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Where are you Mr. Lizard?
“People don’t take trips – trips take people.” – John Steinbeck
“It doesn't feel that bad out here mom!” I exclaimed when we exited the car into the dry heat of the Sonoran desert in Arizona.
Walking up the Signal Hill Trail in the Saguaro National Park located in the Sonoran desert in Arizona may not have looked bad, or even felt hard, but feeling the afterward effects of the sun…well that’s a little bad. The last road trip I took with my mom we drove out to the Grand Canyon, into Las Vegas, NV, and back home. Arizona, and specifically the Saguaro NP, and Phoenix, has been my favorite place to be by far.
Traveling through the bottom of Arizona, we decided to drive through the west side of the Saguaro NP. Our first mistake of the park drive: we pronounced Saguaro exactly how it is spelled, the ‘g’ and everything. Funny story, we didn’t learn it was pronounced “Sa –WAH-ro” until the guide in the visitor center corrected us.
Entering the park we drove up a dirt road and surrounding us was miles of hills and flat ground covered in cacti, desert shrub, and hidden desert wildlife. Everywhere I looked the bright sun was beating down on the sand and cacti and introducing me to an entirely new world. This was my first feeling of connection to the desert in Arizona. Something about the serenity of the nature and history captivated my mind.
After a short drive we made it to the small, tan visitor center. Complete with park rangers and trail guides, and for reference sake, we picked up almost all the brochures, maps, information, and guides for the park. While my mom was gathering up trail guides and continually asking the rangers questions, I wandered off to the other side of the center, only to find a picture of a lizard stating:
If you see me, take a picture and send it to the rangers!
Of course, I then decided my goal was to find this lizard, named the Gila Lizard (pronunciation mistake number two: correct pronunciation “He-La” which I did not learn until I had made it back to NC after the trip).
Setting out from the Visitor center we took a left turn and followed the dusty, sandy road at 10 mph through the desert and Saguaros. I’ve never felt so small and out of my element then I did in this park. The saguaro cacti are huge. They aren’t the size of a man like portrayed in movies, they reach far up to the sky and create all types of shapes with their “arms.” They towered over us, sometimes creating a welcomed shadow from the sun, but also they fashioned an environment I fell in love with.
After a while in the park we reached the trail we had chosen to hike and parked our car, put on our sneakers are started up the trail in 100 and something degree weather. Naturally we grabbed water bottles. The trail was only half a mile which isn’t much, but the blaring sun and dry air makes it harder whether you recognize it or not. The dry air quickly evaporated any sweat from my skin, and I didn’t even noticed how dehydrated we had become until after the hike.
Climbing up the trail of ancient rocks splattered with ancient rock art (pictographs) struck something inside of me. It’s a strange feeling to know you are walking where others have walked an unknowingly amount of years ago; touching what they touched, looking at the art that they carved.
Taking the final turn, we came across huge rocks with their flat sides completely covered in ancient pictographs and petroglyphs. The ancient natives were telling us stories from beyond death, and would continue to live on. What the symbols mean I don’t know. The pamphlets we picked up from the visitor center gave us definitions of a few symbols, but who’s to know that’s what the ancients really meant? These carvings and paintings could be children’s play, or their own history, legends and myths, or a record of important events.
I choose to believe the latter. Across Arizona and New Mexico when we visited more and more petroglyph sites and climbed delicately across rocks there was always one or two reoccurring themes. Coincidence? Maybe. But we will never know what really happened to these people, and we will never know the true stories they’re trying to tell.
Oh, and I never found my Gila Lizard, guess I failed that mission.