I think I have the right cactus for nopales, but what if I'm wrong?
I have a huge cactus in my cactus garden that I think is the right type for nopales/nopalitos. Before I endeavor to remove a few young paddles and remove the prickly parts... does anyone know if there are any cacti that look similar to the correct kind for nopales but are harmful/poisonous/toxic if eaten? My cactus looks almost identical to the one in the photo, but the cactus pears it produces are yellow, and the "spine dots" are less thorny and more fuzzy.
Your cactus photo looks like the paddles I've used. It is the Prickly Pear, a member of the genus Opuntia, of the Cactaceae family. There are a large number of species of Opuntia and many hybrids. Here's a photo of one type of Prickly Pear:
Perhaps call your local agricultural extension or state ag college for a positive identification of your particular variety. Some of the species have yellow fruit, like yours. Certain species are prevalent in specific geographic areas, depending on where you live in the US, and varieties even grow on Long Island and in New England. As far as I know, none of the species are toxic or harmful, and the paddles of most species are edible.
I bet yours are just fine for consumption, but it won't hurt to check with an expert. I like them grilled, and don't get them often enough for my satisfaction here in NYC.