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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Adventures in Playland

We took off on a road trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to find what Spring was presenting down on the Mexican border.  We hoped some wild flowers would be out and that some of the cacti would be in bloom.  My friend had come in from Chicago where some of the highs this Winter reached -2 degrees and she was looking forward to sunshine and warmer weather.

Tim Cahill's work is in the same vein as Jon Krakauer, David Quammen, and others who write
about their adventures and insights in remote areas of the world.   Areas and ventures
 that present some degree of risk or danger.  He is a founding editor of "Outside Magazine" and I've been
reading a lot of his stuff recently.  I include this reference here as a tongue-in-cheek contrast to our
adventures in a cozy national monument where risks are usually related to traffic.  
Typical Sonoran Desert flora include an Ironwood tree, Saguaro cacti, a 
Palo Verde tree, an Ocotillo, several creosote bushes, and a Teddy Bear Cholla. 
What's unusual is the close grouping of the Ironwood, Palo Verde, and Saguaros; 
there usually isn't sufficient moisture to support this density over time.
A male Gila Woodpecker does his best with an Organ Pipe Cactus.  His preference is
the Saguaro.  At Organ Pipe he's about midway in his range between northern Mexico 
and the Southern parts of California, Arizona and New Mexico. 
Staghorn Cholla in it's prime.  The plant sets these flowers continuously over several
weeks taking advantage of whatever pollinators are around. Flower color is variable,
ranging from yellow to red.  
This Staghorn Cholla has bloomed a few days ahead of its three buds. Together they will make a splendid picture for any photographer wandering Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
The Hedgehog cactus is an old friend that keeps coming back season after season.  Maybe I look at them this way because it's an early bloomer in the Sonoran Desert and signals that Summer is close and other cacti are about to flower, as well.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Our Disappearing Landscape

As we walk the backcountry often we come across lone pinnacles that tower above the surrounding landscape. It's hard to miss them, these rock monoliths, that seem to sprout abruptly from the desert floor invading our perception. 

Iconic image of Weavers Needle in the Superstition Wilderness Area
 This formation is the solidified remains of a volcano, the outer shell 
of which eroded long ago.
Unnamed peak in the Pinacate Biosphere in Mexico.  It also may be 
the solidified core of an extinct volcano, or . . .  it may not.
This monolith in Monument Valley shows the pebble-by-rock-by-sand-grain-
 fate to which these giant structures will erode. 
Eons from now Monument Valley will no longer grab our 
attention but rather will be gravel and dust.  How do we know?
The talus slopes at the base of these monoliths gives us a clue to
 their fate. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

South-of-the-Border Volcanics

Knowing that we might get cold rain, we none-the-less took a road trip to the Pinacate de la Biosphera in Mexico.  We had often stayed at its sister reserve, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and were curious about how this area might differ from its neighbor to the North.


A quick impression indicated that the Pinacate would be little different than its neighbor but whereas Organ Pipe was one of the lushest of the Sonoran deserts, this area was anything but.  One of many Chain Fruit Cholla's patiently waits for rain while clouds hung low and threatening. We didn't want the moisture nearly as much as the flora.



Roads reflected their volcanic sources and the cacti familiar in Organ Pipe had morphed into the Senita variety seen throughout Mexico.  The Senita, above, is in the company of it's nurse plant, the Palo Verde. 


The Pinacate is highly volcanic and one of the sources of the road conditions can be seen above.


Most of the surrounding area was volcanic, also.  Cinders were highlighted by a low-growing, flat weed that provided great contrast to the black, volcanic cinders.  A familiar Saguaro stands next to a Senita cactus growing through branches of a Palo Verde.


The landmark feature of the Pinacate is the Crater Elegante.  More than 5,000 ft. across and 800 ft. deep, it was too large for my lens to include as a single image.  We had been told by a ranger that mountain goats often were in this crater.  Today, however, it appeared empty.


In the end we had enjoyed our trip but left the Pinacate to enjoy its rainfall in the quiet it has experienced for millions of years.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tomatoes by Another Name


The silverleaf nightshade is a pretty little plant that uses solanine for self-defense against cows, deer, humans and other species that may graze this little nasty down to the roots.
Solanine is the poisonous alkaloid found in species of the nightshade family, such as the potato and the tomato. It can occur naturally in any part of the plant, including the leaves, fruit, and tubers. Solanine has fungicidal and pesticidal properties, and it is one of the plant's natural defenses.

Much of the unpleasant data comes from Wikipedia, the pretty picture
comes from me.


Cattle and otherwise ignorant, "living off the land" humans will find the active, poisonous agent in the berries of this plant attacks the mucosa of the mouth and beyond, causing symptoms that rival preparation for a colonoscopy.  


Letting it all hang out, this lady is on the make for a pollinator to
help it make....................berries.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Managing Memories


For all my friends who wondered about the varied colors of globemallows, this
is the color/type seen commonly around the Northern part of Arizona.  

This butte is large.  For scale note the power-line tower in the lower right.  And I wondered later why I hadn't made an attempt to climb this thing. . . y'know, just for the view.

It was hot down at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument even as leaves
on the Ocotillo indicate that it had rained within the last two weeks.  The flowers
were a bonus.

A skeletal bush filters the sunlight at Saguaro National Park.

 Tombstone Territory presents a more sylvan side than its gunfighter
reputation.

Pretty to look at, hellish to hike.   The first 300 yds., at least, were downhill . . . all the rest was just hot rock.


Monday, July 15, 2013

If Saguaros Could Sing


Look what they've done to my song, Ma, look what they've done to my song.

Well it's the only thing I could do half right and it's turning out all wrong, Ma. 

 Look what they've done to my song.










                                                         Wish I could find a book to live in

I'd never have to come out


Look what they've done to my song, Ma
Well they've tied it up in a plastic bag
Then turned it upside down


Ils ont changé ma chanson
C'est le seul chose je peux fais
Est-ce-que n'est pas bonne, Ma?

It's turning out all wrong, Ma
Look what they've done to my song.



Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Changing Colors of Sycamore Canyon

Often the landscape disappears as we wander, our minds caught up with everyday thoughts of politics, gun control, or the latest environmental outrage. 
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The panorama changes as light varies and challenges the clouds for dominance of our perception of the landscape.
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Sycamore Canyon has been born over thousands of years, both from water coming off the Mogollon Plateau . . . and Parson’s Spring which pours its water 3 miles South into the Verde River. 
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Happily, colors of the canyon don’t follow the water south to Phoenix.
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Along the way, this water is diverted, evaporated, or otherwise dispersed so that it’s no longer recognizable as coming from the spring.
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We can go back for years and the colors will be there, often different, teased by the light and clouds.