The truth about the wild west

pricklypearNo modern movie thriller can manage without a car chase. Bullitt was one of the best, with Steve McQueen squealing through San Francisco in his Mustang GT, hot on the tail of a hit man in a black Dodge Charger. Great cars, great action.

In real world San Francisco, you’d never get your Charger out of first gear. Permanent gridlock pretty well shuts down any fast inner city driving.

After seeing Bullitt, my neighbor went out and bought himself a bright orange Charger Daytona with a huge spoiler on the back. It was just barely street legal. He told me the police never ticketed him for speeding — he’d just offer to let them take it down the highway for a spin and they were buddies.

Back in the days when cowboy movies were king, they all had obligatory horseback chases through the desert. The good guy would ride at full gallop after the bad guy, dodging trees and leaping stream beds while trading endless shots at each other from their “six-shooters.”

It wasn’t until I moved to the desert that I realized how implausible those chases were.

There are deserts and there are deserts, of course. But out here in the Sonoran desert the ground is littered with rocks, pock-marked with gopher holes and sliced every which way by dry creek beds. Any of these would be enough to bring down a horse.

But the most terrifying prospect for a hard-charging cowboy is the possibility of getting dumped into a mess of prickly pear cactus.

I had that experience on Saturday. I was at a friend’s house helping him repair his radio antenna. I was walking down a steep hill and paying out a long wire when I stepped on a loose rock and tumbled end over end — right into a prickly pear.

My hand was cut, my shin was scraped, my backside was sore from landing on a rock, but none of that was as much concern as the hundred or more spines sticking out of my back. I looked like a porcupine.

The rough thing about prickly pear is not the two-inch spines. They hurt, but they’re easy enough to yank out. Prickly pear are also covered with glochids, clusters of nearly invisible needles as fine as human hair.

I’ve heard of people removing them with duct tape, which probably works well enough. But glochids are brittle and have a habit of breaking off below the skin. Then they itch. You want to avoid that.

So my very patient wife went to work on me with a pair of good tweezers — an hour later she had managed to hunt down and remove the last of the strays.

They sound painful, but cactus spines are mostly an irritation. I once had to have a fairly large spine surgically removed from my hand, but for the most part they’re much less trouble than Minnesota mosquitoes or New York cockroaches or Los Angeles actors.

North Carolina chiggers might be the worst of Mother Nature’s irritants. Chiggers seem to live (and itch) forever.

When you’re watching the silver screen and you see two lovers rush across a green meadow into each others arms, kissing passionately as they lay back in the grass, you never see them itch for days afterwards with chigger bites, do you?

Movies lie.

Let this be a warning to you. If you have a notion to chase some desperado across the desert on horseback, be sure to pack a gun, plenty of water and a good pair of tweezers. You may not get off a shot, but the tweezers will save your life.

Photo credit: Tohono Chul park

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  1. Prickly Pear? Yow!

    When my mom and I are in North Carolina, we’ll have to watch out for the chiggers. They sound horrible.