Canyon Memories (2): Wild Cactus

nothing but cactus

My previous post introduced the reader to Canyon de Chelly and some of its cultural riches.

cactus landscape

In this post, I am featuring the amazing wild cacti growing all over the place. In fact, if you don’t watch your step (easily done when you hold a camera to your face trying to find the perfect vantage point), the cactus spines will quickly remind you to do so. Mostly, I wore my sneakers and was able to pull off the needles from the tough fabric. But, when I wore my sandals, the outcome was often a bit more painful. Sometimes, I found myself with little pricklies (the short hairlike spines are called “glochids”) embedded in the skin of my fingers.

armed and dangerous

Cacti and rock ledges seemed to go hand-in-hand and gifted us with memorable scenes. Here, yellow and orange-flowering plants share the same space:

cacti on a ledge

In this multi-colored grouping, the cacti seem to arrange themselves into a scalloped pattern:

cactus spirals multi-colored

There were tall bush-size cholla (“choy-ah”) cacti (Cylindropuntia whipplei), many of them covered with fruit already:

choya bush against fence

choya setting fruit

Chuya cactus

This was the only cholla plant I found that was still blooming:

flowering choya

The Navajos consider the cholla fruit inedible but use the dried, hollow stems to make rainsticks.

The majority of the cacti plants in the Canyon were Pricklypear cactus (Opuntia spp.), mostly budding or blooming; no prickly pear fruits yet!

I loved finding the various stages of bloom next to each other, from the early bud to the fully opened flower, often buzzing with insects, and even the past-prime flowers. Each had their own unique allure:

all stages of blooming

yellow cactus with rock

.yellow with bud

But, honestly, I loved the flowers in full bloom the best:

orange cactus flower with insects

single yellow cactus flower

inside a pink cactus

Pink blossoms, in particular, called me for several photo sessions for just the right lighting and various stages of blossom opening. The soft, feminine pink of the blossoms, juxtaposed against the long, dangerous thorns were full of intrigue.

pink cacti and dry grasses

bunch of pink cactus flowers

one pink beauty

pink cacti blossom with two buds

three pink beauties

In this patch, the tan grasses with their delicate seedheads tussled by the wind, provide a great contrast to the fleshy cactus bodies and their pink glory crowns:

pink cacti in evening light

The fruit of the Pricklypear cactus is sometimes called “tuna” and turns a purplish red when ripe. It is edible (after the tiny spines are removed) and makes a delicious fruit juice or jam. The fleshy cactus pads are also edible but spines and glochids must be removed by singeing them. The pulp can be eaten fresh or cooked. Navajos also use the fruit to make a natural pink dye.

Reference: Wildflowers of Canyon de Chelly by J.L. Turner & C. Turner (2008)

About Beauty Along the Road

A blog about discovering beauty in all its ordinary and extraordinary manifestations.
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30 Responses to Canyon Memories (2): Wild Cactus

  1. glendanp says:

    Lovely!!! Made me homesick for the southwest!


  2. I’m a cacti fanatic and these pics seriously have me catching my breath! 😃 GORGEOUS!!


  3. Sue Moran says:

    Lovely photo essay!


  4. Cee Neuner says:

    These are gorgeous photos.


  5. vannillarock says:

    LOVE canyon de Chelly and plan visit again in july – great selection!


  6. Gorgeous cacti. The blossoms are outstanding. When we were in Quito, Ecuador, we visited the botanical gardens and they had a lovely cacti garden. I took many pictures of them, but my micro sd memory card popped out of my tablet and I think was swept up by the cleaning lady at our hostel. I lost all my photos because I didn’t know how to save them on my tablet. 😦 We have a cactus here called Pitaya. The fruit is delicious. It’s bright purple inside and tastes like a cross between a strawberry and a pear. Yummy!


  7. I have family in the southwest so I’m lucky to have seen this sort of thing up close and personal. And, yes, those tiny little hairlike thorns are the WORST. Almost impossible to get out, aren’t they? These photos are so beautiful, thank you.


  8. Such beautiful flowers on these prickly cacti, Annette. In your second pic, they look like little people wearing colourful hats. 🙂


  9. litadoolan says:

    Stunning photography. The cacti are so beautiful. Thank you for sharing, I enjoyed this post.


  10. What beautiful photos. The colours are wonderful and you caught some great angles to show off these prickly customers. It sounds like a painful experience though 🙂


  11. mpejovic says:

    Lovely pictures of cactus blooms. Living in San Diego, cacti are a daily sight. And you’re right, the small, fuzzy spiny needles are the most painful ones as they get stuck all over your skin.


  12. Tish Farrell says:

    And not only the beautiful flowers, Annette, but that red, red rock – visceral.


  13. pjchaney says:

    Beautiful pictures. We have 17 acres here in Texas full of them. I gather the fruit and actually drink the juice and/or make it into a sun tea and drink it daily(I have fibromyalgia and it’s natural anti-inflammatory properties help with my pain). I have also attempted to make jelly, but it is more like syrup, but very tasty. Your pictures are absolutely gorgeous.


    • Thank you, PJ. I had prickly pear juice when I was in Arizona and love the jewel red color and taste of it. I am trying to grow cactus here in Virginia and they have survived two winters so far but not producing enough fruit (yet) to bother with juice or jam. Happy to hear it’s helping you with FM. BTW, do you have Russian (or Autumn) Olive on your land….considered an invasive. Their little red fruit can also be made into a jam or juice (seeds need to be strained off). I heard that the lycopene in Autumn Olive berries is 20x the amount found in tomatoes. A lot of our wild plants are very beneficial.


  14. What a beautiful sampling of the cacti of Canyon de Chelly, Annette. So sorry about the prickly stings though! This is one place I’ve never been that I dream of going. Your photos are wonderful. 🙂


  15. thirdeyemom says:

    Beautiful!!! Thanks for sharing your links. 😊


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