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My first Wyoming cactus flowers as they bloomed this spring, 2010. Wyoming cactus, Wyoming rocks. 2010.

Provided by Alice Liles

Alice’s note: This story first appeared in my blog The Bright Lights of Muleshoe on June 30, 2010. If I were to write it today, it would go in the Cactus are Cool blog since it is about cactus that I gathered on a couple of trips to Wyoming. But the cactus blog did not exist in 2010, so naturally it went into the Bright Lights blog. But I digress. On my second trip to Wyoming I invited Jenice Williamson, who used to live here, and Hellen Adrian, who does live here and became a cactus and succulent fan after I introduced her to them. We all like horses, so this was a trip for the love of horses we would ride at the Vee Bar Ranch, and for me, also the love of cactus and cool rocks, as you will see.

I went to Wyoming to ride horses and practice writing. So what did I do that first afternoon when I could have been working on my writing skills in the event the next Great American Novel was lurking about in my head? Why, dig cactus and collect rocks, of course.

My husband and kids say it is an illness, shake their heads in disbelief, go tsk, tsk, tsk, and walk away wondering, What could she possibly want with yet more cactus, and where will she put even one more rock? I, of course, oblivious to their unwarranted concerns, always strike out in search of that perfect rock, that one cactus that needs a safe home in my collection.

Things are no different here on the Vee Bar. I will blame it on Kari, who started it all when she so graciously accommodated me last year when I asked her if I could dig a few cactus and relieve them of a few rocks. The only rocks we have in Muleshoe are caliche, aren’t very pretty, and tend to fall apart. With a little creative packing and a few cardboard boxes, I left last year happy as a pig in mud with my treasures: cactus, rocks, a really neat piece of wood, a shed deer antler, cast-off horseshoes, a railroad spike, a variety of Wyoming wildflowers, and a plan to construct a new area in my cactus garden to be called the Wyoming Bed.

I dug it, planted it, and was rewarded with all shades of pink cactus blooms this spring, two kinds of artemisia, and some iris that survived our winter. Encouraged by this success, I had no choice but to do it again on this trip with Hellen and Jenice.

So Sunday afternoon, here I went again, only this time I added two new partners in crime, Hellen and Darcy. The four of us headed out in the ATV and hit pay dirt by the Vee Bar Ranch sign at the highway. We hopped out eager to start filling the heavy plastic trays I had remembered to bring this year. I always travel with gloves and shovel, just for emergencies such as this. At first no cactus were to be seen. But suddenly Kari spotted one and then the race was on. Cactus are funny things- at first they don’t seem to show up, as if they are purposely hiding, knowing they are being hunted, But once one is spotted, it’s like Boom! They’re everywhere! We began to dig in earnest then, and it didn’t take long at all until the trays, all three of them, were full to overflowing, and  I knew I needed to stop before someone had to remind me that I was being greedy and needed to leave some for the other children to find. So I called a halt to the gleaning only to pass three more of the little treasures on the way to the ATV. Well, I couldn’t just ignore them as their feelings would be hurt to be left behind, right? So up they came and into the tray they went.

We took the cactus back to the cabin and struck out this time for rocks, in particular a striped rock we rode by last year, and I turned down Brent’s kind offer to pick up and take back for me. It was a little big for the saddlebag, I thought. But I paid attention to its location with the thought that perhaps it could be retrieved this year. This rock was so distinctly marked I felt like with a little luck we could locate it again, even in all those wide open spaces. Now, I forget stuff I should remember, important stuff. Apparently the location of this rock was important enough to remember because we actually found it! And of course we found others worthy of the trip back to Muleshoe, too.

All was well until it came time to load up for the trip home. We had first planned to take my little Chrysler Sebring, but with Hellen and Jenice being taller than I am and probably appreciating a roomier vehicle and Jenice’s luggage to consider for part of the trip, we decided instead to take Hellen’s SUV, a smart move as it turned out, since Jenice brought not one but two pieces of luggage, not to mention the fact that we would be coming home with more stuff than we took. The time for the creative packing had come. We wedged rocks in all the available nooks and crannies of that vehicle and even sacrificed the one big rock Darcy found that resembled raw meat, leaving it as a marker at our cabin with the plan to bring it home next year. Hmm, there’s that next year thing again… Of course, someone with a trained eye for cool rocks is liable to gather it up before I can make it back up there, but I had  no choice- Jenice wasn’t willing to leave one of her bags behind to leave room for the big rock. Imagine that. The trays of cactus were the last thing to go in, safely snuggled in among everything else so as not to be squashed or slide into our laps during transit.

The Wyoming bed this year, with the new rocks and cactus added. The flat stepping stones, I will have to admit, are not from Wyoming, but Coleman, Texas. Round rocks don’t make very good stepping stones.

Now fast forward to Muleshoe, where summer had arrived with a vengeance. Considering we had enjoyed 60 and 70 degree weather for the past five days, coming home to 100 degrees was a shock to our systems, not to mention the rude welcome it dumped on the little plants from the north. The next day I managed to get every cactus and wildflower in the ground, every rock strategically settled amongst the plants. I have no doubts the cactus will do fine. The little wildflowers and all, well, I’m not so sure about them. The heat and dryness, I’m afraid, have already done damage, and I fear they won’t make it.  Next year, if I do go again next year, I will leave the wildflowers alone and concentrate on a few more cactus and a few more distinctive rocks.

But the bed is looking good. I can’t wait till next spring when they will all be blooming, and Wyoming come to Muleshoe will look like a blanket of pink.

I have to add a note here about digging up cactus in the wild. Poaching of entire colonies of specific cactus to sell online at unheard of prices has become a major problem in the cactus world. These poachers care nothing about the future of the species; all they want is the money. They take them all and leave none to generate more plants, don’t take good care of what they dig up and the majority of the plants die in a short time. I did not dig up entire colonies of plants, leaving many to reproduce the species. I did not dig them up to make money; I simply wanted some for my personal garden. There is a lot of difference in intent here. I will have to say, however, that I won’t be digging up plants like this in the future. I am happy to report that every year I have many volunteer seedlings, thanks to the cactus I came home with, coming up in the Wyoming bed. And that’s a good thing. 

To read the story and see all the pictures, go to www.aliceliles.com. You can also find more stories about my other tips to Wyoming at the website. And if you would like to see what the Wyoming bed looks like now and see that neat striped rock in person and all those cactus, come by the house for a visit!

Alice Liles

Muleshoe Journal Correspondent


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