Desert dwellers are well-served to carry a cholla comb in case of impalement by the sharp spines of a “jumping cactus.”

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On my first weekend in Tucson, friends drove me to Gates Pass west of town to watch the sunset. We climbed the slope a little ways and I was introduced to the species of cactus called cholla, or “jumping cactus.”

Cholla doesn’t really jump, of course; it forms in segments that can easily become more attached to you than to the parent plant.

There is a species of cholla specifically called “jumping cholla” (Opuntia fulgida) but any of the many varieties are capable of inflicting pain and creating a removal dilemma.

There are sharply pointed spines on the entire surface of each segment. You don’t want to touch one.

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Fortunately, I got stuck in an era when men still carried combs in their pockets. One of my friends used his to dislodge the cholla segment from my ankle.

I now have a specially designed cholla comb, courtesy of my mountain-bike-riding son.

Cholla impalement is an avocational hazard for Zach and his fellow Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists.

I’m determined to never need it. I don’t pedal down desert trails and I no longer hike in sandals, but I have a cholla comb just in case. You won’t see one of these in Cleveland.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.