

"I woke up, thought it was dead, saw it move, had a mini heart attack. Got excited. Wanted to show people because I know a lot of people here are into bugs. I was kind of bummed that they released it without me taking a picture of it. Hearing that the smaller scorpions around here were more dangerous than the other ones was pretty terrifying. I slept under that thing for two nights!" Mimi says.

Sarah, her roommate, was calmer about the situation, at least until she realized it was likely poisonous and still alive. "I wasn't too worried about it until he said that the little ones are the most poisonous. And I didn't realize it was still moving. I guess ignorance is bliss," she reflects.

Yes, life on the range is one of risk. But we're not exactly on death's doorstep. In fact, we've noticed that everyone is healthier than the average college student in January. Could it be the desert sun? The fresh-baked sour dough bread? The bonfires?

Who knows, but we're happy campers.