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28 June 2010 @ 11:37 am
Cholla cactus flowers  

Beauty and Danger

“Hey!! Look at those flowers on that cactus!” I said to our daughter, Karen Duban, as we started up the Green Gulch Road, late in the afternoon last month, into the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. At the edge of the desert brush by the side of the road was a tall spiny cactus plant, called Cholla Cactus. It was covered with the most vivid vibrant flowers. We were out there on a photography trip, so of course, we had to stop and take photographs. The first photograph I took on this trip, of these Cholla flowers, may have been the best one I took on the week long trip. I used it to design and paint this watercolor painting.

Up close, I studied these marvelous flowers on this most unfriendly cactus plant that was covered with thorny spines. The color of the petals on the flowers was a mixture of intense magenta and violet hues. The pistols in the center of the flowers looked like little yellow fingers, called stigma, rising up from a round pink trunk-like column base called a style. Surrounding the pistol in the center of the flowers were dozens of stamens. On the top of each dark brown stamen was a bright yellow mini flower called an anther. As a wannabe artist, I marveled at the perfect complimentary color palette of these beautiful flowers. The design had to have been done by a master artist.

Standing there before this cactus plant, I couldn’t help but feel that it represents what this harsh desert country is all about, the intense beauty of the flowers surrounded by the danger of the thorns.

I rose up from studying the design of the cholla flowers and looked north from whence we came. From up here on the side of the foothills of the Chisos Mountains, I could see twenty to twenty five miles of a wonderful vista across the desert with its many hues of warm pastel colors. In the distance to my left were the Rosillos Mountains, in the center are the Santiago Mountains, and then the Sierra del Caballo Muerto (Dead Horse Mountains) and then framing the right side of the vista were the Sierra Del Carmen mountain range that recedes off into the distance down into Old Mexico. Above this magnificent scene there was a sky of intense clearness, that with the late afternoon setting sun, has just about every shade and hue in the artists palette.

Filled with joy, I turned and looked south up the road that winds its way through the foothills up to Panther Pass. To the left is Panther Peak, then Lost Mine Peak and in the center is Casa Grande and flanking the right side is Pulliam Peak. I know that up there, where we are going, it is thousands of feet higher in elevation, and therefore there is substantially more annual rainfall and it is much cooler than down here in the desert. Up there, there are all kinds of trees and vegetation with grass and lots of wildflowers. It is a different world up there.

Also foretelling that things are different up there, a short distance up this road is a park sign that says “Warning, this is bear and mountain lion country, special rules apply”.
We had so many experiences on this trip that it is going to take several stories to cover everything that happened and the people that we met.