Saturday, May 31, 2014

Verde Valley Visit

I love to go exploring, whether it be across the world, or just across the state.  There's always something new to see. And so it was with this short trip to central Arizona's Verde Valley, where the upper Sonoran Desert meets the lush riparian oasis of the Verde River.  The Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood was to be our home for a few days, and what a lovely one it was.  The park encompasses a section of the river as well as the desert above.  Our campsite sat on a hillside overlooking the valley and the town.

With water and electricity at the sites, a nearby town and excellent cell service, it's not exactly wilderness.  But the sites are huge and well-separated and there are many excellent trails leading right from the campground.  At close to 3500' in elevation, the desert vegetation is somewhat different than around Tucson, almost 1000' lower.  The saguaros have disappeared as have the barrel cacti, but I did see chollas, some prickly pear and hedgehogs.  The vegetation is dominated by crucifixion thorn (Castela emoryi), catclaw acacia (Acacia greggii), mesquite and juniper, as well as grasses, yucca, ephedra, ratany and more.  With the cooler temperatures, there were still some wildflowers blooming.

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)

Silverleaf Nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium)

Scarlet Gaura (Gaura coccinea)

Ratany (Krameria sp.)

Soaptree Yucca (Yucca elata)

Southwestern Ringstem (Anulocaulis leiosolenus)

Southwestern Ringstem (Anulocaulis leiosolenus)

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodum leucanthum)

New Mexico Feathergrass (Hesperostipa newomexicana)

Red Three-awn Grass (Aristida purpurea)

Wrap-around views from the trails made every hike a treat for the eyes, and the camera.  Below us, the green ribbon of the Verde River's lush riparian corridor, across the valley, the scars of copper mining and the towns it created, all around in the near distance the quiet of the desert.  On a hilltop just a few miles away, the ancient ruins of a native pueblo, now preserved by the National Park Service as Tuzigoot National Monument.

Our travels included a visit to Tuzigoot to learn how the ancient peoples lived in this valley for centuries; to Jerome, perched perilously on the mountainside, old buildings that once served a big mining community now repurposed for galleries, shops, restaurants and inns; Old Town Cottonwood where we discovered an amazing array of quality restaurants; and to Sedona, land of the red rocks and vortices that has been overrun with people.  From Jerome, we spotted the huge plumes of smoke that could only mean wildfire.  We were to learn the fire was burning in beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, which runs between Sedona and Flagstaff.  It burns to this day.

The former mining town of Jerome

The Verde Valley

Cholla at Tuzigoot

From the roof of Tuzigoot


On the road to Sedona, smoke rising from the Slide Fire

Red rocks and Cholla flowers

A cascade of primroses, Sedona

Carole and Jay, Sedona

My fabulous dinner at the Schoolhouse restaurant in Old Cottonwood

In between, we hiked along the river and to a peaceful marsh, across the desert and back again.  New birds, new flowers, new sights and sounds. Along the Verde River is a cottonwood-willow riparian habitat rich in biodiversity.  I was entertained with the antics of nervous little Lucy's warblers, bright yellow Wilson's warblers, flocks of stunning Western tanagers and so many summering phainopeplas.

The Verde River

Tavasci Marsh

Desert Globemallow

Sacred Datura

A very large and well-camouflaged gopher snake.

Evening Primrose

Baby Black-throated Sparrow crying for its mother who was just across the trail.

On the morning of our departure, smoke from the Slide Fire filled the valley, obscuring the nearby mountains and smelling of burning timber.

On a lighter note, I leave you with the parking cop at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

And, now for the bird list.

Bullock's Oriole
Wilson's Warbler
Common Raven
Northern Mockingbird
Black-throated Sparrow
House Finch
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Gila Woodpecker
Gambel's Quail
Greater Roadrunner
Red-Winged Blackbird
Yellow Warbler
Abert's Towhee
Ash-Throated Flycatcher
Western Tanager
Lucy's Warbler
UI Blackbird
Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
Lesser Nighthawk
Mourning Dove
White-Winged Dove
Say's Phoebe
Rock Wren
House Wren
Turkey Vulture
Lesser Goldfinch
Song Sparrow
Bewick's Wren
Red-Tailed Hawk
Green Heron
Bell's Vireo
Western Wood Pewee
Great-tailed Grackle
Costa's Hummingbird
MacGillivray's Warbler

Happy Travels to You!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Blowing Into May

Hummer hovering over flowering saguaro

Springtime in the desert often brings gusty winds caused by pressure ridging across the southwest.  Today is especially nasty with the strong winds bringing dust so intense that we cannot see the mountains only a mile away.  So, it must be a day to work on the blog.

The end of April was crazy busy with preparations and company in town for my niece's wedding.  So there were bridal teas, dinners, brunches, garden tours and more.  Although my niece, Amy, and her new husband live in Tucson, everyone else was from out of town, including all of my family. My house thus became the base of operations. It was wonderful to see them all, but stressful too.  Especially having 13 people at the bridal tea sitting at my dining table, with room for half that many.  On the weekend, the weather looked to be questionable, but turned out perfect on the day of the ceremony.

In the garden, the torch flowers have begun to bloom, the prickly pear continue their flowering and the yellow of the palo verde flowers enliven the landscape.

Nesting and migrating birds fill the yard and the neighborhood.  Up the street, the Harris' hawks have chicks in the nest high up in a big eucalyptus.  Harris' hawks are a social species, living year around in family groups.  All the members participate in the nesting process by guarding the nest and helping to feed the chicks.

By my front door, an Anna's hummingbird chose this location for her nest.  Apparently she didn't really think it through, as all the traffic in and out of our front door caused her to soon abandon the nest without laying eggs.

Tiny Gambel's quail chicks scurry after mom and dad very soon after hatching. Precocial is the term for ground-nesting birds who are ready to travel almost immediately, with feathers and eyes open.   I don't think this brood was hatched in the yard, but it might have been.  Often, there are up to 13 or 15 chicks in a brood, but with a high rate of mortality, perhaps 2 or 3 will survive to adulthood.

The saguaro cactus are now in full bloom, the sweet flowers attracting pollinators such as cactus bees and white-winged doves.  It was a first for me to see this hummingbird feeding repeatedly from a saguaro flower.

Migrators are making their way to their summer homes, stopping for a rest in my yard.  Right now I have several black-headed grosbeaks hanging around the nut feeder before heading for higher elevation.  In this shot, there is a male on the left and a female on the right.

I've also had broad-tailed and broad-billed hummers stop by for sustenance, but they are much too quick for my camera to capture.

Between all the wedding events, my sister and I found time to do a little hike to some ancient petroglyphs, and then to the adjoining Saguaro National Park.

The rain clouds were gathering and the temperature dropping when  we made it back to the parking area just as the first drops were falling.  The light was not good to capture the lovely color of the blooming ironwood trees.

The rainstorm that ensued was all too brief to quench the parched desert, but we welcome every drop.  Soon our beautiful spring will feel like summer and the rain will be a distant memory sustaining us until the summer monsoon arrives.

Here's hoping all your spring days are filled with color and beauty!