Saturday, June 15, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Joe Davidson is part man, part myth. He’s lean-built, sunkissed, weather-worn, and his piercing blue eyes have seen the world.
He’s also the keeper of a colorful past. He stumbled in and out of business ventures, laid railroad tracks as a teen, sailed the globe, and experienced a lifetime of antics before buying a nursery on the far reaches of Blue Diamond Road in 1989, renaming it Cactus Joe’s.
The site welcomes visitors to the base of the Spring Mountains, a stop before Blue Diamond, Bonnie Springs and Red Rock Conservation Area. It is secluded, quirky and tucked comfortably along the scenic loop.
“It was just a Blue Diamond vortex,” Davidson says describing his initial attraction to the location. “You can feel the energy—in the morning when nobody’s here, just so peaceful, so quiet, and in the afternoon or the late evening when nobody is here.”
As Cactus Joe’s owner, Davidson is elusive and maintains a humble profile, never sharing his age and always redirecting attention to his nursery.
Perhaps that’s what has fueled its growth in the nearly 30 years he’s been operating it, filling the acres with beloved extensions of himself—scrap metal statues of dragons from Mexico, garden pendants, chimineas, pottery and an eclectic gift shop brimming with handmade baskets and jewelry.
He lives on the property and can be seen tending to the plants, picking up debris on the dirt trails or proudly snapping photos to post to the nursery’s social media accounts.
Cactus Joe’s Nursery
• Where: 12740 Blue Diamond Road
• Phone: 702-875-1968
• Online: cactusjoeslasvegas.com
• Hours of operation: Monday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Despite its distance from Las Vegas, business is consistent and has grown steadily over time. This past year, Cactus Joe’s had almost 10,000 transactions, Davidson said.
Word has also spread beyond the desert. He often receives inquiries from around the country, even once supplying Purple Prickly Pear cactuses for centerpieces at a dinner for Michelle Obama in Washington, D.C.
And while it isn’t the first business that he has ventured into, it’s the first he’s fought to keep.
“I’ve been here [Cactus Joe’s] longer than I’ve been any place in my life, so this must be it,” Davidson says. “Everything I ever needed walked through the front door.”
And it’s true. Employees, business opportunities, his girlfriend CeCe, and his beloved rescue dog Sammy—they have all walked through the dusty front doors of the nursery and into Davidson’s life.
Drawing them in is seven acres of desert plant life with a more than 200-year-old cactus looming near the gift shop. There’s also a vast collection of native Joshua Trees carefully gathered from old, abandoned mines in the Southwest.
Through the years, Davidson purchased the mines so he could scour them for native plants and sell them at the nursery, all with the approval of the Nevada Division of Forestry.
“This is my favorite plant,” Davidson says, pointing to one. “But I really, really like this Teddy Bear Cholla,” he says, pointing to another.
He continues on, insisting that Geronimo ate the Cholla when he was roaming the desert.
Nestled behind a miniature Western town and near a meditation maze is a small wedding chapel built by hand. An inside window frames Red Rock and the vast desert sky.
Through the years, housing and retail spaces have crept toward the Red Rock Canyon Loop, and Davidson has received offers from real estate investors to buy land on which the nursery sits.
One offer was for $3.8 million for three acres on the outskirts of the property.
“I was elated. I was jumping up and down. Oh my goodness! That is more money than this poor farm boy ever dreamed of,” Davidson said. “I went to sleep and woke up in the middle of the night ... what am I going to do? I love my nursery, I’ve got incredible employees.”
He didn’t sell an inch of it.
The best part of Cactus Joe’s, Davidson says, is the incredible people he meets—his employees and the customers who visited the nursery as children and bring their own kids back. “They come here, they enjoy it, they talk. Everybody has an incredible story. They’ve been somewhere, they’ve done something,” Davidson says.
And he’ll be waiting, more than willing to listen and share his favorite cactuses.“Everyone needs two things—someone to love and a purpose,” Davidson says. “This is both.”
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.