Sunday, May 23, 2010

April wildflowers in SE Arizon

Here is the next installment in my saga of our journey to see the spring desert bloom after our unusually wet winter.

I've decided to continue with the wildflowers, which means skipping ahead a bit, but might as well do it while all the plant ID books are on my desk! I'll get back to showing you the amazing Chiracahua Mountains later. As we drove into Southeastern Arizona, the spring show increased. The date of the photos in this blog was April 12, 2010.

Dessert Hyacinth (Dichelostemma pulchellum) also goes by the rather unfortunate name of Blue Dicks. I had wondered if these might be an allium, but a quick sniff revealed no oniony odor. I hate to pick wildflowers, but these were abundant in the spot we stopped, and the wind was blowing too strongly to allow a decent photo. What a lovely flower! I don't think it would do in Santa Fe, as it is supposed to be hardy to only 6000'. The bulb was used as a food by the native people.

Heading north on 191 after leaving Wilcox we began to encounter the most spectacular displays. Parry's penstamens were so abundant that we wondered if the highway department had seeded them!

Penstemon parryii with Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

We stopped the car several times as the diversity and beauty of the tapestry increased.

 Desert  Verbena (Glandularia or Verbena goodingii) in the foreground added a delicate touch.

Globe-mallow (Sphaeralcea spp.)

Desert Chicory and Globemallow cavort

I walk in beauty!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wildflowers of Southwestern New Mexico

Continuing the story of our trip to the bootheel region of New Mexico in early April 2010, after leaving the town of Gila, we headed south through Silver City. There we enjoyed a picnic lunch in their Central Park. It was a mellow scene, reminiscent of my childhood in the 50's. Families played badmitton, teens that a word? After eating we headed south, through down-at-the-heels Lordsburg (the only lords are reputedly of the drug type) in search of an odd rock formation I'd discovered on Google Earth. The photo was entitled "Gaia's Brain". If you look in the New Mexico boot heel area carefully, you will probably find it, just make sure Panoramio is enabled.

We found the dirt road I'd aimed for, which heads due south from Lordsburg. However, there were absolutely no road numbers marked, so I was at a loss as to how to locate the spot I'd hoped to find. Without GPS capability, we never did discover Gaia's Brain. It didn't really matter.  We had moved into a warmer region, and were beginning to see flowers.

The first blossoms I photographed were Spectacle Pod (Dimorphocarpa wislizeni), a particularly elegant wildflower easily identified by its distinctive two-seeded pod which resembled eyeglasses.

Close up of Spectacle Pod, a delicate beauty in the harsh desert.

Nearby I discovered a very prostrate variety of Scorpionflwer, probably Phacelia arizonica, growing beside the road.

Phacelia arizonica, revealing the enticing blossoms.

Soon we were seeing a particularly showy, tall white-flowered plant, which grew in the shelter of creosote bushes. I didn't expect to have any trouble identifying it, but later I learned to my chagrin that Desert Chicory and White Tackstem are nearly identical if you just look at the flowers. I'm guessing that this is Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana), which is very widespread, and has slightly fewer petals than its look-alike. White Tackstem (Calycoseris wrightii) has a milky sap and tack-like glands on the stem. Unfortunately, my photos don't reveal these distinctive characteristics! If you can tell which it is, please let me know. Whichever it is, it's a beautiful, showy flower which was blooming everywhere from that point on through SE Arizona.

In the same area I spotted this Yellow Fiddleneck (Amsinckia tesselata). Like Scorpionflower, Fiddleneck blooms unfurl from a tight spiral, hence the common names.

Nearby were many specimens of another beautiful scorpionflower species: Phacelia distans. Please note that my identification of all these plants is based on research, not experience. Most of them were brand new to me. Again, if you know I have made a mistake in an ID, please let me know and I will change it.


Thinking I'd see more, and with Steve waiting rather impatiently in the car with the two dogs, I hurriedly snapped this shot of Morning Bride or Desert pincushion
(Chaenactis stevioides) which was waving in the wind. I never saw another specimen, so must apologetically post this slightly blurry photo. This plant was part of a community of about seven different kinds of flowers, all in bloom at once, clustered in the shade of a creosote bush.

Now we began to see Mexican Goldpoppies (Escholtzia californica ssp. mexicana), which cloaked the hills with a golden blanket.  These are nearly identical to the Californis poppies with which I grew up, but are more yellow than orange, and a little smaller. We decided to let the restive dogs out and take a short hike into the desert.

It was quickly obvious that the plants preferred to grow under the mesquite and creosote, where they had some protection from the extremes of the desert climate.

We could see the mountains of Southern Arizona across the flat plain of what was once a great lake bed. Flowers were abundant after a wet winter.

The cloud cover kept the sun from being too intense. It was a perfect day, but I wouldn't want to try this in the summer!

Here's another example of a plant guild: Mexican poppies, desert chicory and scorpionweed all enjoying one another's company.

Another elegant wildflower: Gordon's bladderpod (Lesquerella gordonii).

We sat for a bit in the shade of a huge old Juniperus monosperma, the ubiquitous "Cedron" of New Mexico.

Mexican Goldpoppies & Desert Dandelions

Desert dandelion ( Malacothrix californica var. glabrata).
This is a young flower; mature flowers form a red dot in center. It's easy to see how this got its common name! As we walked back to the car to continue our trip into southern Arizona, I thanked my lucky stars that we had jumped on this opportunity to see the desert in bloom. 

In my next post I will take you into the amazing Chiracahua Mountains of Southeastern Arizona.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Gila River

In the last entry, about City of Rocks, I mentioned that after leaving the rock city, we had gone on that night to find another place to camp. We headed for the upper reaches of the Gila River, beyond the town of the same name, as far upstream as we could drive. It was after dark when we arrived, so we just pulled into an empty camp site and slept in the car with the two dogs. In the morning we awoke to the sound of birds and the rushing waters just a few feet away. We emerged and hurried to discover just where we were. It was amazing!

We couldn't have hoped for a more beautiful spot, and it was free! We ate a little breakfast and walked around to enjoy the warming morning air. It was April 11, 2010. The cotttonwoods, which you can see in the distance, were just leafing out, while the Arizona Sycamores were still leafless.

 The camp site was the beginning of a trail into the Gila Wilderness along the river. What a tempting route that would be! Quite a few cars were parked in the lot, their owners off exploring the Gila Wilderness area. It is a vast, wild region where wolves have been released, to decidedly mixed reviews. Some naturalists have suggested grizzly bears could also be successfully reintroduced here. It's a baby step towards Pleistocene rewilding...but where are the cheetahs we need to hunt the pronghorn antelopes? And where are our pachyderms??

I noticed a sweet fragrance wafting on the light breeze, and followed it to these shrubs. A large stand of them was perfuming the area. Fendlerbush, perhaps?

This camping area is just up river from the town of Gila, New Mexico, on the southwest side of the Gila Mountains. It would be a great place for a getaway.

A closed oxbow on the meandering river offers reflections on a quiet morning.

We passed through stands of towering Arizona Sycamores, my favorite trees of the Southwest. Their white upper branches positively glow against the deep blue sky.

Dock was already beginning to ripen its abundant seed. These seed heads ranged in color from light chartreuse through pale yellow, soft orange, peach, rose, and on to rusty burnt sienna. They were lovely, but this is my only photo of them, and it hardly does them justice.

Leaving the camping area, we drove back to town to look up friends. The verdant agricultural lands are watered by acequias which direct water from the river into the fields. My mother's mother's father lived in this village as a young man before moving on to California. My mom found him recorded as living here in the 1870 census. 

From 1989 through 1994 the original Seeds of Change was located on one of these farms (although not the one shown in the photo). These connections draw me to this valley time and again. It is a little-known gem.

We spoke to a craftsman in town who was working in his yard to learn the whereabouts of our friend Lee (it's a very small town), and drove over to his house. The chairs situated to enjoy a view of the sunset with the gurgling acequia close by were enough to convince us we were in the right place!

Wild plum trees growing along the irrigation ditch were in glorious full bloom.

Lee wasn't home, but his neighbor, well-known herbalist Monica Rude, came out to greet us. We wound up getting much-needed showers and a tour; thank you, Monica!
Here she is in her greenhouse with starts for the garden well along.

Monica Rude is the proprietor of Desert Woman Botanicals. She creates powerful herbal tinctures which are available all over the Southwest. I particularly like her spicy cider vinegar. Because the summers in Gila can be scorching, she makes great use of shade structures in her garden.

The dappled light allows her to cultivate sun-sensitive plants such as comfrey, valerian, and echinacea, which would suffer in the heat here without this protection.

Berry really enjoyed the trip, and we were becoming quite attached to him, but it was destined to be a farewell journey. Soon after we returned I got a call from a woman who had seen my email about him. She wanted a dog to go along with her when she rode her horses. I took him to her and he was so good...he actually licked one of the horses on the nose! She took him and has been training him to behave on leash and off. Berry has found his forever home, a very lucky dog! And Cassidy and the cats are very relieved to have our house to themselves once again.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The City of Rocks

Wherever volcanic ash has been transformed by time into the soft stone called tuff, wind and rain erode it into mind-boggling forms. The City of Rocks is one such spot.

Last weekend Steve and I took Cassidy and a dog we're housing temporarily (I think!) named Berry on a three day car camping trip to explore the southwestern corner of New Mexico into SE Arizona. It was just wonderful! Far too much material to cover in one blog, so I will present it in easily digested bits. This is the first.

Just like at Walmart, we were met by a greeter right after we got out of the car. This baby Western Diamondback Rattlesnake was coiled in the shade in the middle of a large flat rock...Berry nearly stepped on him in his excitement to be out of the car! I spotted him and shrieked to Steve to pull Berr out of the way. The dogs on leash rule proved to be useful in this case. Once the dogs were clear, I snapped this picture from a safe distance...gotta love zoom!

 I had thought that snakes would avoid the area because of the number of people who hike and camp in the area. But we chose an outlying group of rocks for our first stop, much less visited than the main formation. The little viper was probably just recently hatched. Its defense, fortunately for us, seemed to rely on camouflage. So with heightened awareness of potential danger, we moved in among the rocks.

Wooly locoweed, a pretty legume toxic to grazing animals, decorated the knoll.

From this point you can see beyond the nearby rocks to the main formation beyond. Note our van, Lolla the Rolla, parked in the shade at right for scale.

Another high desert wildflower, Verbena wrightii, grows in Santa Fe as well. Note the nice gravel mulch. I try to emulate this in my xeric rock gardens.

Once we got to the main area and entered the rocks, we were quickly lost in a maze of stone-lined "streets". It's no wonder this place was named "City of Rocks". Beautiful oak trees took advantage of the sheltering rocks, growing larger than in the surrounding open land. It was a warm day, and the shade was welcome! Both Emory and Grey Oak do well here.

From a high point we could see the city stretching out before us, drawing us on. In this photo you can see another person on the right. As in Tent Rocks (previous blog), this is a popular place. I avoided taking pictures that included people, but be warned: this is not a place to go to get away from people! It's especially popular with folks with kids, since it is a fairly safe (we didn't see any more rattlers in this part) playground. Nevertheless, be sure children know how to identify and react to rattlers. And as always in the dessert, carry water. It isn't a very large area, but it's easy to get a bit lost!

We are guessing that these holes were created by Native Americans grinding acorns, which are abundant in this place. Can't you imagine the women kneeling on this stone, pounding away with dense stone pestles, gradually wearing away these holes generation after generation? They are space just right for a good gossip session.

As the afternoon progresses, shadows create fascinating patterns of light and dark.

Vertical and horizontal erosion are caused by the fact that the original ash deposits varied in density as they were laid down. Water moves horizontally through the softer ash, and vertically through cracks, creating a city-like grid. At every turn, alleyways beckon you to explore.

In spite of its position beneath a sheltering shrub, this delicate wildflower was blowing so in the wind that it was a wonder I could get any picture at all! This is a new one to me. Lovely! If anyone can identify it, please comment here or email me and I will insert the name.

Lichens paint these standing stones in shades of grey and chartreuse.

Steve and Berry, our foster dog. We're looking for a good home for this sweet young dog. Let me know if you are interested. He's a love!

A Yucca defends a low passage beneath a fallen monolith.

As the sun sank lower the lighting improved for photography. I love the golden grasses here!

Oak aglow.

This is the kind of vignette that inspired my Passages series of oil paintings. I show them on my other blog:

There is actually a camp site underneath the hanging rock...if you dare! There are over 60 camp sites around the perimeter of the formation, tucked into its flanks. A few tents were also set up within the rock alleys. Get there early or go on a weekday if you want to claim a site. It was pretty full, and only early April. Of course, the weather was ideal!

Agaves in the foreground, dormant ocotillos behind, in the botanic garden at City of Rocks. As you can see, this is a place well worth visiting. The negatives, for us, were that dogs had to be on a leash, and that there were so many people. Because of the crowds, we opted not to camp here. But the sight of children enjoying themselves in a natural wonderland was heartwarming. In my next blog entry I'll show you where we did was perfect!