Journey Into My Backyard – The Sonoran Desert…

Sonoran Desert

I apologize, but life is kind of crazy this week, so I promise that I will get to back to my ‘Tree Planting’ posts soon.  In the meantime, I would like to share with you one of my favorite posts that I wrote about 1 1/2 years ago.  I was rather new at blogging at the time so most of you probably have not read it.  I hope you enjoy it 🙂

When people think of a desert, most envision a place of intense heat, sparse plants, snakes and lots of sand.  Well, some of that is true, but there is much, much more which I have discovered.  I am not a native desert dweller.  In fact, I was born and raised near the beach in Southern California and I never thought that I would live in the desert.  However, here I am, having lived in Arizona for over 23 years and I wouldn’t have it any other way….

Sonoran Desert

All of the photos were taken in an area about 30 minutes northeast of Phoenix.

The desert that I live in is called the Sonoran Desert and it occupies over 120,000 sq. miles covering parts of Arizona, California and Mexico.  Although deserts around the world do not receive much rainfall, the Sonoran Desert receives more then any other desert in the world.  We have two seasons of rain.  In the winter our storms come from the west from the Pacific coast and the rains are usually gentle.  In the summer our rains come up from Mexico and are called “monsoons”, which means “wind shift”.  These summer storms are sporadic and result in torrential rainfall and high winds.  Often, when we receive these torrential downpours, my kids and I just stand inside our front door, just watching the rain.

By the way… know you are an ‘official’ desert dweller when you rejoice whenever it rains.

Sonoran Desert

Because of our dual rainy seasons, the Sonoran Desert has the most animal and plant species of any North American desert.  We have over 2,000 native plant species alone.  In the spring, the desert is awash in wildflowers and cactus blooms.  The rain brings out the distinct, yet pleasing, scent of the Creosote bush (if you rub the leaves in your fingers, it smells like the rain).  I live in zone 8b and we do experience occasional freezing conditions during the winter. 

Sonoran Desert

Interestingly, the western part of the Sonoran Desert, located in California (Palm Springs and surrounding area), is regarded as a sub-desert called the Colorado Desert.  It differs in appearance and in that the soils are sandy, there is less rainfall in the summer and as a result there is less plant density and native plant species.  The Saguaro cactus does not grow naturally in the Colorado Desert.  If you have a chance to drive across the California – Arizona border, you can see the difference as you cross over the Colorado River.  This sub-desert has a beauty of it’s own and I enjoy visiting this part of the Sonoran Desert.

Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert is a fascinating place with cactus and snakes  (I rarely see them), but is also filled with trees, shrubs, flowers and wildlife.  Far from being a barren wasteland, this desert is full of life and beauty.

It is my home….

Two Iconic Sonoran Desert Plants: Saguaro and Ocotillo

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
24 replies
  1. James Missier
    James Missier says:

    I have seen a stamp sheet from USA where is shows all the beautiful wildlife and flora of the Sonoran Desert.
    It must be great to have a desert as your backyard, but I not so much of a fan of desert heat. I guess not many would love hot weather.
    But love to check out all those cactus blooms – mine never bloomed from the day I planted them.

  2. Autumn Belle
    Autumn Belle says:

    I have always imagine deserts to be barren sand, with sandstorms that you need to wear a veil. But I see from your blog that the plants and cactuses are actually green, flowering and beautiful too. That's why I like to visit your blog to have a peek.

  3. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    Oh how interesting I could see by your first shot that there was more green there than I had expected.
    I love the shot of the intense blue sky and cactus.

  4. Rosey Pollen
    Rosey Pollen says:

    You have a lovely "backyard."
    What kind of snakes are there?
    Do you have tarantulas?
    I must live in a semi-arid desert, we rejoice when it rains here.
    I think your blog is one of a kind!

  5. Yan
    Yan says:

    And what a beautiful home it is. The cactus outlined against a perfect blue sky says it all. I like the thought of you standing in the doorway watching rain. We do that too, but are wondering if it is ever going to stop!

  6. JGH
    JGH says:

    Such gorgeous landscape! My father-in-law lives in New Mexico and it looks like the climate is similar to theirs. And yes, we've had that same experience sitting on the porch happily watching the rain – a long-awaited event!

  7. Frances
    Frances says:

    Hi Noelle, I so admire the stark architectural beauty of the desert plants. But it sounds like your area has much more than cactus and agave to offer. I look forward to seeing more, much more! We used to live in Fullerton and have traveled across that path to Phoenix several times. It is breathtaking. 🙂

  8. Carol
    Carol says:

    What an absolute treat to take a walk with you in your backyard!! The cactus stand so like totems in the landscape… magical. I do cringe a bit thinking what might be hiding under all those rocks! Not snakes so much as spiders! I love the contrast of looking out at the hills here and then your photos of the rugged desert mountains … the colors in your desert are lovely. Beautiful post and I love your writing. Carol

  9. Di
    Di says:

    Hi Noelle,

    We just returned from visiting friends in southeastern OR (much of OR is desert) and it was absolutely beautiful. Interesting that there are contiguous cattle ranches in that area and much is BLM land.

    By the way thanks for the visit and for the Blotanical welcome.

  10. azplantlady
    azplantlady says:

    Hello Everyone.

    First of all, I would like to thank all you for taking the time to leave your comments. They mean a lot to me.

    Rosey, I honestly have found more wild animals around the golf courses where the animals are attracted to the water. In about 10 years I have seen 3 rattlesnakes, 9 gopher snakes, 1 tarantula, countless quail, owls, coyotes, javelina, 4 desert tortoise, racoons, roadrunners, hawks, jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, and much more.

  11. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    What a beautiful area! I've never been to Arizona, but it's definitely a place I want to visit. I've only driven through the Mojave desert, but don't remember seeing so many plants. I remember hearing about the flash floods when driving through and being afraid that it would rain. How lucky to live somewhere with such a variety of plant life.

  12. beckie
    beckie says:

    Ah Ha! I now get the 'az' in your name. Arizona was a beautiful place when we visited several years ago in March. Of course it was so very warm there when we had cold and blowing snow back home, that I loved it even more.

    A good friend and fellow blogger-Prairie Rose has a daughter who lives in Phoenix and has been there a few times. She always comes back with beatiful photos of the desert area.

    While very different than our gardens, the ones out there are truly lovely.

  13. Cindy Garber Iverson
    Cindy Garber Iverson says:

    Although we don't live in the desert, I do know how it feels to rejoice when it rains. In our Mediterranean climate we don't get rain all summer as a general rule, so when hear about the monsoons in Arizona I'm a tad bit jealous. I have always thought there was a wonderful beauty in the deserts of Arizona. And your photos prove it!

  14. Kanak Hagjer
    Kanak Hagjer says:

    Hi Noelle, I've never seen a desert this beautiful. The only time I saw one was when we went on a camel ride in the north western state of Rajasthan. Of course sand also has its alluring beauty. especially at sundown. I'd love to visit here often and learn more about the area you live in.

    Have a great day!

  15. Esther Montgomery
    Esther Montgomery says:

    I can't decide whether I would like the desert or be frightened by it. I know I couldn't take the daytime heat . . . but the atmosphere is both enticing and alarming; the emptiness and the scale overwhelming.

    Looking at your photos sends me on an inner journey as well as the one you take us on through your text.


  16. chuck b.
    chuck b. says:

    I have only seen the Colorado and Mojave Deserts; Sonoran is still on my to-do list! I still have the US Postal Service souvenir stamp sheet of the Sonoran Desert from 1999, and it's one of my favorites in that series.

    Driving across New Mexico, I remember my astonishment at seeing all the different varieties of green there.

  17. catmint
    catmint says:

    Wonderful post, I had never heard of the Sonoran Desert and it looks superb. I love deserts, there is something peaceful, magical, mystical about them. I have had a couple of holidays camping in Central Australia, and while it is not home, it is the best place I know for relief from the city.

  18. PJ @ Garden Accents and Decor | Home Decor Accents
    PJ @ Garden Accents and Decor | Home Decor Accents says:

    Hi Noelle,
    this is a great post about the Sonora desert and your pictures show how beautiful even a desert can be.
    I have never made it to the Sonora desert but have seen similar areas in west Texas and New Mexico.
    My hubby, originally from Germany said it reminds him of some good old western movies, when I showed him your pictures.

    Your picture prove that Mother Nature has a lot of surprises for us, if we only open our eyes and try to see the beauty even in areas like a desert.
    Best Regards and thanks for the great post
    Paula Jo from TX

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