ELEMENTS: Spiny Discoveries in the Grand Canyon

ELEMENTS: Spiny Discoveries in the Grand Canyon

Our Elements series is a close-up look at the natural world through the eyes of river guide Codye Reynolds.  Read on to find out about the impressive succulents that caught her eye in the Grand Canyon…

The prickly pear buds, just shy of blooming to ochres, canaries, and vermillions, stopped me mid-trail. I wished I had a few more weeks to spend at Saddle Canyon within the Grand Canyon to wait for the pending colors. As it was only mid-morning, however, we had several river miles to make before camp. I allowed myself a few moments to focus my camera.

The oval-shaped pads were thick and pointed sky high, relishing in the mid-April sun. The thick, small buds sprouted from a vigorous opuntia. The cactus species was unknown to me, as prickly pears species interbreed readily and easily, blurring the lines of who is who.

Grand Canyon Prickly Pear

I thought of prickly pear salsa, and how no one would make a subtle-sweet delectable side-dish from this particular cactus. Though I imagined serving the native-plant salsa with tonight’s dinner, I didn’t dare reach for it. With its obscure location at the bottom of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, there would be few to see this cactus. It was undoubtedly safe from the epicures of the Southwest. Score one for this prickly pear.

Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)

The yucca grew trail-side along the hike into Saddle Canyon within the Grand Canyon. Our hike started with a series of tight, steep switchbacks leading to the above hanging canyon and oasis within. The yucca was positioned neatly halfway on one of the turns that made for a nice catch-your-breath stop. It was healthy and hearty, with thick banana-like sprouts that stretched themselves in the morning sun. The spear-like leaves kept wanderers from getting too close to the fragile yucca buds.


The lush and robust nature of plants like yucca and cactus awe me. In a land so dry and unforgiving, a wealth of water and stored energy abounds in plants so thickly stout. Their protective measures are sharp, severe and rightly so. For every passing animal surely would love to soak up their hard-won juices. Even those of us creatures with convenient opposable thumbs have a hard time gaining the juicy, hearty fruits of such spiny desert dwellers.

The native adaptability shown by the prickly pear and yucca is supreme. I’ll always be fascinated by succulents.


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