Friday 5: What I’ll Miss About the Southwest

I am no longer a desert dweller!  I find myself in an odd emotional state where I’m very excited about the future, but I’m also a little sad that I no longer live in the southwestern US.  I’ve spent my entire life living in and thoroughly exploring Arizona and Colorado, and now I’m living somewhere completely different for the first time in my life.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are new things to explore and new adventures to be had in North Carolina and I’m thrilled to be here.  But there are things I’m going to miss to miss about living and working in the southwest too.  These include:

The Sky Islands

Sky Islands

One of the sky island ranges in southern Arizona, the Santa Catalina Mountains

The mountains in Arizona are so beautiful!  They swell up out of the valley floor at various intervals, breaking up what would otherwise be monotonous, flat land.  They form little islands of tall montane habitats separated by wide areas of desert, so there are a lot of species found only in one mountain range and nowhere else.  The mountains are full of trees and cool water.  I was always so happy when I escaped the heat of the desert summers by going to the mountains!  I don’t have mountains in my new home.  Hills, yes, but no mountains.  After spending my entire life in the Sky Islands or the Colorado Rockies, it’s strange to think I have to drive more than 30 minutes to get to the mountains now.  Not necessarily bad, just strange.

The Saguaros



I consider myself lucky that I grew up and worked around these iconic cacti.  I absolutely love them.  What bizarre, beautiful, and amazing plants!

The Creeks

Harshaw Creek

Harshaw Creek, a typical small, southwestern mountain stream

Water in the southwest is a special thing.  There are all sorts of streams and rivers.  Flash floods are rather common and are major, earth moving events that can change the course of rivers and streams permanently.  The streams have some unusual insects that do strange things, so they’re great places to work if you’re into aquatic insects like me.  Southwestern streams and rivers can be absolutely tiny too!  I can jump across many of them with little effort.  I am very excited about seeing and working in the big rivers in my new home (I live less than a quarter-mile from one!), but I’m going to miss the little guys in Arizona too.  I had a lot of good times playing and working in those tiny trickles of water.

The Sky

Arizona Sky

The bright blue Arizona sky!

It’s hot in Arizona, but it’s bearable because it’s incredibly dry.  Relative humidities of less than 10% are common during the summer before the monsoons begin.  However, dry air also means you can also see for miles and see bright, brilliant blue skies.  I adore trees and I’m enjoying seeing trees that have standard bright green leaves that turn colors in the fall, trees that grow to more than 15 feet tall.  Humidity makes those possible.  But, it also cuts down on my visibility and the brightness of the sky.  The violent storms you get in the southwest have largely been replaced with more sedate, well-behaved storms too.  I can definitely live with that, but it’s very different from living in the high plains of Colorado or the Sonoran Desert where weather is extreme and the skies are the most brilliant blue you can imagine.

The Insects (Of course!)

Sonoran Insects

Some of my favorite Sonoran Desert insects – tarantula hawk, palo verde beetle, predaceous diving beetle (I particularly like the ones in the genus Thermonectus)

Oh how I love southern Arizona’s insects!  Colorado has some great insects too, but Arizona’s insects are special.  There are many species of native bees buzzing around, crazy ant species crawling along the sidewalks, giant monstrous bugs and beetles, showy things that collectors covet throughout the world.  It’s just not the same to start summer without my June bugs and the palo verde beetles!  Granted, I’ve swapped out my June bug for one in the same genus that’s the same color, so that’s great.  I am thrilled that there are fireflies here and I have so many new species to learn and explore.  But, I didn’t see a single palo verde beetle this summer.  I really love those guys and it just doesn’t feel quite like summer without giant angry beetles swerving around the night sky.  Thankfully there were some large, surly beetles at BugShot so I was able to get my fix.  :)

Ah, the southwest!  What a fantastic place.  I love where I am now and I’m very happy in North Carolina.  Still, no matter how long I’m away, I think the southwest is always going to feel like home and I’m looking forward to going back to visit.


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Tinaja

Many streams in southern Arizona are either ephemeral (they only flow a small part of the year) or intermittent (the water is disjointed during dry seasons with pools of water separated by dry stretches, often connected by underground flow).  Many of those same streams are also partly or completely lined with bedrock, a solid layer of rock over which the water flows.  In bedrock-lined streams, the water doesn’t soak into the ground during dry periods and instead sits on top of the rocks as shrinking pools:

Madera pool

Tinaja in Madera Canyon

These pools are called tinajas (tih-NAH-hahs) and are very important to many desert aquatic insects.  In fact, they are often the only reason many insects survive until the rains return and flow is restored in the stream.  They are absolutely full of life!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Saguaros

When I’ve done my summer field work, it typically involves getting up early in the morning and driving out to a pond in the desert to collect giant water bug eggs.  It’s the monsoon season, so the weather is wildly unpredictable, but it does make for some very gorgeous views:


Sun coming up on saguaros with monsoon clouds in the background

I’ve lived in Arizona the majority of my life, but I never get tired of looking at saguaros.  They’re just so darned stately!  Really going to miss them when I move on.


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Hazards of Science in the Desert

When you’re working with insects in the desert, there are certain hazards you need to avoid and it’s very important to be aware of your surroundings.  One thing you really don’t want to do is run into one of these:

Jumping cholla

Jumping cholla

Jumping cholla (pronounced CHOY-ah) are meant to break easily when an animal brushes up against them because each “segment” of the cactus can grow into a new plant when it falls off somewhere else.   That means that the tiniest touch can result in your coming away with an arm or a back or a leg full of cactus pieces.  On the other hand, it’s all part of what makes Arizona Arizona – and a sort of right of passage for anyone who lives here as far as I’m concerned!  You’re not a true Arizonan until you’ve pulled cholla bits out of your skin with pliers.  :)


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Morning at the Field Site

I am not overly fond of one of my field sites.  It’s in a part of the desert that has been severely overgrazed for way too long, so I travel through scraggly, comparatively desolate desert for 45 minutes to get there.  I’m also not a morning person in any small way, so getting up early to travel through scraggly desert so I get into a stinky, disgusting pond and work isn’t exactly my idea of fun.  However, every now and then I’m there so early that I get to see the sun come up.  Then that overgrazed bit of scraggly desert transforms into something very, very beautiful:

morning at the field site

Morning at the field site



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