“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” Vincent Van Gogh

I confess, I am a whiner. When it comes to living in Tucson, I’m the first to boast about our weather in March when the rest of the country is experiencing cold and snow and they are shoveling sidewalks. But then comes summer. I dread it. I try not to whine, but I do. You won’t hear a peep from me on social media about how wonderful our weather is. It’s just plain hot. I find it hard to get motivated to do much. It’s easy for me to move into sloth mode.

Yesterday, my whole attitude towards Tucson summer shifted. Despite not feeling much like getting up a 5am to go for a run (if I’m not on the trail by 5:30am it’s too hot to exercise outdoors), I reminded myself of how many chocolate chip cookies and ice cream I’ve been eating lately and I drug myself out of bed and had just enough coffee to get me out the door. I drove to my favorite running spot, the trailhead of Saguaro National Park at the end of Broadway. As I was doing my warm up stretches (i.e. procrastinating) I struck up a conversation with a woman who was heading out on the trail. We quickly engaged in a conversation and she shared that she was on a mission to check on the night blooming cereus cacti, Peniocereus gregii, also known as “Queen of the Night”. I asked if I could tag along because I missed last year’s night walk at both Tohono Chul and SNP and I had never seen the beautiful blooms. Vivian didn’t hesitate to say yes and off she went to check on the flowers. During the course of the morning, that night and the next morning I got to know Vivian and Linda, as we hiked for about 10 hours and 12 miles over the course of the 3 hikes. Vivian and Linda have been following, photographing and documenting the location of the Queens of the Night in SNP for several years so I hit the jackpot when I met them yesterday! Vivian and Linda spent the morning checking on each of the cacti they have located in the past and were evaluating whether they thought they would bloom that night. There were blooms from the night before and we enjoyed their distinct sweet odor, took a few photos before moving quickly along to check on the next ones. They both felt that last night would be the best night for SNP to host their Queen of the Night walk and they were so right! About 30 visitors gathered at SNP East Visitor center at 6:30 PM and we carpooled to the parking areas and Vivian and Linda each led a group walk to view many blooms. The Queens did not disappoint and we saw many different cacti and their blooms. The sun set about 7:30 so we also got to enjoy the desert at night. (If you want to see video, check out SNP FB page here.) We finished our walk about 9 PM with the temperature dropping to a cool 98 degrees. Vivian and Linda invited me on their walk the next morning and we met at 5:30 AM to check out the blooms as they ended their one bloom cycle for this year. We hiked for 4 hours and Vivian and Linda discovered 3 more cereus they hadn’t seen before.

I feel so fortunate to have met Vivian and Linda and experience the cereus cactus blooms. The Queen of the Night only blooms once a year and the bloom lasts less than 12 hours. The blooms are incredibly beautiful; some are stark white, some have a tinge of pink. When the cacti are not blooming, they look like a dead stick am

ong the dry desert plants! They are difficult to see because they blend in so well with their fellow dry desert plants. But when they bloom, they are magnificent! As we hiked in the hot, dry desert I found the heat wasn’t so bad. The dust is easily washed off. It’s not hard to carry enough water to quench your thirst. Coffee at 5:00 am tastes delicious. The desert quiet at sunrise is serene. And it’s easy to catch the infectious enthusiasm of desert dwellers who found 3 new Queen of the Night cacti.

Experiencing the beauty in the harshness of the Sonoran Desert the past two days was a gift. I’ve been reflecting on how this is an analogy of life as well; life can be tough sometimes. It can be harsh and unkind. But always, always, there is beauty to be found if you look for it. It may be surrounded by thorny bushes or tucked behind a prickly plant, but it’s there. Look for it, and when you find it, stop. Breathe. And enjoy the beauty.