I’m quite certain that I’ve said it in the past, but I have another opportunity to confess, or admit, anyway, that I have become something of a reluctant admirer of Arizona’s desert beauty…the landscapes, rather, in which one might find beauty, might encounter the aesthetic appeal that touches whatever it is inside that gets “touched” and one knows or senses that one is in the presence or beholding something that one esteems in such places as beautiful, awesome, wonderful, inspiring, or even simply nice.
My personal point or range of reference in such cases has been the landscapes of my childhood in Germany (with visits to France and Switzerland), South Carolina, and Florida, the high desert and mountains of the Front Range in Colorado in my younger adulthood, and more recently, the mountain and valley landscapes, as well as the winding river bottoms and grassy plains of Utah, in what I am hoping is still my middle adulthood.
While it might not be fair, proper, or even emotionally healthy to make comparisons between places, preferring to live in one over the other, for instance, one cannot help notice differences between and among them, some of which one simply happens to enjoy more or less than others. One friend suggested that there is no need to like one over the other, or even prefer to live in one over the other; he said that I should simply enjoy them for what I find in their offerings, for their individual appeal to that internalized aesthetic that makes my heart say, “Oh….”
I haven’t been hiking for several months now…not since last August, actually; there have been reasons, not excuses. That said, I went hiking the other day, and found reasons, again, to reluctantly admire the Arizona desert that lies something like 60 miles north and east of my home in the extreme northwest corner of the Phoenix metropolitan area.
I have read trip narratives and other on-line literature about Badger Springs Trail many times over the past few years. I knew it wasn’t a very long hike and knew that it wasn’t too terribly far away, either, so it made for a good starting place to get back into the desert hiking thing.
The trail is situated in the Agua Fria National Monument, something like a preserve, but sketched throughout with dirt roads that allow for vehicle travel to access its deeper parts.
If you remember the post I did a couple of years ago on “Indian Mesa,” that area is also contained within the Monument…several miles distant, but still there. Some of the trip reports have indicated that there was no water present and definitely no badgers present; other narratives have said that there was plenty of water, depending on the time of year, but still no badgers. My hopes, when leaving the city, driving up the freeway and out into the Monument, were only that I would be away from people, computers, and the noise of society. While I did momentarily encounter two very distant people on my way out, and only two handfuls of them on the return trip, I did not come across any computers…or any noise of society.
I did happen to see some ant-sized jet-liners making their way across the sky as I looked toward the various ridge-tops at a few points during the hike, but other than those few glimpses of people and airplanes, my hopes were realized and my soul was quieted upon the return drive to the city…something that I don’t remember feeling for quite some time…the peace that comes from having been immersed in an undemanding Nature that is simply there…even for a few toiling hours.
When I had studied the landscape features of the Badger Springs area on Google’s map the night before the morning of the hike, I figured that I would follow the trail toward the right at the juncture, that I would head west and then south along and through the dried river bed. It appeared that one would have that option (and one really does, of course, it’s the wide-open desert, after-all). When I actually arrived at that juncture, the trail quietly suggested that I head the other direction, east and then eventually north.
At the realized crossroads, I viewed the two people off in the distance at what I perceived to be their camping grounds, off to the right and west, a situation that I didn’t want to disturb or otherwise intrude upon…so I turned east and off into the morning’s sunrise. I followed the well-maintained trail until it reached the boulders of the stream-bed. At this point, I remembered that one of the narratives’ authors said it was best to cross to the other side and then continue on from there, evidently the boulder-hopping was going to get extreme, which it did.
There were many small and large pools of shallow water throughout the course of the stream; most would have soaked one’s feet and legs up to at least mid-calf…and very few others would go beyond that. The boulders were ancient granite that had fallen from the surrounding cliffs of millennia past, washed smooth by the floods and the fine sands they carried, polished and bleached unto a near white, some of them, in stark contrast to the brown of the watching hills; and chunks of lava, too, rich in their darkness, like porous, black bowling-ball sized oblique orbs tumbled from some distant cauldron.
When I think about the name of this place, Badger Springs, I have to wonder at how long ago that last badger was seen, have to wonder at how common the creatures used to be at such a place, if they ever were, and I do not wonder at how important this place of water must have been, and remains, to the animals who lived and continue to live in the area. My mind goes also to the meaning of wild and how much of that remains in this place, how much of it remains outside of my wondering at what it must have been like, exactly there, before the Europeans came to see and stay, at how it must have looked when there were only the Native peoples who lived in the area and what their lives must have been like. My one disappointment with the hike is that I was not able to locate the petroglyphs that adorn scattered rocks in the area. When I read about the trail in the on-line literature, I thought it said they were at the end of the trail, near the top.
Part of my wandering led me to be ever looking at what the end might be, what it could have been, what the top might be, as I was walking through a riparian wilderness that had existed for what must have been centuries upon centuries and longer, a remaining waterway that flowed through a rich canyon of scattered boulders, grassy meadows, and collections of cottonwood, sycamore, willow, and other deciduous trees and shrubs, and even juniper and thorny mesquite trees with assorted prickly pear and cholla cacti. The stream went on and on, there was no solitary source, no “spring” that I could find, just the seeping and flowing water that percolated down through the hills and up from the ground and then collected in the waterway’s bottom, as water will do; it flows with gravity and then through the earth when there is enough to collect, its drops and tiny rivulets gather, as they do, and start to move, below the surface of the land and then above it when it can, going where there is least resistance, through and around, living in and on the land and nourishing what it passes, bringing and sustaining life in an otherwise wasted land.
The only actual animal that I saw during the hike, aside from a smattering of birds and a solitary unnamed lizard, was a black bull, an Angus, maybe, a calm mass of flesh and hair that was grazing alongside the water in grasses that reached near to his belly, a creature that left huge tracks in the mud, the corporeal sign of the one other heartbeat that was with mine out there that morning.
Yes, I had seen tracks of other peoples’ passing, too, footprints large and small made by shoed humans coming and going, some moderately fresh, and some that were made several days ago; but other Peoples’ marks, too, tiny bird tracks, and dogs or coyotes, even, those familiar footprints from my lifetime made in their own coming and going, to and from the water, mostly without human people’s prints accompanying them, and then there were the pointed hoof marks of javelinas in a different location…and finally, a raccoon hand-print in the still wet mud near a pool, left when fishing, maybe, or simply just washing. What else has gone away with the badger…what cats, deer, or antelope did I not see, could not have been seen any longer…what other parts of the wilderness and its wild lives have passed and gone?
The proper trail was lost and gone at around the one-mile mark, give or take, so the rest of the trip was all in the actual bed of the stream, sometimes hopping boulder to boulder, but most often walking on the dry earth down through the waterway or on either bank. I must have crossed the bed half a dozen times when the growth became too thick to be reasonably passed-through, and sometimes I passed through the growth anyway, and have the bloodied scratches on arms and legs to prove it.
I was watching for snakes and pack rats, Gila Monsters, and road-runners, and saw none of them; I was looking, too, for those petroglyphs, mentioned earlier, and couldn’t imagine where they might begin to be; at what possible place among the hundreds could I begin and have any chance of finding the proper one.
The stream bed hit a ninety-degree bend at about the mile and a half point; the terrain changed on both sides of the waterway and became more like rolling desert hills. They were populated with various bushes, including jojoba, creosote, and California bottle brush, as well as the different cacti mentioned earlier. The now-western hillside contained a bit of a lava or basalt parapet, but there were no “boulders” around it that I remembered from the photos I had seen on-line. I had hoped to have something distinctive to draw my eye on one of the hill or cliff tops indicating that they had previously been occupied areas, but nothing struck me as likely places, so I continued on, pushing through the scrub, wondering when it would be far enough.
At what I believe to be the two and a quarter mile mark of the hike, I stopped for a water and snack break in the middle of a stand of ancient cottonwood and sycamore trees. It has been sufficiently warm at night for the trees to waken from their winter slumbers, so they were all bedecked with fresh green leaves, full of the bright verdure that meant they hadn’t been baked and hardened by the summer’s sun. The ground in this resting spot was covered in sand that reminded me of an ocean’s beach, evidence of the mass and force of the typical monsoon floods that must frequent such a place. Rocks had been tumbled there, as well, and it has clearly been a while since any such floods had occurred, as there was plenty of typical tree litter that must have accumulated through the fall and winter seasons: branches and twigs, leaves of so many kinds, the fallen husks from the new leaf buds, as well as some kind of nut bodies from some unknown tree.
It was when I was here, in this cottonwood garden, that it was so quiet as to make me feel that my ears must have been plugged, somehow; the quiet was total, with not even a whispering of a breeze causing a tinkling among the cottonwoods’ leaves…a complete quiet…one rich in its fullness.
That’s probably enough. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt along the Beaver Springs Trail of the Agua Fria National Monument in Yavapai County, Arizona. Thank you for your company.
…the trail rounds rocky corners and hiding hills and rises gently from the desert floor as the sun eases from below the far horizon and lights anew this sharp and prickly land…the glow and flare inside the lens is equaled among the red spines and golden stems of cacti and brush and grass alike…the morning fire quietly waking the harshly coated earth…sweet light fading soon with the ascent of day….
I’ve shared several posts with images that I’ve made while hiking the Black Canyon Trail, here in the Arizona Sonora Desert, just north of Phoenix. If you’d like more information on the trail system itself, you can click on the highlighted name to be taken to the home-page. There are something like thirteen sections that cover approximately 78 miles of scenic desert trail leading from the Carefree Highway, just down the road from my house, all the way up to highway 69, just north of Mayer.
This post pertains to the area that I covered during my ninth hike on the Black Canyon Trail (BCT), the Drinking Snake segment, which, if you care to look at a map of roughly central Arizona, you will find six miles north and west of Interstate 17 and Bloody Basin Road (exit 259)…and for those further interested, or even mildly curious, I did not encounter either a drinking snake or a bloody basin….
I was still about three miles from the trailhead when I was compelled by the beautiful sky to stop and make some photographs. The above image is from 7:28 am., about 12 minutes before the one below, taken from the trailhead parking lot.
I can’t think of a reason to share a photo of my truck here on the blog, so just forget that it’s there. I always take a photo of the truck at the start and end of my hikes to mark the time…that’s all…and given where the sun is located in this particular image, I figured (when I made it) that the sun would wash-out the image, but it would still show the truck and mark the time. When I returned home and found that it was actually a rather nice image of the sun just peeking over the horizon, I had to do more with it than just leave it in the folder. Anyway….I was happy that my point-and-shoot captured an uncharacteristically clear and aesthetically pleasing image of the moment of sunrise at 7:40 am.
As you will notice as you scroll further into the post, and possibly remember or reflect on the desert images from earlier postings, the landscape I encountered on this hike was markedly different from what I found on other outings. The first example of that difference was in the juniper trees that appeared in clumps and in singular instances along the trail and out on the rolling hills and plains. The cairn above appeared to be a tabletop for some creature that thrives on the juniper berries. I found a handful of other locations along this first part of the trail that appeared to be similar feeding stations.
A reliable website that I frequent when researching various hikes, Arizona Hiking, indicates that the elevation of the Drinking Snake segment ranges between about 3,900 and 4,300 feet, which is a significant enough increase in elevation to effect the types and kinds of cactus and other desert/high-desert vegetation that can live there.
The weather report for the area said that it was going to be a partly to mostly cloudy day…but it was a bit different during the time I was out on the trail. There were beautiful clouds for sunrise and the next hour or two, but the earlier winds seemed to have removed them for mid-day and early afternoon.
I love to hike in the mornings…aside from there being many fewer people out hiking or riding their trail bikes, the rising sun plays wonderfully on the cactus spines and grasses that I normally find along the way.
The below photo is a bit darker than I would prefer, but it still gives you an idea of the grassland and the different type of shrubs…the singular yucca with its multi-podded antennae, the juniper off to the right, and, of course, the few groupings of the ubiquitous Prickly Pear cactus….and the fence….
And here are another five photos that show the morning light captured in the cactus spines and seed-heads…
…a different variety of the Prickly Pear cactus…and seed-heads…
…a nearly heart-shaped lobe of cactus…
…wild grasses and cactus spines…
…and some kind of wildflower left-overs among the cacti….
Looking toward the southwest, but mostly west, we can begin to see more of the Bradshaw Mountains…beyond the rising, grassy plain…
…and looking behind us, the direction from which we came, we can see the flatter grassland and those fading clouds….
A few minutes later, the trail turned a bit toward the east, still going south, though, so the mountains out in the beyond are not the Bradshaws…but possibly the New River Mountains…I’m not sure.
The online resources indicate that this watering hole and windmill are at 2.8 miles into the hike…but they didn’t say anything about the clatter and racket from the blades, or the sound of the wind in the air and among the grasses….
Those are the Bradshaw Mountains off in the distance…and I believe this little draw area in the foreground might be the drainage of Antelope Creek…. The section of the trail just south of this Drinking Snake segment is named after Antelope Creek…and this bit of landscape is in the right spot to be such a named thing….
And this next image is looking east again, with a bit of south in it, as well…with a couple of horses and mountain silhouettes, cacti…and the ever grasses….
…a bit closer….
…and a bit farther away, too, from a slightly higher elevation and further down the trail where you can see a greater spread of the land.
We’ve already seen a different presentation of this next image…it’s the same bit of ground as the one where the horses first appeared…but we’re closer now.
The Drinking Snake segment of the Black Canyon Trail actually ends right there at that lone tree in the upper image. Just beyond that spot is a graded road…Forest Road 259, or Antelope Creek Road….the northern starting place for that next section of the trail that I mentioned above. I’m not sure how long that stretch of the trail is, but it will join up with the segment that we visited a while earlier when we went north from Bumble Bee Road…back in July.
I made this last image toward the very end, actually the very middle, of my hike…my turning-around point. It’s about 0.8 miles into the next section of the trail that is south of the Drinking Snake segment. I hadn’t explored this bit of ground on the map before heading out…and hadn’t indicated (on the note I left taped to the fridge at home) that I was going further, so it was a good spot to sit and have a snack before heading back to the truck.
So…that was another almost six miles of the Black Canyon Trail…shown in chronological order from the starting sunrise to the point of return. Thank you for joining me on the hike. I hoped you enjoyed this latest glimpse of the Arizona Sonora Desert….
You might remember from the last post that we left-off with an image of two markers, a cairn, and a trail heading upward and out of the creek-bed that was the trail and waterway of Ford Canyon in the White Tank Mountains. If you want to revisit that last post before proceeding onward, you can click here to be taken to Part I.
I can’t say exactly how far it was now, but after climbing up from the creek-bed and hiking along a couple of hillsides, the trail eventually led to this granite-bedded wash, or drainage that I understood to flow into Willow Canyon.
After another mile or so, I found myself at what would essentially be the halfway point of my day, given that I was going to make the full loop of the Ford Canyon Trail and the Goat Camp Trail. When I reached the end of this last trail, there would still be another mile and a half walk along the roadway to get back to my truck.
From what I’ve read of the trails on the park’s website, the Mesquite and Willow Canyon trails are the next longest trails in the area and make nice, but shorter, loop-hikes that will compel me to return to the White Tanks on at least another two occasions.
Not far off-trail, heading west on the Goat Camp Trail, I found the curious instance of an arrow shot into a Saguaro cactus. I can’t imagine that it was an accident….
In the image above, you can see two stretches of the Goat Camp Trail…the first being on the lower ridge and heading off to the right, and the second located very faintly just above the “2015” toward the bottom left.
The photos above and below are of the same area, but from slightly different perspectives…and while it is still apparent in the above image, one gets a greater sense of the openness in the one below.
At any rate, there is a particular sweeping grandness to this desert landscape that I find to be different than the almost enveloping sense of scale that I noticed and felt bodily when hiking in the Wasatch.
Other views of a waterway with a rocky outcropping…and the “winter-bare wildflowers” with the Prickly Pear cacti in the background….
You might notice the trail, again, in the below photo, this time just below the shadowed area in the upper right corner….
A quick glimpse at the trail, still heading west into the range…still new to me at this point….
A bit of diversity in the landscape now, more rocks and different foliage….
Do you see the runner in the below photo…that spot of barely discernible pink…on the trail, just above and to the right of the image’s center…?
I don’t know the name of the lichen or the rocks in this next image…but I like them, anyway…find them fascinating….
Looking north and west…and way down at the trail that I had already hiked….
Wild grass and cactus, slabs of rock-facing on the hillside…
…and a far horizon with an approaching trail on folds of the earth…
Hedgehog cacti growing out of a chunk of rock.
…and two young singers with their arms spread…reminded me of “The hills are alive, with the sound of music….” This section of the Goat Camp Trail was probably more difficult in its descent than the Ford Canyon Trail was in its ascent…and I was very, very happy that I was going downhill at this point….
Looking upstream just to the left of the above singers….
I thought about doing an entire post on the Saguaro’s cactus spines, but thought it might be considered grossly redundant. I think this images captures just about everything….
Back on level ground and approaching the end of the trail, wondering if the goat camp that gave this trail its name might be around somewhere….
One last glimpse at the white granite boulders that highlight many of the waterways in the White Tank Mountains….
And what’s a desert hike without a zombie Saguaro…?
And finally, back at the starting point…a late afternoon look at the windmill that helped frame the sunrise in the first image of the previous post…now several hours later…with a mostly overcast sky.
While conducting a little bit of research on the name origin for the White Tank Mountains, while trying to find something historically solid to share with you, I came across this WordPress blog, History of Waddell, Arizona, that provides some general information. It doesn’t list any sources, but it’s “nice” information that hints at a starting place for future investigation.
Thank you, again, for your endurance in making it to the end of another uncharacteristically long post. I hope you enjoyed the second half of my hike from December 6th of this past year, climbing and walking the Ford Canyon and Goat Camp Trails of the White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Maricopa County, Arizona.
In the twenty-plus years that I lived in the Phoenix area before moving north for a few years, I had only “hiked” at these mountains once…and had driven to the “White Tank Mountain Regional Park” only once or twice more. I used to look at the mountains from afar and considered that they were just part of the landscape, and to be honest, I considered them to be a rather bleak and unappealing part of the landscape…the far western boundary of the Valley of the Sun that was my desert home…grayish brown lumps of rock…out there.
(I made the below photo while in the parking lot of the Ford Canyon Trail-head…about four minutes before sunrise proper.)
After moving to Utah and experiencing the Wasatch Mountains as my “back yard,” I began to reflect even less favorably on the White Tank “Mountains,” because they were so much less than the new and real mountains in my life. My hiking sons who lived with me in Utah for those few years had actually frequented the White Tanks more than I had…and after hiking to our favorite waterfall in the Wasatch, we all had something like a growing, playful contempt for what could be found at the end of the “Waterfall Trail” in the White Tanks.
(I made the next photo about six minutes later, walking northwest on the trail that would take me to Ford Canyon where I would have a wonderful climb.)
As the twists and turns of Life would have it, my family and I moved back to this metropolitan desert…and I still have the yearning to be out hiking mountains…and it just so happens that the White Tank Mountains are probably the closest “mountains” to where I presently live.
(And still another six minutes later, I had rounded a bend in the trail and had a clear view of the antennas that one can see for miles across the desert.)
So after being here again for just over a year, I figured that I was probably overdue in heading west and learning more about these mountains. I will admit that from afar, from the dozens of miles away that I usually view them, they still don’t look like much, still don’t appear inviting in the least…and still aren’t very compelling as far as “mountains” are concerned. But now, after having spent the better part of a winter’s day climbing, hiking, and walking among them, I do have a greater appreciation for the White Tanks…I can consider them to be “mountains” in my hiking experience…because I did have to actually “hike” and “climb” up them to get where I wanted to go on that particular Sunday.
(The next photo is what it looks like facing northeast from the trail, with the White Tanks behind us, before actually getting into the canyon.)
And as I have mentioned in a previous post, it was in looking closer at my surroundings that I found the beauty of this particular spot of desert.
The above and below images were made probably within a few yards of each other…approaching three miles into the hike…heading mostly west, but north, as well, hiking what would be the right side of a slightly oblong loop that comprised my route for the day. The vegetation above consists of the large Saguaro cactus, some variety of Cholla cactus immediately to the right of the Saguaro and in the closer right-hand foreground of the image…some brighter green Creosote to the bottom left, and Ironwood and Palo Verde on the far right side and moving inward. There are also some grayish-green shrubs that are a variety of Sage and some Brittlebush.
In the below image you’ll notice the skeleton of a fallen Saguaro…what’s left of it anyway.
The trail is climbing up into the canyon now…slowly gaining elevation…moving up into the rockier aspects of the mountainside.
Hmm…cause for concern? I’ve never seen a sign like this on any previous hike…not here, or in Utah.
And that’s where we’re going…that bit of trail that you can discern at the foot of the closest Saguaro on the left…
Looking back down the draw…down the dry waterway that must be something fierce and wonderful after a summer monsoon…. The trail will be toward the right and out of frame. At 8:55 in the morning, the sun was still a ways behind the ridge and lighting only a portion of the canyon…and making it difficult to make a good image.
To the right of the bottom right corner/protuberance of that large rock in the center of the image, you can see a first glimpse of a “white tank” with the water streaks below it.
I was familiar with white granite from the mountains and boulders of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah…the rock that locals had termed “Temple Granite,” as it was used to build the Mormon’s temple in Salt Lake City…so it was something of a surprise to find it so out of context here in the middle of the desert…
…but there it is, worn smooth by thousands of thousands of summer floods crashing down the mountains….
The trail has disappeared into an understood sense of direction, a knowing of where one ought to go simply because the land suggests it. A marker has been stuck into the ground at a wider spot among the boulders…its information tells us that we are on the Ford Canyon Trail and have traveled four miles and that we should go in the direction of the arrow, more or less….
Sometimes the physical trail is nothing more than footprints left by those who wandered here before us…we have to look down and around…to imagine the moving water that lives and travels here and not become lost in the enormity of our surroundings, but to focus and understand…and even hope….
…and look for the unnatural, odd stacking of stones whose alignment means more than just direction…affirmation…relief…. (Do you see the cairn just right of the center of the photo?)
The only trail, really, was the waterway, the drainage, the silt and sand and gravel, rocks, and boulders, green trees and grasses that lead ever uphill from our location…to worn slabs of granite steps to climb and go further…that lead to a damn wall…
…rather a dam wall, a contrivance reminiscent of alpine reservoirs maintained in former times to catch winter waters for summer times. I don’t know the history of this place, don’t know if it was used for livestock…or whatever, but the former pool has been filled with sand and dirt and other whatnot. I’m not sure if it occurred naturally with the rains, or if it was filled intentionally by the builder or someone who came afterward.
There were several clumps of this beautifully tufted “fountain grass,” in the waterway.
It’s hard for me to imagine a river of flood waters coursing over this area, but I know it has, and at numerous times over the eons, in order for these slabs to have so many of their rough edges smoothed away to the rounded surfaces that now exist on these exposed masses of rock.
This is the point where the path became a literal trail again and climbed out of the waterway of Ford Canyon….this is also a natural ending place for this first post, as the next one will share images of vast open hillsides that dominated the second half of the hike.
Thank you for visiting with me and enduring to the end of this unusually long post. I hope you’ve enjoyed these several glimpses at the Ford Canyon Trail in the White Tank Mountains.
Sunday morning, November first of this present year, eight minutes into the hike…the desert looked like…well, the desert as I have come to know it. This stretch of the Sonora Desert has become rather familiar. I’ve been on this trail eight times now and have covered more than 40 of its 70-plus miles…and this stretch is the furthest south that I have been. There might be still one more track south of this trail-head, but being familiar with the area south of here, I doubt that I’ll head in that direction.
The early twists and turns of the trail, and the crossing and re-crossing of dry water-ways or creek-beds had brought me up a slight rise and pressed on toward a flatter plain that would soon give way to other and more declivities and inclines as I progressed northward. I had seen this particular Saguaro from further back and wondered if the trail would take me anywhere near it. If one were “looking for a sign” when lost out here in this desert wild, that someone might be tempted to view this as some kind of guide, or not…. I found it to be a significant landmark that, when coming from the other direction a few hours later, told me that I was very close to the end of my excursion.
I’ve seen mistletoe several times, but don’t know that I’ve ever posted any images of it. Here it is in it’s context…
…and here it is again, but in a closer view.
The living and the dead of the eternal desert….
An old-school trail marker, faded by severe summer suns….
The trail was actually quite a bit lower than the surrounding desert in the below photo. I thought it provided a nice shrub-height perspective.
I thought there would be more to this section of the trail than there actually was. I came to the end much sooner than I thought I would and then stood there mid-trail thinking, “Is that all…really?” It felt much too early to head back to the truck and I wasn’t inclined to marching further on the already familiar track, so I headed off-trail to explore a couple of the minor peaks in the area. After reaching the top of one, I turned north and found a pleasant-enough view of the desert beyond…the trail toward the middle of the image is the one that would take me up toward the trail-head at Table Mesa Road.
I’m still adjusting to this desert hiking and have to admit that I’m sometimes disappointed in the landscapes and panoramas…sometimes they seem so featureless…or plain…. Someone once said that it’s not what we look at, but what we see that’s important…so I press myself to look more closely in my search for beauty out here…I try to look at things with a fascinated, scientific mind sometimes, framing things within contexts of what I’ve read and learned about this type of landscape.
And when looking much closer, I find cliffs and canyons covered in lichen….not literal cliffs and canyons, of course, but ground-level rocks that are covered in the moisture-dependent and fragile, yet enduring yellow lichen that appears with more frequency than one would expect out here.
I notice, too, the varieties of plant life and the slope and angles of the land as it rises and falls in its relationship with, among other things, the comings and goings of water, the sculpting that occurs from the drainage and collecting of its seasonal rains…and then I wonder at how it looked when it was born, this volcano-riddled desert…..
From the top of another hill, I looked south and over the desert that pressed against roads and homes and saw the distant ridges that were clothed in the mists of commerce and civilization…smog…and was touched by the irony of this kind of “beauty” being the result of something so inherently unappealing.
When I was taking a biology class in college several years ago, one of our assignments was to conduct a field study or observation of the plants growing on one slope and compare them with the vegetation found living on an opposite hillside. I had recollections of that experience when I was climbing the hill in the above image. I had just been on a different slope that was only dirt and rock with very little of anything growing there and no evidence of animal-life, and then visited this particular slope that was covered with wild grasses and Jojoba shrubs, desert trees and cacti, and had wild burro and rabbit droppings, as well as lizards and chipmunk/squirrel type creatures scurrying about….what a difference there was to be seen in the opposite extremes of the lay of the land……when looking closer.
I don’t know the name of the tree in the above image, but it provided an uncommon and inviting shade as I was descending the last hilltop of my afternoon explorations.
And lastly, an image that presents the contrast of near and far in the Arizona Sonora Desert…not very compelling when viewed from a distance, in my opinion, but strikingly beautiful and fascinating when experienced up close and personal.
I’m not a great fan of popular culture, but this one was too fitting to deny….
I’ve never seen a Saguaro cactus in such a state of decay…upright…
…so it came to me that it must be a zombie Saguaro…escaped from the set of The Walking Dead TV series….just hanging-out in the Sonora Desert, just off the Black Canyon Trail……
Anyone who has been following or visiting this blog for at least two years will know that I spent a few years hiking in both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons of the Wasatch Mountains…just east of Salt Lake City, Utah…so it’s a bit of a departure from that norm for me to be hiking in Cottonwood Creek…in Arizona. But, alas, here we are anyway. I had researched hiking in or near Hell’s Canyon Wilderness Area and found a related post for hiking nearby Cottonwood Creek, something that was more feasible, given my lack of a four-wheel-drive vehicle that is needed to gain access to most of the wilderness area.
In the above photo you can see the shadow of the only person I saw for the entire five hours on the trail….
And in these next two photos you can see what a great majority of the trail looked like…it wasn’t a trail…it was literally the creek-bed…mostly wide open with easy passage, but at other places it was so congested with cacti and trees that I was forced out and up onto the bank where I occasionally found game/burro trails that ran parallel to the creek and still headed in the direction I wanted to go.
This was the first of my three “firsts” of this particular hike. I had previously never seen a petroglyph while out hiking. I was hoping that the center image wasn’t some type of foreboding message telling all passers-by to turn around and go back the way they came….
I’m guessing that these are raccoon prints….
…and pretty confident that these below are coyote prints, given that there were no human footprints aside from my own since the last rain, so they wouldn’t be from a domestic dog.
…and below, you can probably discern the form of a wild burro near the upper center portion of the image.
I was surprised to find so much yellow/green lichen out in the desert on this trip. It was mostly on the red rock, the old sand-stone that likely retained water better than the other basaltic rock. I also found some of the more typical flat gray lichen on some granite-appearing rocks, but that was not so unusual.
I found several examples of cacti growing out of the side of rocks or rock cliffs along the creek-bed, but this set was the most interesting.
And here is a handful or cluster of the Fremont Cottonwood trees that give the creek its name. After the first group of a couple dozen near the start of the hike (not shown yet), there was only another handful scattered along the way, this one being a significant grouping, even with its sparce offering.
The following two images are of my second “first” for the hike…while I have caught a few night-time glimpses of Great Horned owls flying over my backyard, I had never seen one when I have been out hiking…and further, had never seen one, period, that was perched somewhere that would allow a closer look…or photograph.
This second image might actually be of a another bird…it was coming toward me (not toward “me,” but in my direction) within seconds of my having seen the other one going off in the opposite direction.
It was shortly after taking this next image that I climbed out of the creek-bed and up onto the ridge to the left. The desert was easier to walk through and I still had the creek on my right the whole time, so it was easy to know “where I was” in the vastness of the landscape when it was time to head back. I probably went another couple of hundred yards before finding a large enough Saguaro that provided enough shade so I could sit/stand for a while, re-hydrate, and make some photos before starting the return trip down the creek.
Facing southeast in the below photo, it was only about 9:30, so the sun was still shining aslant into the cacti spines, giving them their morning glow.
It wasn’t at this exact spot, below, but probably about a third of the way back to the truck, I heard the sound of a body crashing through the brush to the right of the stream, turned to look really quickly, and saw the rear-end of a brown something disappearing over the ridge. When I turned to look back into the creek-bed, I saw a small Javelina exiting the bed and going into the brush on the left side of the stream. I had thought the first body making it into the brush could have been a burro, as I had seen and heard one earlier, but after seeing the very distinctive pig body running the other direction, I would guess that the first body making it into the brush was also a Javelina. At any rate, this was my third “first” of the hike…I had never seen Javelinas while out hiking. It would have been sweet to have actually captured an image of one of them, but they were gone too quickly, so if you’re interested, you can click on the highlighted name above to be taken to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s page on the animal.
I don’t think this was the same burro that I had seen earlier, as this one was much darker…but it sounded exactly like the other one with the snorting noise that it was making as either an alarm or as a signal of its irritation with me.
And lastly, this is the mass of Cottonwood trees at the beginning of the trail…but this is the view on the return, so they are not half in and half out of the sun, and therefore easier to appreciate.
So…it wasn’t like hiking in the Cottonwood Canyons of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, but it was still a good hike and a nice way to spend five hours on a Sunday morning.
Looking east from near the headwaters of the mostly dry Cottonwood Creek, north and west of Lake Pleasant, Arizona.
Don’t read too much into the title…I was referring only to the context of the post…the desert home, of sorts, that I found on my most recent hike on the Black Canyon Trail. Each time that I’ve been out in the desert, I’ve looked relatively closely at the nearby terrain, the areas immediately bordering the trails, and more closely at the vegetation and ground where I might choose to stand or sit for a quick rest or hydration break.
And each time I’ve been out there on the trails, I have happened upon a few to more than a handful of nests in the cacti and trees that were along the trails….
This was the first time, however, that my curiosity was rewarded for taking the time to stop and peer inside of said nests. What a nice surprise it was to find a couple of blue, speckled eggs tucked inside of the inhospitable looking home of what I believe is a Cactus Wren’s nest. If you didn’t notice it right away, you can see the form of the nest in the first photo, tucked into the lower left/center portion of the mass of the cactus.
We’re used to seeing them like this, out in the desert wilderness of Arizona and other southwestern locales, or possibly even in other parts of the world….
Or we take a closer look and see the spines in their protective glory and the plump fruit that is awaiting harvest by desert creatures…and humans, too.
But we don’t often get a view of what is inside those cactus “leaves” to witness what must be the vascular highway that provides the overall structure while transporting water and nutrients from one part of the plant to another as the seasons demand….
I think there is a particular “something” about the structure of the cactus’s leaves…a sort of compelling and abstract beauty….
If you remember seeing that ribbon of green in the third-to-last photo, three posts back, this is what it looked like from the inside….a bit of an unusual micro-environment full of fantastic trees, shrubs, and grasses that appeared rather unexpectedly, smack-dab in the middle of the desert.
I don’t know the names of most of the larger trees, but there are mesquite and assorted palo-verde on the fringes.
I don’t know the origin of the name of the place, either, but if we were to follow the stream-bed forward, in the above photo, a couple/few miles, we would run into, or at least approach, the proximity of Sheep Gulch Spring…….that’s the way it looks on a map of the area, anyway.
Maybe it’s not a miner’s shack, maybe it belonged to a shepherd, I don’t know…it was just a guess…and quite possibly wrong, as there were none of the other signs indicating that a mine had been dug there….no slag or tailings pile…no water chute….
I didn’t explore the little cave/shaft beneath the shack, either…it seemed rather imprudent at the time, given the poor lighting and the propensity for hidden and biting things to be lurking in such a place…okay, maybe not lurking, but certainly things that had tucked themselves away from the direct sun and would not have been welcoming of my curious bipedal disruption….
And below is the shack in the context of its surroundings…quite a place to perch one’s self, if you ask me….
I kept walking upstream a little bit, as I was looking for a soft place to sit in the shade and recoup myself before heading back for the next 2.5 hours hiking to return to the truck.
After a quick snack, I headed back toward the main trail, the Black Canyon Trail going south again toward Bumble Bee Road. Those are the Bradshaw Mountains in the background of the below photo, and a distinctly misshapen Saguaro in the upper right corner. It looked something like a smashed finger…or perhaps the still-webbed fingers/hand of an embryonic life-form.
Lastly, this is the view looking east on the bridge that crosses the stream, and the exact place that has the moniker of Sheep Gulch on the map. I know that some of those trees are cottonwoods, but, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure of the majority of the others. At any rate, they seem to thrive in the stream-beds of this portion of the Sonora Desert…and they cast a beautiful shade during the near-noon portion of the day.
The high for the day was supposed to be below 90 degrees…and there was a 50-60% chance of rain in the area starting around 11:00. The image is from two minutes shy of noon and I had yet to feel a drop of rain…and I wouldn’t for the next hour that it took me to make it back to the truck…but it was beautiful in its potential. Sometimes that has to be good enough….
For the past several years, I have used the website “Weather Underground” to follow the temperatures and weather patterns in the places I have lived…and to even look back nostalgically at places where I used to live to see how things are going there, as well. Two weeks ago I was watching the temps for Black Canyon City and hoping the high temperatures for the coming weekend would be lower than they were a couple of weeks earlier when I was out in the murderous heat and so desperately needed a Coke after my hike. I was in luck…the high for this past Sunday was supposed to be under 100 degrees, which meant that I could get out on the trail around 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning, have a nice long hike, and still make it back to the truck before the heat became too ugly.
This first image is of the Bradshaw Mountains, looking northwest at 6:25 am. The larger trees in the foreground are a variety of Palo Verde. During drought conditions, the trees lose their leaves and are still able to perform photosynthesis through the chlorophyll in the “bark” or exterior covering of all of the branches and trunk…. You can also see several Saguaro cacti in the background….
Most of my hiking in recent months has been along the Black Canyon Trail. I’ve been out six times and have covered nearly half of the 78 mile long trail. If you care to look at a map, find Interstate 17 (I-17) going north from the Carefree Highway at the extreme north end of Phoenix, and imagine a trail running in the desert just west of the interstate and east of the mountains further west…and follow that space northward for about 80 winding and curving miles up toward the Prescott National Forest. The portion of trail featured in this post is what can be found heading north from Bumble Bee Road, about 25 miles north of Phoenix.
This second image is primarily of the “Pancake Prickly Pear” cacti and the dried wild grasses common to this area.
If you’ve ever driven that same interstate north from Phoenix and remember seeing a rest-stop sign for “Sunset Point,” and you stopped to look west at the huge, folding and flowing mountains, this hike took place on the stretch of trail just west from that Point. The first part of the hike was mainly in the shade, as the trail followed the contours of the west facing side of the hills and was situated far enough below the ridge-line that I was out of the sun for quite a while.
It’s been a while since I shared multiple photos as single images, instead of presenting them in the “gallery” form, but I thought the photographs from this hike would be easier to appreciate in this larger form…so here they are, placed in chronological order and covering the first two and a half hours of the hike. There will be a couple of other posts in which I share groups of photos from particular stopping-places along the trail.
These “desert hills” and mountains are quite different than the ones I hiked for the last few years, but they are still inviting…and tempting me to go off-trail to explore the draws and ridges that we can see off in the distance. I won’t likely do that until the temperatures are much lower, however, just in case some “unplanned” event occurs and I’m out there for longer than I had planned to be.
In the below photo, you can see an unpaved portion of Bumble Bee Road in the lower right corner, a couple of hiking trails further in the distance, and then a section of what might be the Agua Fria River bed in the area just left of center.
I had knelt to take some closer shots of Prickly Pear cactus fruit and saw this single piece of bone lying nearby. A quick search of the area failed to reveal any other bones, so this one must have been carried away and left here when the predator or scavenger was finished with it.
At just past 7:30 am, the sun was sufficiently over the ridge to highlight the shrubs and grasses along the trail in the next photo. This one, right here, is where peace comes out on the desert’s trail, to me anyway…I love this image, this piece and the broader whole that it represents…the light, the smell, the quiet whisper of the morning breeze among the branches and grass, the un-nameable feeling that comes with being right here…is wonderful, and compelling, and alluring, and causes me to go out into the unpleasant heat that I know is quickly approaching, so that I can be here on a trail like this one.
I would prefer temperatures in the 60s or 70s, but it was far from ugly-hot when I stopped to make this next photo. At only 7:45 am, it was still rather nice for desert hiking.
My only companions for the day were two mountain-bike riders who passed me on their way out and back in again…and the occasional cow, a couple of dozen lizards, multitudes of desert birds, and a single rabbit…
Lines of demarcation, thine and mine, in the images above and below, but I was and am thankful that there was a gate or opening that allowed passage…so many places we’d like to go, it seems, have fences around them…. At 8:10 in the morning, I wondered how many mornings and afternoons these fence and gate posts have seen….their colors and textures speak of years…decades, even.
The photograph below shows another view of an image that you have likely already seen…but I wanted to share it again within the context of the hike, moving from place to place, with the morning green of the desert hills and mountains, and the richer green, like a ribbon of life that thrives along a desert waterway, a sometimey waterway that likely runs below ground for most of the year, but rises again with the various seasons’ rains and floods.
I usually become aware of the Gambel’s Quail when they burst from the underbrush as I pass too close to their hiding place, but I happened to spot this silent sentry as she sat alone in the tree some 20 or 30 yards off-trail. Even at this distance you can tell that this one is a female, as her head is missing the distinct color pattern that is common to the male.
And lastly, several blooms on a Graham’s Pincushion cactus. I found several of these along the trail and, upon first seeing them, thought they were headbands that some hiker had lost along the way…they were so very bright, so vibrant in the middle of all the earth-tone, desert colors that surrounded me, they just seemed so unnatural and out of place. And if you’re interested, the flat, paddle-like leaves around this cactus belong to the Jojoba plant….
So…that was most of the hike, on the way out, anyway…and minus a couple of detours that I will share later. Thank you for visiting…and I hope you have a nice week.
It’s a little more than a week-old at this point, but it’s one of the only “nice” shots from the entire five hours out there, so I thought I’d share it. This is photo #6, taken at 7:05 a.m., on the Black Canyon Trail, heading north from Black Canyon City, Arizona, USA. It was hotter than blue blazes toward the end of the hike and there was nothing so inviting as the thought of getting into the truck and making a quick stop at a corner store for an ice-cold Coke. I’m not in the habit of doing that after a hike, but it sure was wonderful on this particular afternoon!
I’m not sure of the names of most of them…and I had found another handful or so while on my two most recent hikes along the Black Canyon Trail, but the sun was either too bright and washed-out the photos, or the images were out of focus, so here is the remnant. A couple of the photographs are of subjects other than wildflowers, but they stuck me as visually appealing, so I included them, as well. Remember, you can click on any image to be taken to a slide-show that presents the photos in a larger format.
Hiking the Black Canyon Trail north from Table Mesa Road presents you with choices…at about 1.5 miles into the trek, you must decide to go east or west…either way brings you to the Agua Fria River. If you go west, you encounter the river sooner than if you go east…regardless of when you get there, it’s going to be “refreshing” in a way that cold, winter water is going to be refreshing on a hike through the Arizona desert in early February.
There are many things to see out there, in that desert…things to look at…and things to really see. Sometimes perspective can blind us to what’s right in front of us…and other times, it reveals things that might be hidden…right in front of us.
I made this image a couple of weeks ago…on the day that happened to be one year exactly since I had taken my last hike in the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City, Utah. Oh, how the scenery has changed in that passing of time!!