When it comes to the undisputed queens of resource management, nobody holds a sustainable candle to Mother Nature. Not far from the sun bleached docks of San Felipe lies one of Mother Nature’s greatest prodigies: The Giant Cardon cactus found in Mexico’s Valley of the Giants. With a lifespan of over 2,000 years and the ability to absorb up to 200 gallons of rainwater, this superior succulent has clearly learned a few things about making the most of what’s around.
It all starts with a seed no bigger than the period at the end of a sentence. After a year, the Cardon, or Saguaro as it’s known locally, has grown to 6cm. At 15 years old, it’s 30cm. By 50 years old the cactus will reach about 6 feet tall. At 75 years young, it earns its first appendage. Life in the desert can be rough so the cacti are masters of opportunity. They absorb any water that comes their way – from the ground, from mist, from rain – and store it in a massive network of roots that can reach up to 30 meters wide and hold up to 750 liters of water. These majestic cacti will continue to grow for upwards of 2000 years, tapping into their expansive root systems for centuries.
And like all beautiful things in nature, the Giant Cardon provides much more than it takes. Each plant will produce about 40 million seeds during it’s lifetime which sustains life for thousands of coyotes, insects and birds. Eagles nest among it’s arms while many species of owls and carpenter birds hollow out decayed trunks and arms for nests. In the summer, the cactus produces a juicy fruit similar to a fig; the local Papago Indians used it to make marmalade, syrup and even booze. It was so important to the local people that the blooming of the Saguaro marked the beginning of a new year. By taking only what they need, conserving water and energy, and working in harmony with the rest of nature, it’s no surprise that the Giant Cardon has become one of the heartiest living organisms on the planet.
The Valley of the Giants is just south of San Felipe on the east coast of the Baja Penninsula, about 5 hours south of San Diego. Tack it on to a trip through Baja’s blossoming wine country. Remember to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water – take it from the cacti, it’s not a resource you want to deplete!