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.