Up, up, up went the trail. Beautiful blue-green lichen decorated the granite and the shady side of the canyon felt good in the warming morning air. The paved road that follows the canyon bottom is a popular walk for many and I was happy to be up here on the hill above the crowd.
As my next two waypoints were on the Esperero Trail, I took the connecting trail that switchbacks down to the creek, stopping to enjoy the view back up to where I had been. See that v-shaped saguaro in the photo above, which was below me in that photo. Now see it from below perched on top of the cliff.
Crossing the road, I picked up a short section of the Rattlesnake Trail, which intersects the Esperero Trail after less than a mile. Once on the Esperero, the climb began in earnest. I was dismayed to see the desert vegetation infiltrated with the invasive, destructive buffelgrass, a non-native species introduced from Africa as a forage grass for livestock in the early-to-mid 20th century. The Catalinas have been particularly hard-hit by the infestation of buffelgrass, and the steep slopes and rugged terrain make eradicating it extremely challenging.
Reaching my second bird counting site, I found it even less productive than the first one. Far below I could hear mourning doves, and a verdin darted from tree to tree. A curve-billed thrasher sang a sweet song and a cactus wren investigated a saguaro. Where oh where were all the birds? I was losing heart as I trudged ever upwards toward my third and last counting site. The sight of a tiny new saguaro arm covered with flowers and buds made me smile, however.
Now that the sun had warmed the rocks, the lizards were out in abundance.
And as I got higher into mesquite and oak trees, the bird life picked up too. Near my turn-around point, I saw green-tailed towhees, black-throated gray warblers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, numerous hummingbirds and woodpeckers, black-throated sparrows and more. Alas, it was time to start down. More beauty awaited, however, as the sun had enticed the cactus flowers to open and give me a show.
Standing right in my path was a stunningly beautiful collared lizard, who posed so patiently, turning his head this way and that to make sure I got his best side.