Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's called jumping cholla for a reason...

Last Saturday, I got the crazy idea that going desert hiking by myself with six kids in hot weather sounded more appealing than staying home and getting caught up on the chores and weekly cleaning. 

As it turned out, it was rather nightmare-ish. 

First, it took me forever to decide on a hiking trail that was not too far away (gas prices!), not too exposed (sun beating down!), not too off-road (no more crossing creek beds in my minivan!), and not too rough terrain (little kids!). In the end, I settled on a fully exposed trail, but it was relatively short and easy, not too far from home, with paved roads all the way up to the trail head, and the promise of seeing petroglyphs. You know, because I can't look at primitive drawings from my own children anytime I want.

The boys were already being rambunctious in the parking lot while I was slathering sun block on the girls and gearing them all up with sun hats. There was a steep ravine next to the parking lot, at the bottom of which was some really nasty barbed-wire fencing. I turned around to find Offender A (names withheld to protect the guilty) sliding down the ravine, flying toward the barbed wire. I called him back, only to find Offender B sliding down to the bottom of the same ravine the next time I turned around. 

There are two things you need to know about kids: (1) Just because they hear me forbid their sibling from doing something, they somehow never make the connection that I probably don't want them doing it, either. (2) They assume that unless I specifically forbid an activity, it is automatically permitted. You know, as opposed to "Unless you are sure you are allowed to do this, better ask first." Because if they ask, they would risk getting a "No, of course not! Are you insane??" answer. The only problem with such a philosophy is that I cannot possibly conjure up all the ways in which they could do something reckless, foolish, destructive, or (most likely) all of the aforementioned. "Okay, kids, now don't pick up any rattlesnakes, don't hide pieces of cactus in your sister's car seat, don't try to see who can hurl the largest rock the farthest across the parking lot, ..." Boys will be boys, after all. 

So back to my story: Not only was Offender B heading down the ravine, but he was also pushing/pulling/coercing Victim A down with him. Because we all know that the funnest part about hiking is being stuck in a ravine between barbed wire and a paved parking lot. Offender A was looking on, and about to give Offender B a hand in helping push Victim A down. I very calmly (haha!) told (haha!) them to help Victim A back up on solid ground, which took a lot of effort and almost resulted in all of them tumbling down the ravine. 

Remember, this is in the desert, where everything sticks, pricks, bites, or stings. Gnarly cacti are everywhere, as a rattlesnakes, venomous spiders, scorpions, and other lovely creatures. We don't go hiking all that much, and yet have seen all of the aforementioned out in nature. They're pretty common, is what I am trying to say.

By the time we set out for our hike, I was already a bit miffed. Anna was not at all liking having to wear sun block and a hat, so she was fussy. About 5 minutes into the hike (which was slightly uphill, with no shade at all) the girls decided that they were done hiking and wanted to go back to the van. This trail was a good 45 minute drive from home, so I was trying to push them on longer, but to no avail. Right around this time, Offender C started a fight with Offenders A and B over who should be walking in the very front of our group. Anna and the two older girls were really done for at this point, so less than 15 minutes into the hike I had to turn around and head back to the van with a screaming baby, girls who were feeling overwhelmed, and disappointed older kids who wanted to see the petroglyphs and go hiking longer.

This was a let-down for all involved after all the time spent finding a trail, packing a lunch, driving out there, and putting sunblock on everyone. I really wasn't in the mood for any more adventures, but decided to head to a nearby lake for some fun water play by the shore. On the way, thankfully we passed by the "Superstition Mountain Museum", which lured with its air-conditioned building. 

We toured the museum, which went very well. There were some outside buildings to tour, also, so we stepped outside. I stopped out there for a minute to help Miriam and Becky with something, when I was interrupted by John screaming frantically. Looking up, I saw him about 70 yards away from me, trying to cut across to the other buildings. Him being the child who makes mountains out of molehills a lot, I figured an ant or mosquito was probably sitting on him and that it wasn't as urgent as he was making it sound. He kept screaming, so I started wondering if he had been bit by a rattlesnake, and my walk turned into a run. When I got to him, I immediately looked at his legs because that is where he was pointing while screaming uncontrollably. 

It was not a snake. A big chunk of a cholla cactus had attached itself to his calf and ankle, causing excruciating pain. Now, you may not know what cholla is. 

All those spikes are actually more like fishing tackle, because they can poke through one way, but have little barbs on the end of each spine to prevent them from being ripped out easily. The natural instinct may be to try and brush a piece of cactus off using one's hand, a stick, or something of the sort, but all that leads to is having either your hand covered in spines, or in simply rolling the piece of cactus along the skin, where it will continue to attach painfully. 

The plant is often referred to as a "jumping cholla" because it seems that sections of the cactus just "jump" off the plant and attach to their victims. That is not quite true, but all it takes is brushing up against the cactus ever so slightly, and one will get a very nasty hitchhiker. Also, pieces of the cactus are always laying around on the ground surrounding it. 

Several years ago, on a guided walk, a park ranger taught us that the best way to get a stuck piece of cholla off was by grabbing it with a comb and flinging it off quickly. If any needles stay behind, they should be clipped first, which releases the "fish hook" on the other end for easier removal.

I carried a still screaming John back to the bench outside the gift shop, and sent Isaac in to ask for help. Thankfully, the lady had a comb, as well as tweezers, so John was fixed up again in no time. At least, it wasn't as bad as this guy.

This weekend, we decided to do the fun thing and stay home getting caught up on laundry...


  1. I was going to comment on the blessings of a backyard then ended up on the internet reading about how front yard is 2 words and backyard(?) is a compound word.1) We lived in a 5th-floor apartment until my parents bought a house in the 1960s($18,000-4bedroom/2bath). I was 8 when we moved and our parents put in a backyard concrete patio that we rode our bicycles on even though we lived in a court(cul-de-sac) with sidewalks. 2) I still think my children's best backyards were when we didn't have swings or a pool. I stopped visiting people at a certain point and let them just visit us. I had 3 boys first then the 2 girls then Michael(18). I even stopped visiting on the phone early on. We belonged to a homeschool support group for one year in South Florida(went on one of their field trips-what was I thinking) and a co-op for one year here on Long Island. I should add that I always received compliments on our children's behavior but it was overwhelming for me. The boys ran up a dirt hill,etc. as soon as they could.

  2. Oh my!!! This email made me laugh - not trying to be mean, but I can TOTALLY relate to how the best-laid plans can completely go awry...Well- whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right? Thanks for sharing - it's good to know all mothers have days like that sometimes!

  3. Oh, my! If there is one cactus I'm extremely aware of when visiting Arizona it's the jumping cholla! That picture you linked to made me wince in sympathy for that man! OUCH!
    Here in Archuletta county, Colorado, we have a unique little cactus. It's inconspicuous. It's low to the ground. It grows in clusters of spike covered, large grape sized balls. When hiking here around our house, especially with the dogs, we have to cary a multi-tool with us. For removal of cactus! Thesse cactus break off at the slightest brushing too. They break off in their individual pieces, usually by a shoe or foot of dog. If they are just barely sticking to you, the next step you take FLINGS them up onto your legs! OUCH! Praise the Lord their sections are not as large as cholla! Your poor boy! We feel his pain!


  4. Poor John! Hey, at least you tried to hike with all the kids. You are a brave woman! Maybe someday you can leave the girls home with Daddy, and you and the "Offenders" can try the hike again.

    I live in a heavily wooded area and love it (even though I found a tick making a home in my leg last weekend - eek!), but there is a very distinct beauty to the desert, too. It's great that your family is able to enjoy a marvelous part of our God's creation.

  5. Yikes...what a day! Poor John! Poor you...poor everyone!

    Glad you were able to take the needles out for him, and that you had remembered the best way to remove them!

    Laundry sounds much more sensible! Ha!

  6. OH, poor John! I'm glad he's okay...

  7. Oh my, what a hike that was! I am glad everyone is still alive and kicking. I can't imagine the pain from that cacti. You were very brave to try this hike on your own. I think next time you need to "recruit" at least one other adult. One thing I was thinking was this would make a good story when the kids get older. My girls (20 and 18) love to hear stories like that about when they grew up.

  8. Oh no! I'm wincing even thinking of how painful that would be, poor John. I hope it's healing up okay!

  9. HA! so I see you've been busy:):):)

  10. Look I have ONE kid and I would not have attempted that hike. You are a braver woman than I.

    I'm glad everyone is alive to hike another day.


  11. How kind of that lady to help you. She didn't even ask about your beliefs. She just helped someone who needed help, whether they were worthy or not. She didn't judge you. How Christlike.

  12. Zsuzsu, have you considered Cub Scouts for the boys? There is nothing controversial and their 'parent partner' stays with them at all times. It's a great way to learn wildlife etiquette as well as basic survival skills. You can even start your own troop just for boys at your church. We've had great experiences and my husband has gotten involved. It's a nice way to learn new things and also to get in a little 'guy time'.


  13. Zsu, this post sounds like a cry for help... I am sending you some virtual hugs. You better take care of yourself, before you get burnt out.


  15. I totally admire your sense of adventure.

    I have 3 girls that love hiking and 2 (1 small 1 big) that complain the entire time.

    Poor John. That will be one he'll never forget. I'm glad he's okay.

  16. Ooh, you deserve a medal! I once got hit by a similar kind of cactus here in Canada (same mechanism if not species). Those things hurt. Glad he got all patched up! You are brave indeed to take all those little kids on a desert hike.

  17. Spooky,

    you are so right. I already told my husband that next time I think one of us should stay home with the girls, while the other goes hiking with the boys. Sometimes what we have done is go hiking near a lake, where one of us can stay with the girls playing by the shore while the other parent takes the boys hiking nearby. My husband travels a lot for his job, so I hate to drag him out of the house on his days off.


    I just love the Freejinger blurb about me. Some people just love to hate me, even if it is just for calling my kids' drawings primitive. So when I am not accused of gushing about my baby too much, I am called unloving for not mentioning her enough. The same people who call me crazy for not dropping the kids off with every stranger think I am reckless for John running off across an empty gravel lot (no traffic, no cacti - he got the cactus trying to take a shortcut). When people aren't ripping on me for a "keeping it real" post like this, they call me narcissistic for "bragging" about my "perfect life". I can't ever win with certain people, so why try? One thing though: it's funny how (according to them) two monstrous parents like my husband and I turn out such nice children who have the misfortune of being "stuck" with us. What I am wondering is how these much nicer, more loving adults on the website have children that I would be embarrassed and ashamed to raise.


    if you click over to the Freejinger site you will start to understand why I seldom share stories like this. It's not because things like this don't happen pretty much weekly. It's because anything I say can and will be used against me simply for who I am, and who I am married to, not for what I do or don't do.


    thanks for the tip about cub scouts. I should look into that, I have wondered about that in the past. Do any of my readers have any input on this?


    Not a cry for help, but I would be lying if I said my life isn't challenging at times. The days are long, but the years fly by. I just try to see the best in the ups AND downs. In the end, I wouldn't trade my life for any other.

  18. Hey Zsusanna, re: Cub Scouts- I was in Girl Guides (Canadian Girl Scouts) for years and it was a wonderful experience that taught me many life skills. If you want to start your own troop you can tailor it to your own ideas (eg cut out badges that you don't like, remove some challenges that might not work where you live, etc). Kids learn outdoor skills, different types of recreational activities, financial stuff (cookie/popcorn sales!), music, and so much more. If you want to keep it mostly in your church a lot of stuff could probably be adapted for church, too! I would totally recommend Cub Scouts or Girl Guides/Scouts for any kid!

  19. Oh, another reason to fear cacti--I really do!


  20. Wow what a day you had , cholla sounds horrible . Hiking is one of my favorite things to do but I have never hiked in the desert , we have rattle snakes , copper heads and bears and a few spiders to watch out for , I have never seen a bear while hiking but someone spotted one last year close to one of my favorite trails so I will go better prepaired next time . I to have to take the kids hiking by myself sometimes , it can be very challenging .


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