I remember vividly my first encounter with a cholla cactus. It was a teddy bear cholla growing on the flank of Thunderbird Peak northwest of Pheonix. The year was 1970 and I was living (temporarily) in a garage apartment on the fringe of the fast-growing, but still relatively small town. I and a few of my friends had walked several miles through orange groves, happily sampling the low hanging fruit. We climbed the trail up to the top of Thunderbird Peak and were clowning around in our youthful exuberance; it was then that I backed into said teddy bear which left a number of its spines in my backside.
Fast forward a half century or so and I have come to appreciate the beauty of the cholla. People’s rear ends are not the only thing they are good at catching; the bristly chollas can turn the light of day into a soft glow that seems to illuminate entire hillsides, or in the case of this image, a large tract of desert. I made this photograph of a colony of buckhorn cholla on a path near the Carefree Highway (yes that one) north of Pheonix. The cactus seem to reflect the shapes in the distant mountains. I moved around amongst the spines very carefully to find the right composition.
This image was made in the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park. It is not a very extensive area because it is at the margin of the Teddy Bear’s range. Again, the backlit spines were luminous and beautifully in contrast to the Hexie Mountains in the distance. I spent several hours photographing in this spot before moving on.
I cannot walk or drive past a display such as this without stopping to admire the soft ethereal glow. This small group of Teddy Bear Chollas stands amidst a grove of Saguaros in Tucson Mountain Park. Teddy Bear Chollas are found only in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of Arizona, California, and Sonora and Baja, Mexico.