Skip to main content

BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Chinle Cactus Club cultivates desert blooms and a flourishing succulent society

Apr 28, 2024 11:05AM ● By Cloie Sandlin

The story of the Chinle Cactus & Succulent Society is deeply rooted in the journey of its founder, Don Campbell, whose fascination with cacti and succulents all started when his wife, Carol, brought home a peculiar plant. 

Founder Don Campbell still has his first cacti and succulent (though these pictured are fake).

“It was one of these euphorbias that are kind of tree-like, and I thought that was kind of interesting, so I sort of got into them,” said Campbell, 88.

His interest took a more serious turn when he retired from the Forest Service and moved back to the Front Range. There, he began volunteering at the botanic gardens and was introduced to the Colorado Cactus & Succulent Society.

Campbell was actively involved with the Denver-based club for a few years, but upon moving to the Grand Valley, he discovered that while there were several garden clubs, none specialized in cacti and succulents. 

He connected with Curtis Swift, a former horticulture expert at the CSU Tri-River Extension, who was instrumental in helping get the cactus society started.

The Chinle Cactus & Succulent Society was officially founded in January 2000. The club’s first major project, supported by a grant from the Denver club, was establishing a small cactus and succulent garden inside the atrium at the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens. However, the conditions weren’t right for fostering a thriving cactus garden due to its high humidity, so the garden was relocated outdoors for a few years until Swift offered space near the extension office at the Mesa County Fairgrounds. 

“My original plan down there was to have 300-500 square feet of garden,” said Campbell, who designed it. “But once you get started, it’s hard not to keep on going. We ended up with 3,500 or 4,000 square feet.”

The xeric demonstration garden, located outside the CSU Extension at 2775 Highway 50 in Grand Junction, showcases over 300 species and varieties of cacti and succulents and fosters a growing community of cacti enthusiasts.


The xeric demonstration garden, located outside the CSU Extension at 2775 Highway 50 in Grand Junction, showcases over 300 species and varieties of cacti and succulents and fosters a growing community of cacti enthusiasts. 

Nancy Hilbrecht, a former master gardener with over two decades of gardening experience, admitted she had much to learn about cacti before joining the club. 

“We knew very little about cactus gardening but have learned a lot from the other people in the club,” said Hilbrecht, 74, including her husband, Paul, 77. 

Hilbrecht organizes garden parties at the demonstration garden every three weeks, where club members meet for routine planting and maintenance, socialization and exchanging ideas. 

“It’s very hands-on,” said Kate Weissenburger, 70. “We’re not planting every time, but you could look at the soil and talk about drainage, soil texture and sunlight requirements.” 

Members share tips and tricks, including tools for safely handling and navigating the spiky terrain of cacti without causing harm to the plants or themselves. 

Kate Weissenburger tends to the demonstration garden at the club’s recent garden party.

Wissenburger shared that many members have found novel ways to repurpose everyday items, like kitchen tongs or barbecue tongs, for use in a cactus garden. 

“These are resources that people might not have thought of on their own,” she said. “They’re not necessarily sexy, but they’re really useful.”

A lot of techniques that people learn from the club they bring home to their personal gardens.

Walt Scheer, 79, the club’s irrigation expert, has an impressive cacti garden at his home on the east side of town. Among his many notable contributions are his prickly pear jelly and prickly pear margaritas. 

“I like being around people who have similar interests,” said Scheer. “We have good programs and it’s something I enjoy being a part of.”


In addition to socializing at garden parties, Scheer particularly enjoys the club’s field trips. 

The club tries to balance trips both on the weekend and during the week, ranging from day trips to occasional overnight adventures.

These excursions are often spearheaded by Ken Weissenburger, a retired geologist, who keeps trips interesting with his research on the historical, cultural and scientific aspects of the region. Occasionally, he’ll also incorporate a stop at a museum, rock art site or other historical landmark. 

To guarantee that each outing provides value for club members, he often conducts “pre-trips” with the help of seasoned members like Campbell and Scheer. 

“A lot of the places we go to aren’t on the side of the interstate,” said Ken. “We want to make sure there’s still access to these sites and that there are still plants there.”

Ken firmly reminds members that excursions are for observation and education, not for collection. Both he and Campbell advise members to be cautious and considerate of plants in their natural habitats. 

“Be careful when you’re taking pictures,” said Campbell, “because while you’re focused on the cactus in front of you, you’re backing on top of an even better one right behind you.”


Weissenburger estimates there are about 80 dues-paying members in the club, with about half of them regularly participating in meetings, field trips, garden parties and other club activities.

Members generally meet once a month at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at 536 Ouray Ave. in Grand Junction. While the club’s mission is to promote knowledge, enjoyment, cultivation and conservation of cacti and other succulent plants, members explore a wide range of subjects, including propagation, hybridization and more.

“We’re not just a club that’s meeting and talking about cactus. Our meetings are broader,” said Weissenburger. 

Annual dues are $20 per person or $25 per family. To join or learn more about the Chinle Cactus Club, visit