First Water Trailhead

A desert garden with plans

First Water Trail Head

Notable Sonoran Desert Plants, all in the same frame. From the left, back row: staghorn cholla, ocotillo, saguaro. Front row: teddy bear cholla, yucca. I am not certain the greenery to the left of the yucca is brittle bush.

First Water trail head is the most used access point to the Superstition Wilderness, being the closest to Phoenix and its satellite cities and suburbs. For day hikers there are ample and interesting route choices as all foot trails of the west side terminate at First Water making for a variety of loops and incredible views. For horse people there are facilities to park huge trailers.

The ready access from Mesa, where my sister and husband had their home, was the primary reason I planned to finish my cross wilderness hike on the Dutchman Trail. Named for Jacob Waltz of the fabulous legend of the Lost Dutchman mine, the inspiration for The Searcher’s Superstition Wilderness expeditions and, ultimately, why he and I met and my change of plans.

On our ride over from Roosevelt he told of his difficulties building a home in Apache Junction, sleepless nights spent guarding building supplies from thieves. He looked forward to moving day.

This photographic record of five days in the wilderness would be much different without that meeting yet, there I was that afternoon with plenty of time for photography during the golden hours of late afternoon as I wandered the desert gardens until my sister arrived.

Wild Barley

The long distant ridge beyond the rugged near hills is the backbone of the famed “Superstition Mountain.” On the far right are hoodoos, appearing as so many teeth on a jaw. Gorgeous saguaros in the foreground.

Weavers Needle is the distant peak, 5.5 dry miles away in this view to the west / southwest.

I’ve always been partial to how the dense spines of cactus catch the evening light. These staghorn chollas are in front of the same ridge of the Superstition Mountain. A famous formation, “The Flatiron” is visible on the far right.

The road to the trail head, Service Road 78, winds through 2.6 miles of hills. Here is another overview of Sonoran desert life.

You might remember hedgehog cactus blossoms from my posting “A Dry Piece of Paradise”. The following are from the large hedgehog cactus in the foreground of the preceding photograph.

Future Plans

During the drive back with my sister, Diane, we talked of plans for returning to the Reavis Ranch together, as a backpack expedition. In coming days I met with The Searcher to explore possibilities for a horse expedition and, three years later, these plans came together for a trip kicked off from this same First Water trail head.

Hedgehog Cactus Blooms

Here is a gallery of the same photos. It is fun to flip back and forth with me disappearing from the scene.

Click me for the first post of this series.

End of the Beginning

Exploring Arizona in my Fifth Decade of Life

….continued from the chapter “A Rocky End to a Perfect Day.”

The Searcher arrived after breakfast. My camp was bundled up to join the rest of The Searchers equipment and supplies on Colorado’s panniers that replaced the saddle where I sat, and was dumped from, yesterday. This fifth morning of the adventure, I was to have the experience of a light pack for the 4.7 mile trail from Pine Creek to Campaign Creek, past the Reavis Mountain School of Self Reliance.

First, there was the climb to the edge of Pine Creek canyon where we, for the last time, enjoyed the view to the north of the Arizona Trail and, in the distance, the Four Peaks Wilderness.

North from Reavis Gap

At Reavis Gap we took a rest before the 1500 descent to Campaign Creek on a trail rated as so difficult backpackers go miles out of the way to access Reavis Ranch.

I split an energy bar and took a swig of water before setting up the tripod to capture the following view of our path. The ridge, hazy in the distance of 22 miles, is Apache Peaks, the near descending ridges an improbable green after a wet winter. In the previous photograph, “North from Reavis Gap” you can clearly see the transition from the desert to a grassland biome as the elevation increases.

Generations

On this, the southern shoulder of Two Bar Mountain, we enjoyed desert grasslands almost the entire length, starting with this unlikely oat field. The higher, eastern Superstitions are the western and northern-most Sky Island of Southern Arizona: rising from the desert as isolated mountain systems, catchments for passing storms, with life zones progressing with altitude, the highest typical of Canada. As with oceanic islands, each is a haven for life with potential for evolution of unique species from the isolating effect of the surrounding desert.

These oats are domesticated grain spilled from a horse or donkey pack to thrive in the decades since, sprouting into this spread of light green after a wet winter, ripening, then turning gold with the summer, the grains falling to wait for the next opportunity. This green hue is my first impression of Reavis Gap, see my post “Two Meetings” for a video of the morning breezes rippling along the hillside.

The camera sweeps 180 degrees for all the views from this spot, including prickly pear cactus among the grasses, a butte-like formation to the west, as in the following photograph.

Upper Horrell, the end of the beginning.

We passed the length of the Reavis Mountain School of Self Reliance, the Reavis Gap trail is 100 feet or so higher on the north side. The name “Upper Horrell” is attached to this location. Reavis Gap trail used to start at a ranch house, part of the “Upper Horrell Ranch.” Horrell is the family name of the former owners.

Upper Horrell is a fortunate location for the school, with the perennial Campaign Creek flowing parallel to their 13 acres on which is a large garden, many fruit trees, livestock and poultry. The school provides lodging and classes throughout the year.

The Searcher initiated his time in the Superstitions with wilderness survival classes and they allowed him to park is horse trailer and pickup outside the gates. We were loaded and out of there with a stop at Roosevelt, population 28, where we were the only customers for mesquite grilled hamburgers and french fries. We talked about the potential for future trips and I took him up on an offer to store my stuff until then. In the following years I did more Superstition Wilderness day trips, backpack expeditions, some with my sister Diane, and one horse expedition with The Searcher and a friend.

Here is a gallery of this post’s photographs, for you to flip through.
Click me for the first post of this series.

Across the Plain

Sere grasses

The Finger Lakes are formed by a series of inclined planes spread across central New York State.

Here we look northwest across the land between Cayuga and Seneca lakes, all forests and farm land. Seneca Lake is not visible,15 miles distant, and the Finger Lakes National Forest in between.

The only town is Hector, New York, population 4,854 in the 2,000 census. The foreground are sere grasses, a field of beef cattle and pond.

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Click to view this series on Getty.

Cuteness Break

Winter Preparation

Perched on its doorstep, an Eastern Chipmunk gorges on an ample supply of acorns. These small rodents are omnivores. Here are two shots, each with an acorn in hand and full cheek pouches.

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Emerge II

Watch a Monarch butterfly leave the chrysalis

For Father’s Day 2021 I received cages for raising Monarch butterflies. A large zippered door is a great feature, one side of the cage drops away for easier access and photography. Here are some photographs of the developing chrysalis and emergence.

In the first step of chrysalis development, the caterpillar climbs to a chosen location and weaves a silk pad from the abdomen. We are looking down on the caterpillar through the top of the woven material that forms our cage. The silk pad is a small white dot to the right.

Click photograph for a larger view and use Ctrl-+ (press down Ctrl, hold, then click plus sign repeatedly) to zoom in closer.

After the silk attachment pad is complete, the caterpillar releases itself to hang in a shape of the letter “J.”

The caterpillar sheds the outer skin as the chrysalis forms around it.

Just prior to emergence the chrysalis turns from opaque green to translucent Iappears dark). Here the wing pattern and body markings (white dots) are visible.

I used a Manfrotto tripod, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV dslr (high resolution video capability) and Canon’s EF 100mm f/2.8 USB macro lens for the following up close coverage of a Monarch emerging followed by wing expansion.

Click me for better experience viewing the following video. To do this from WordPress Reader, you need to first click the title of this post to open a new page. Note the replay icon (an arrow circling counter-clockwise.

Thank You for visiting. 

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Frogs!!

A summertime visit to Sapsucker Woods

Wednesday last, grandson Sam, three years old at the time, and I wandered the landscape, catching the sights of summer. Eventually, we visited Sapsucker Woods, a Cornell University nature preserve. There, a boardwalk over the swamp is a proven venue for frog spotting and, this day, we had some success.

We found this cooperative golden-eyed beauty calmly squatting and croaking.

In this 30 second clip, reflected light off the water surface captures proto-croaks that did not quite escape from the source. There is a successful and full croak finale.

Off the boardwalk, we took a short detour to view an elaborate cairn built of local rock by a famous artist. The dappled sunlight across the surface is especially enjoyable.

The Sapsucker Cairn, Andrew Goldsworthy

At the furthest extent of the preserve is this pond where the residents were notably raucous in this 30 second clip.

About this time the mosquitoes descended for a determined attack on Sam’s legs. “Itchy,” he said. Myself, protected by deet, they left alone. Sam’s Mom prepared him for the trip with natural mosquito repellent that was not up to the task. Next time we visit, Sam will wear long pants and sleeves fortified with deet.

Just before picking Sam up for a quick retreat, I caught this turtle encrusted in duckweed sunning on a narrow branch. The head is retracted for the moment, can you imagine someone wading through that muck to place a rock? It is possible, but I witnessed the head, so am absolutely sure.

Special thanks to blogger shoreacres for the identification of duckweed. In my original posting I called it algae.

Click me for another Sapsucker Woods posting.

Copyright 2019 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved.

Yellow Hibiscus IV

anthers and stamens

Evening breezes brought to a halt my series of hibiscus bloom photographs, that bloom faded and shriveled, to be replaced by another. I captured the images of this post on a very quiet summer evening. This bloom was facing up closer to vertical that the previous.

A key identification for all 300 species of hibiscus is the long stamen tube. I have yet to see a local insect interacting with the stamen, always they are in the flower throat. In the tropics, pollination is thought to proceed from large butterflies and birds.

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Here are three macro photographs of this bloom, all from the Canon 100 “macro” lens. I learned by experience to tamp down the diaphragm to the smallest setting, f / 32 for this lens. The different aspects were achieved by moving the lens objective closer to the bloom. This is a “fixed” lens, it has one focal length.

References

Wikipedia – “hibiscus.”

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Yellow Hibiscus III

anthers and stamens

Nyctinasty (flower response to light: opening with or closing without light) in hibiscus plants is a mechanism to protect against adverse conditions such as cool temperatures that can be damaging. Through a lack of light stimulus and circadian rhythms the plant is able to trigger the molecular movement of ions to allow for the closing of the flower.

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Here are three macro photographs of this bloom, all from the Canon 100 “macro” lens. I start with the shutter diaphragm open at 4.0 (“F-stop”), a little narrower at 4.5 and a bit more at 9.0. For this lens the maximum opening is at 2.8, the narrowest is 32. As the opening narrows (F-stop increases) the exposure time needed to capture enough light lengthens and the range of the image in focus increases.

References

Wikipedia – “hibiscus.”

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Yellow Hibiscus II

flower and buds

This is a perennial, commonly known simply as “hibiscus”, or less widely known as rose mallow. Other names include hardy hibiscus, rose of sharon, and tropical hibiscus.

The hibiscus flower is traditionally worn by Tahitian and Hawaiian girls. If the flower is worn behind the left ear, the woman is married or has a boyfriend. If the flower is worn on the right, she is single or openly available for a relationship.

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Here are the three photographs of this bloom, all from the Canon 100 “macro” lens. Two with “sweat bees” and one without.
References

Wikipedia – “hibiscus.”

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Yellow Hibiscus I

flower, buds, bee

Yellow hibiscus, the state flower of Hawaii was recorded in ancient Greece. In the photograph is captured several unopened buds, behind the flower, and a bee in the flower throat, attracted by nectar there. It is a small bee, of the Halictidae family, that lives alone in a ground nest and also called a “sweat bee,” from being attracted to perspiration.

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References

Wikipedia – “sweat bee” and “hibiscus.”