Sky islands are isolated mountains surrounded by radically different lowland environments. The term originally referred to those found near the southern borders of the U.S. states of Arizona and New Mexico with the northern borders of the Mexican States of Chihuahua and Sonora such as the Dragoon Mountains featured in this post. The isolation has significant implications for these natural habitats. The American Southwest region began warming up between ∼20,000–10,000 years before the present-day and atmospheric temperatures increased substantially, resulting in the formation of vast deserts that isolated the sky islands.
This sycamore tree survives life in this ephemeral stream of an Arizona “Sky Island” by allowing entire trunks to die off during extended dry spells. The tree is an Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii).
Reference: wikipedia article “Sky Islands.”
Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved
Interstate 10 between Benson and Wilcox ascends through a field of enormous, eroded granite boulders. Off to the west are the Dragoon Mountains, otherwise known as “Cochise Stronghold.”
Starting from the campsite is the “Sky Islands Traverse” hiking trail, leading up into the mountains. I wandered from the trail to follow a dry streambed to this residual pool of water, the time being early spring, and this is what remained from the winter rains.
A single butterfly of the genus Anthocharis generally called “Orangetip” for the colorful upper wing tips. These exist throughout the world, here in Arizona they migrate across the desert, obtaining refuge and nourishment from “Sky Islands” such as the Dragoon Mountains
Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved
Capturing photographs and videos on the fly using an Iphone, we visited Fillmore Glen State Park, Moravia, New York with our granddaughter, Nia. This is the seventh post of this series. Click me for another springtime post.
Click any photograph for a larger view.
Growing up on Long Island provided limited exposure to the great variety of animal and plant life on planet earth. I remember Canesteo, a town just off the western edge of the Finger Lakes in Steuben County, after moving there in the 1980’s, had a marvelous abundance of different plants in the lawn. It was a welcoming feeling to notice this before the term “monoculture” was circulated.
These days the exuberant variety of ferns and mosses in the Finger Lakes are still alien in the sense noticing the small differences between species is still beyond me; or, rather, I have yet to know well all the later arrivals on the scene, the flowering plants and these command my attention.
Close by the Sorrell of my post “Glen Shadows” is this inconspicuous flower, common name Shinleaf, seen here growing in spite of the the wet rip rap of shale at the base of the glen wall on the footpath. Much of the characterization of this plant is from the inconspicuous basal leaves from which the raceme of flowers springs.
Moss and Shinleaf are associated in these groupings, I could conclude the moss provided a place for the tiny seeds of the plant to lodge and take root. The plant is a perennial and stays green throughout the winter, leading to another conclusion: there is a substance in the leaf cells that resists freezing. The latin meaning of the (scientific name) genus Pyrola means “Pear”, the shape of the leaf.
Look closely at the flowers to see the small flowers, the style extending beyond the petals like a bell clapper.
The common name, Shinleaf, is from England where the plant is credited with providing relief for minor injury. I am unclear on the grouping of this plant as a wintergreen. Shinleaf might be included as a wintergreen, and possibly attributed with healing properties, because “wintergreen” in the past was a synonym for “evergreen.”
There are species of wintergreens, in a different family, with leaves containing methyl salicilate that metabolizes (changed in our bodies) to a substance related to aspirin and more potent. I am reconsidering my identification of “cranberry” in the previous post “Red” to be a type of wintergreen high in methyl salicilate and growth close to the Shinleaf.
This abundance of life variety must be cherished and preserved, it can be a source of survival for the human species.
Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved
Pam and I were drawn outside the day after Valentine’s a bit of sun, an unreliable warm breeze, a promise of exercise. Our expectations were disappointed for all but the last at the foot of the Taughannock Falls gorge trail.
We had a reminder mid-February marks the start of avian mating behavior with this addition to the view from Taughannock Creek, the first large waterfall. For the cold, drizzly excursion I chose the IPhone, in a waterproof case, for the images. The fanicful birdhouse inscription reads “The Old Birds from Pa.”
The winding gorge takes a general east, southeasterly direction. Where the sun cannot reach the snow was reduced to a treacherous slushy ice mix more nasty than dangerous.
Of all the area hiking experiences, Taughannock Gorge Trail is the only one available year round. The gorge is wide with enough room for the footpath to avoid the cliff edge. Today, there were places were ice formations were throwing large ice chunks down the slope. The park ranges place tree trunks along the cliff base, with warning signs to stay away. Still, there are visitors who stray too close with fatal outcomes reported by local news.
Pam was fascinated by the appearance of snow and ice accumulated on the talus, here seen from the Taughannock Falls viewing bridge.
You can just pick out the viewing bridge in the Falls Overlook video.
Taughannock Falls bound by ice is a most dramatic sight. I need to post photographs from a 2005 visit during an especially frigid February. Here, the falls have thrown off the ice, leaving this house-size chunk.
The surrounding gorge walls are continually frost coated by the mist.
In more clement seasons the Gorge Trail ends much closer to the falls. Today, it was closed as, during winter and especially thaws, blocks of the sandstone cap break away to fall with great force across that part of the trail. This viewing area is visible in the Falls Overlook video.
Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills
Wednesday afternoon this week my exercise was a 4 mile hike around the Taughannock Falls Gorge on the north and south rim trail. I parked at the Overlook and took in a view of Taughannock Falls in the gorge below.
The video and pics are from my Apple IPhone.
I then headed south on the North Rim Trail. It was slow going because the trail was solid ice in many places. Throughout the walk was evidence of the great work of the park maintence crew preparing for spring.
A bridge over the creek transitions from the North to South Rim trails. Here is an overview of the dramatic site below this bridge.
The trail ice forced me off onto the Gorge Road that parallels the trail. Even without the ice, a portion of the trail is closed for the winter due to dangerous conditions. There are interesting sites along this road.
Walking downhill only this medium-sized bark is visible, the road curves around to bring into view a tiny farmhouse, now abondoned, dwarfed by the barn.
I took a detour to explore a small cemetery just off Gorge Road on a shelf above the Taughannock Farms Inn.
The lower falls is another worthy detour before I rejoined the Rim trail to climb up the north side of the gorge.
In this approximate 4 miles there is a 2088 foot change in altitude (1044 up and down). I took my time for an enjoyable 2 hours.
Yesterday afternoon was bright, sunny enough for me to break out of the winter exercise routine for a walk around Taughannock Falls, a New York State Park 7.5 miles from the front door through farmland and small villages with views of Cayuga Lake.
The route around the gorge, following the North and South Rim trails with a side trip to the edge of Cayuga Lake is 3 miles with a modest elevation change of about 500 feet.
My route began at the top with a cell phone, from the Falls Overlook, there is a gradual slope, until the end where flights of steep stone steps end at the gorge floor. The steps were free of ice and snow.
These photographs are from the cell phone. Here is the lake and a portion of the gorge. Yes, the lake is a dark blue on sunny days and is ice free this year. Another trail follows the gorge floor to below the falls, I opted out of the additional 1.5 miles today in the interest of finishing well before sunset.
Click any photograph to visit my Fine Art version of Taughannock Falls.
I have a few versions of these South Rim Trail stone steps taken at this perfect time of day, the low sun through the trees. Built in the 1930s by Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp, the steps and the entire trail are a work of art.
The far view of Taughannock Falls always fascinated me. I’ve never done it justice. There are several view points from the South Rim, overlooking the gorge were it bends to the south with only the upper third of the falls visible. The flow today was photogenic. I used the cell phone zoom to catch the view between the trunks of two trees.
The top of the south rim was the only ice. It is there through April some years. Here is the closest, full view of Taughannock Falls from the North Rim. It is the same view you will find in my Fine Art version of the falls.
And a cell phone video of the falls for the full effect.
Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved
The landscapes I capture, like the face of a missing friend, fade gently from memory. My piece “Moon Fin Canyon de Chelly” became a mysterious vision. I remembered the context, the canyon topology was lost until I constructed the panorama, above, from three shots taken one evening, July 2008, from a cliff near the White House Overlook. Five years after my visit with Sean Wills, Pam and I returned to Canyon de Chelly to walk the same path.
At that time, a 50 mm lens was my widest angle, so I would take multiple images in sequence and use Photoshop later to construct a panorama. This past Sunday afternoon I spent stitching together my work from 2008. In doing so I see “my fin”, in the center, bordered by the canyon road, is attached to the White House Ruin cliff via a thin ridge.
During that session a photogenic thunderhead, lit by the evening, hovered behind the fin as the gibbous moon did that long ago evening.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a gallery of the same photos. It is fun to flip back and forth with me disappearing from the scene.
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.
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.
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.
This quiet nook is hidden along the Oak Creek Canyon trail, though easy enough to find.
I visited there just at dawn when the air was still and the usually busy site deserted.
Oak Creek Canyon is named for the native, evergreen oak species unique to desert environments. The leaves conserve moisture: small, thick. I remember camping at the Chiricahua National Monument on November. All night the acorns fell onto the metal picnic tables, a loud metallic thunk.
The post header is a primrose flower growing on the bank of Oak Creek.
Recognize the rock from “Oak Creek Mandala”? This is farther up the Oak Creek Canyon trail, “photograph by Pam Wills.” I am in my warm weather photography kit of the time having passed the camera to Pam for the shot.