My third wilderness evening was unlike the others. I rested with an unhurried exploration of the camp area. Underfoot was a scatter of dry oak leaves, acorns on hardened desert soil not much softer than the numerous lichen encrusted boulders, all of which formed a bench above Pine Creek.
Pumping a gallon of drinking water though the ceramic filter takes more time than meal preparation. The four gallons I packed up were almost used and I enjoyed the luxury of pumping two days supply, 3 gallons in all and planned to down a quart or two of “gator aid” before dinner with the luxurious enjoyment of a flowing Pine Creek for company.
Pine Creek is the most common type for Arizona, recurring. To recur means to happen periodically or repeatedly and, for streams, this means for part of the year no water flows. For these days the flow was low, the water clear, what was left from the plentiful winter rains of 2004/2005.
The wind gently rustled the manzanita and the sun just above the western cliffs as I settled on a boulder to enjoy a quart of fluid. I mulled over my next steps.
Initially, the plan was to walk across the Superstition Wilderness, starting on the remote eastern end and emerging on the populated west side, in the Lost Dutchman State Park. My sister expected me there on day 10, but today was the end of day three. I didn’t know at that time the climb on my second day was the steepest of the wilderness and the way forward was much, much easier.
Before a decision could be reach, my thoughts were broken by a different sound from the manzanita: several horses approaching on the trail.
Compare these Arizona Sycamores with the struggling specimen from the last chapter, “A Peaceful Day at Pine Creek.” Many Sycamores such as this one flourish along Reavis Creek, a perennial stream of the eastern Superstition Wilderness. The drainage that feeds Pine Creek is far less acreage than that of Reavis Creek and, when the Pine Creek flow fades in the driest seasons, plants go into survival mode and halt growth and may even slough off limbs to conserve water.
These Sycamores grace a stream that seldom stops flowing, even in the driest of seasons. I had the good fortune to visit the Reavis valley of the Superstition Wilderness in November 2007, when these trees were at peak autumn foliage.
The tree requires a supply of water to thrive. This specimen demonstrates the species growth habit growing multiple trunks with a shape driven by water availability and the environmental context. The multiple trunks may be a desert survival mechanism. In dry periods a trunk or trunks are sloughed off to reduce moisture loss. This is why the Sycamore of “A Peaceful Day at Pine Creek” has a single trunk.”
To encounter a riparian space of the Arizona desert is a revelation, to progress from Sonoran desert spaces assailed by the breath of dry wind, to see the first signs of water in the distance as a welcome fluttering of leaves, to feel a welcome odor of water.
Yes, the first effect of a riparian space on the senses is the smell of water. Let’s finish this post with limbs of the Reavis Creek Arizona Sycamore reaching for the sky.
The spring gales persisted through my late afternoon arrival in Pine Creek, into the night and next morning. Protected from the west wind by the rising land, the tent was not buffeted like I described in the chapter “A Dry Piece of Paradise.” The song of soughing pines was my last impression of the evening and the first of the next morning.
Where the Arizona trail crosses, Pine Creek flows at 4,600 foot elevation through a canyon of broadly sloping sides. The flow originates at the foot of Mound Mountain to the southwest, at 6,253 feet the highest elevation in the Superstitions. There are 5,500 foot peaks to the east and west. The land falls away to the north giving great views of the Four Peaks Wilderness.
I chose a flat site to camp above the creek among Arizona White Oak, Arizona Sycamore, Ponderosa Pine and Manzanita. Of these, it’s Manzanita fruit for which the bears come in the summer. Manzanita thickets made approach to the camp site difficult from all directions but the path. Bear sign was thick among this growth. Go to my chapter, “Racing the Sun,” to see the red barked Manzanita and pink blossoms from which grow tiny green fruits that ripen summertime into a bright red, like tiny apples. Indians used this bland tasting fruit containing five hard seeds for food and a cider beverage.
Well before dawn I grabbed warm clothes, hat, camera to head out for a full day of leisure.
On a shallow rise above Pine Creek I took the two shots of agave (Century Plant) stalks in dawn light. These start the chapter, “A Dry Piece of Paradise.” One dry agave flower is to the left in this North view, looking down the creek not far from the creek crossing.
Click any photograph for a larger view
In the photograph notice how the canyon narrows as the creek flows north, the walls rising above it for hundreds of feet.
When I climbed about 200 feet above the creek to a ledge that provided great views, the protective canyon walls fell away and wind gusts threatened to up end the light tripod. It was necessary to anchor it with the daypack and I tied down my hat as well.
Shadows of night lie below, dominated by Four Peaks Wilderness. A unique long flat ridge is behind the near dramatic ridge above Pine Creek. This view leads me to daydreams. The long ridge is clearly visible in two photographs titled “Nameless Canyon in the Dawn” and “Nameless Canyon Morning” of my post “A Dry Piece of Paradise.” A view from the west is available in my post “Racing the Sun.” Look at the photograph captioned, “Overview of my path to the Nameless Canyon behind Two Bar Mountain,” the flat ridge is just above the shadow of Castle Dome. The view from that spot must be incredible across the lower Reavis Creek valley. From here it is a day trip 4+ mile roundtrip bushwhack over the cliffs above Pine Creek.
Those evergreens in the following photograph are Oneseed Juniper (“Shagbark Juniper”) of the three species common to the Superstitions, this has this spherical, bushy appearance. Here the elevation is just high enough for junipers because there are none down below. The trail crosses Pine Creek to ascend the lower slopes of these red cliffs, following it around to the west and over to the next valley, Reavis Ranch, a distance of 3.5 miles. In my “Two Meetings” blog is a sweeping view of Pine Creek Canyon, from the southern approach.
For most people a 400+ foot climb over these steep cliffs is impossible. Fortunately, a saddle to the right of this photograph is a possible route.
The saddle is 100 feet lower without cliffs. Still, this entrance to remote, fascinating locations is a steep 300+ climb.
“The Searcher” arrived around this time riding the buckskin gelding and leading a pinto. He saw me and my camera equipment and stopped for a chat. His plan was to follow the trail I came up yesterday to find a rumored camp with good water. The howling wind made conversation difficult. I wondered where his camp of last night was located, since there was no sign of him. Before I could ask, his cowboy hat flew away with a wind gust. He hopped off the gelding, “That’s my best beaver hat.” After a quick brush and tie-down they were off.
Heading back down to the creek, here is a macro of lichen that covered the crumbling surfaces of boulders that littered the slope.
During the previous night fresh primrose blossoms opened, this one flourishing in the earth of a south facing slope. There is a reddish spent blossom at lower left. The soil here formed over eons by the action of the creek water, atmosphere and plant life. I have more about the Primrose and these yellow flowers in the background in my “Two Meetings” blog.
Turn left (up stream) where the Arizona Trail crosses Pine Creek and jump boulder to boulder for a hundred feet or so and you come to this view. The creek bank, covered by vegetation, rises on both sides and makes it difficult to leave the creek. Those are Arizona White Oak leaves floating along the large foreground boulder.
This is a very young Arizona White Oak, common species growing along the creek. The leaves are not what you’d expect from an oak, being 2 – 3 inches long in the shape of a lance blade and without obvious lobes Mature Arizona White Oak has a rough bark and, at most, 24 inch trunks.
There are better examples of grand Arizona Sycamores along the perennial Reavis Creek. Pine Creek does not flow in the driest seasons, this tree sloughed its branches in order to survive. You can see from the many young Sycamores in the Pine Creek Pool photograph the previous photo the sycamores are successful in this environment.
I spent some time with this Sycamore, capturing abstract patters of the bark.
The abundance of Ponderosa Pines here demonstrate the species thrives at this altitude and dry environment. This specimen grows on the creek bank. Those are shrubby Arizona Oaks around the trunk.
Abstract patterns in the bark of this Ponderosa. The popular and scientific name (Pinus ponderosa) for this species is from the dense weight of the wood.
The tree is over 100 feet tall. I patched together four shots for this view.
In the afternoon I explored the Arizona Trail to Reavis Ranch. It crosses the creek to ascend the cliff in broad switchbacks. Eventually it follows a contour below a cliff with fine views of Pine Creek Canyon. I turned back to leave the hike to Reavis Ranch for another day.
Imagine a bowl with steep sides, rough and sharp in places.
Look along the bottom and see a silver stream, sparkling and singing through rocks.
A figure is clinging to the upper side, almost to the rim.
The figure is me in the setting of my blog, “A Dry Piece of Paradise”. Here is my view from that spot.
Hiking along this bowl rim I came to a clearing in the juniper and Manzanita bushes, with a fire ring and pile of roughly broken wood with outstanding views on all sides. This tradition of leaving wood is a welcome intrusion of human kindness and sympathy in this wilderness. We gather wood for total strangers, people we will never meet, to potentially save them in a rainy, cold darkness.
At noon Pine Creek was two miles ahead as I looked into a steep descent, a wide canyon and open range of low oaks, almost shrubs, and small juniper trees. Later, well along the trail, I stepped over Walnut Spring, a silent thread of water through a thin blaze of trees, yellow flowers and continued toward Reavis Gap and Pine Creek on Oregon Ed’s recommendation.
“Even a blind man could find water there this year,” Ed claimed.
Ed’s van was parked at the Superstition Wilderness Tule trailhead when my sister dropped me off the morning before. She noted the van thickly coated with dust over grey primer with an Oregon license plate and changed her plan to accompany me the first mile or so for fear the van’s owner was lurking inside.
It was just as well Diane stayed behind because I met Ed two miles up the trail that first day. From the start, Ed was too outgoing and his pack more empty than light. He chatted me up on how “blue my shirt was”, seen from above, about his trips from Oregon to Arizona a few times a year, about his claim to be returning from a five day round trip to Tortilla Flats.
Ed’s good news about how the usual springs were flowing was welcome. Then, Ed expected me to give him some water for this information. This expectation of his was irrational, given his reports of good water sources. Plus, Ed was only a few miles from his van showed no physical signs of needing water.
I was to discover, a few hours in the direction he claimed to have walked, a flowing stream.
Ed’s attitude changed upon his spotting my .45 in a tactical holster strapped to my leg. Thirty seconds later he was heading down the trail. I had no water to spare and was relieved I didn’t need to escort Diane back to her car. Maybe Ed was an anti-gun advocate, but my conclusion was he had some lurking to do, back at the van.
While planning this trip I imagined “Reavis Gap” to be a narrow trail between towering peaks. While walking under the water heavy pack I elaborated on this expectation, but coming on the gap I walked through and into the reality of this photograph, taken from a point looking over the gap and down into Two Bar trail. This was the site of my first meeting with “The Searcher.”
“The Gap” itself is a high, narrow ridge over a 7,000 foot high valley with peaks, ridges and the occasional hoodoo. That rock formation in the mid-distance includes a hoodoo. It was this hoodoo that introduced me to the gap, being what I saw first high above in the distance from Walnut Spring, a silent thread of water through a thin blaze of cottonwood trees and yellow flowers.
Here’s a link to a video I did of a vast field of Wild Oats which covered Reavis Gap that season.
I first saw the “The Searcher” on that high, narrow ridge above Two Bar trail. I guessed he was a mounted park ranger; from the wide brimmed hat he was holding and the loose fitting shirt. From a half mile away his golden brown mount was standing steady, apparently at rest. Walking up that long, moderate grade my feet hurt and the 70+ pound pack, heavy with water, was chafing. Eager to climb the steep ridge ahead, between me and Pine Creek, I passed the signpost marking the juncture of Two Bar and Reavis Ranch trails and headed up that rocky ridge.
The clatter of horse hooves came up behind much sooner than expected. Turning, I came upon the unexpected site of two horses. The mounted stranger was not a park ranger, but a well dressed cowboy on a western saddle, riding a buckskin gelding.
Behind them, on a lead, was a brown and white pinto loaded with panniers.
I was polite and climbed up on the rocks, off the path, to let them by.
Here’s a photograph of these horses, taken a few days later.
“Colorado and Nugget, grazing at Reavis Ranch”
Our chat was brief, but practical and meaningful: where we came from and conditions along the way. The stranger, who I came to call “The Searcher”, inquired about conditions in the very steep bowl behind Two Bar Mountain. He planned to camp overnight and do a Two Bar Mountain daytrip the next day, but would not if the trail was washed out by that spring’s heavy rains.
I replied the trail was obliterated in spots and even though I could pass his horses might not get by. His reply, “If you got up, so can they.” And with that he gave the buckskin a nudge and they were soon out of sight, over the ridge.
Fifteen minutes later this was my view of Pine Creek, a valley of steep sides sloping to a stream of cool water with mountains and sheer cliffs on all sides. Part of The Arizona Trail.
Just before reaching Pine Creek I passed a southeast facing bank sheltering a garden of tufted evening primrose and a member of the crassulaceae family both in flower. The white flower is the primrose and the yellow the crassulaceae. I was so moved by the beauty of this patch, after trekking for seven hours through endless rocks, cactus, juniper and oak, I unloaded my pack and captured this shot. As the name suggests, the flower is an evening bloom that wilts in the day’s heat. That’s why the flower is a bit floppy in this late afternoon photograph.
Note flower b
The crassulaceae is a succulent, similar to a kalanchoe, with tiny flowers composed of tiny yellow balls.
In future chapters you’ll see more of Pine Creek, visit the wilderness apple orchard at Reavis Ranch, learn more about The Searcher and an ancient, circular, rock wall on a peak overlooking Reavis Gap.
The past summer, the first of my retirement, my early morning hours were spent on Ancestry.com researching our family histories to bring this process, started 2013 in preparation for our tour of Ireland, to a point where I can start to consolidate it into a document shared with other family members.
It is a wonderful feeling when the pieces come together. For example the passenger manifest when Grandfather McArdle brought Grandmother and then three year old Mom to Quebec, Canada from the port of Belfast April 1926.
Their belongings are gathered together in just such a manner. My parents marked all my belongings that left the home with me with my name and address.
Our thought were on this when we selected this suitcase marked with the shamrock from a “Christmas Store” along the streets of the Pennsylvania town of Jim Thorpe, as the memory of our ancestors our exploration of Ireland.
Our Nutcracker wooden figure carries a weight of memories. Early memories are of my sister, Christina’s Sugar Plum Fairy solo for Saint Aidan Parish talent program, Mom’s appreciation of performance of Swan Lake in her pre-child past, a friend of my Mom was a former dancer who taught Christina ballet. Hanging quietly, these memories swirl around the Nutcrackers open maw.
Ten years ago we observed New Years Day 2009 in the lobby of Winthrop Medical Center, Mineola, New York waiting for the outcome of Mom’s hip replacement surgery grateful the head of Orthopedics was performing the surgery. That year saw large changes played out in the last four years of her life, she never returned to her home of 52 years.
From then on her winters were spent with her daughter Diane in Mesa, Arizona. Mom would call us, amused at the sight of neighbors walking by in 50 degree weather in winter parkas. She was well known in Albertson for her habit of walking everywhere, it was fortunate she never needed to learn how to drive a car: all she needed was readily at hand.
I needed to return to Albertson several times a year to our childhood home. December 2009, Pam and I melded the trip with a day in New York City. Memories of Mom’s enjoyment of Swan Lake drew me to purchase tickets for The Nutcracker. The New York City Ballet has performed The Nutcracker every Christmas season since 1954, when I was one year old. The 56th performance was our first.
As with Dante’s version of hell, the David H. Koch Theater has rings. I sprang for the highest ring, the fourth, the least costly and, optimistically, the best vantage to view the formations of grouped dancers.
A full orchestra is dedicated to each performance, the hall acoustics are fabulous, and we were able to appreciate the scenes, the grouped dancers and, even, the soloists. The last scene of the first act, the Snowflakes (or Snow Crystals), brought tears to my eyes, the music, the scene was impossibly beautiful and brought back some experiences of mine in winter nature.
We were hooked after that, immersed in the very real (i.e., non-virtual) alternate reality at least two Sunday afternoon performances each year, seeing all Tchaikovsky’s ballets in the style of Balanchine for which the New York Ballet is famous. For the 59th season of The Nutcracker were brought two granddaughters, took fourth third row orchestra seats. We marveled at the experience. It included, during intermission, a photo session with a character from the performance.
Here they are with a Snowflake. This is a scan of one of the 8 x 10 prints we received from this session.
We planned to share a performance of Swan Lake with Mom during the September 2013 season, in her 90th year. Mom passed away in her birth month, June, 2013.