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Backpacker Magazine – April 1998

Desert Rat's Delight In Arizona

The East Cactus Plain Wilderness brims with life and solitude. Just don't forget the water.

by: Annette McGivney

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As sand fills my hiking boots and wind pastes my teeth with grit, Ed Abbey, desert rat extraordinaire, comes to mind. I don't know if the late philosopher/author visited this place, but he would have reveled in the harsh beauty of the Cactus Plain.

Although wind, sand, and sun rule in this remote corner of western Arizona, the Cactus Plain isn't your average dune field. Instead of a barren, Saharan landscape, you're greeted with steep-sided sandhills draped in ocotillo, cholla, dune grass, white bursage, creosote, palo verde, and an occasional saguaro. It's a combination of desert plants that make this dune field different from any in the world.

Every square yard of sandy ground is pocked with baseball-sized holes, testimony to the amazing number of wildlife species adapted to the arid environment. The Cactus Plain is the domain of reptiles like the fringe-toed lizard and sidewinder rattlesnake, but mule deer, coyotes, jack rabbits, foxes, and all manner of rodents and raptors make a go of it as well. As you would image, the nightlife really hops here.

In the summer, this would be a deadly place for warm-blooded, two-legged types, but in winter and spring it enchants. My husband and I visit in January to take advantage of the comfortable temperatures. (Any time of year you must pack in all water; there are no water sources of any kind.) Map and compass in hand and not another human in sight, we trek across the rolling hills of sand toward a distant, solitary butte. We move slowly, partly due to our feet being sucked into the pink sand, but mostly because there's so much to look at. In the glow of golden afternoon light, the view from the tops of the steep, 120-foot rises is spectacular-like looking out on a giant beach where no ocean exists.

On our hike out the next morning, we make plans to return in March when the ocotillo and wildflowers are in bloom. I think I'll pack a copy of Desert Solitaire. If Abbey never had the good fortune to visit the Cactus Plain, at least he can be here in spirit.


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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
John Cowden
Aug 29, 2013

I was driving to Los Angeles....extremely exhausted I left the freeway somewhere Needles, CA/NV....I went south through scrub and small two lane though well traficied roads..
I am sure it was not far from a water recreation area...my guess is Lake Havasaw(?)....

My inquiry focuses on an old abandoned railroad track that ran somewhat parallel with the road... What interests me are the "graffiti" created from mosaics made from the natural rock both black, volcanic I believe, and a white, a chalk perhaps..
I was so exhausted all I could see is getting to my destination as I was not really prepared for a night in the desert and ppl were waiting for me... I am now back I LA and would like to return and take pictures for a proposal I plan to prepare for a short documentary I am preparing regarding the connections between modern and ancient cliff dwellers and the relationship with communication to the future using petroglyphs and these mosaics, what I could see from the road...was the eternal statement that crosses all time and space..."We were here...!?!" And the implied question, "Where are you and what are you doing..??"
It has always been my contention that essentially human nature has not changed...only technology...and this is a primitive answer delivered by so called modern humans saying...well that's my quest..!? What? Why is implicit...thank you for your time and baring up with my verbose inquiry...any help welcome....email addy --- jcowden@bellsouth.net ...John Stephen Cowden

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