Survival

live on a Sky Island

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).

Informative sign at campsite

Reference: wikipedia article “Sky Islands.”

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Cochise Spring

ancestral Apache land

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.”

Informative sign at campsite

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

Bridging the Lethe

notes from November 2231 AD

Hook

Ancient legends speak of the River Lethe, crossed by departing souls.  The waters of the Lethe wash away memory, allowing for spiritual rebirth, reincarnation, a return to the world in new form.

SycamoreGrove20170404-10

This memory implant represents a bridge over the Lethe.

Footbridge over Enfield CreekFor those chosen to cross over to the new land in return for

Sycamore Grove

their treasure, lives and selves.

Sycamore Grove

Description

This virtual monoculture glade from the long time of forests,

Sycamore Grove

a place of happy gatherings, of families, plentiful food and water.

Sycamore Grove

These sycamores grew over centuries, through thousands of days, wider than 10 people,

Sycamores

white with age as the outer covering, called bark, falls away.

Sycamores

forked, trunks

Sycamore Trunk

climbing to the sky.

Sycamore Sky
Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

The Thaw at Taughannock Falls

A Friday Evening Stroll through a February Thaw

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.”

Click the photograph for my “Finger Lakes Memories” Online gallery.

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.

View from the Overlook on the way to the trail. This is the endpoint of our hike, viewed from the gorge rim.

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.

Click photograph for my “Finger Lakes Memories” online gallery. Photo by Pam.

You can just pick out the viewing bridge in the Falls Overlook video.

Click photograph for my “Finger Lakes Memories” Online Gallery.
Photo by Pam.

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.

Click photograph for my “Finger Lakes Memories” Online Gallery

The surrounding gorge walls are continually frost coated by the mist.

Click the photograph for my “Finger Lakes Memories” Online Gallery
210 foot Taughannock Falls from the viewing bridge.

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.

Above Muirthemne Plain

Romance of Ruins

This series of posts started with “Proleek, Grandfather McCardle’s home” where we explored the site of great grandfather James McCardle’s Proleek farm.  A kilometer from there, at Proleek Dolmen, the ancient portal stones line up to face the plain rising to Slieve Gullion, a name for the mountain taken from the Irish,  Sliabh gCuillinn, meaning “mountain of the steep slope” or Sliabh Cuilinn, “Culann’s mountain.”

There is an connection between Proleek and Slieve Gullion.  Cycles of Irish Myth place a boy named Sétanta living on Muirthemne Plain, of which what we call Proleek Townland was a part.  One day, the king Conchobar was passing his kingdom, Muirthemne, on the way to a feast on the slopes of Slieve Gullion hosted by the blacksmith Culann when he stopped to watch boys playing hurling, Sétanta among them (it is ironic the Proleek Dolmen is surrounded by a golf course in modern times).

Impressed by the Sétanta’s skill, the king invites him to the feast.  Having a game to finish Sétanta promises to follow.  As evening falls the boy approaches the smith’s house to find himself attacked by a huge, aggressive dog.  Acting in the moment, Sétanta dispatches the dog with the hurley and ball he had at hand, driving the ball down the hound’s throat.  (In another version he smashes the hound against a standing stone.)

Feeling Culann mourn the loss of his beloved animal, Sétanta promises to raise and train a guard dog equal to the one he slew.  Until that time he also pledged to guard Culann’s home.  From that time Sétanta was known as “the hound of Cullann”, Cú Chulainn in Irish.

References
Wikipedia articles “Slieve Gullion” “Cú Chulainn” and “Conaille Muirtheimne.”

The Striking Colors of Petrohué Waterfalls

Emerald Water, colored by glacial minerals

Glacial meltwater from Lake Todos los Santos (All Saints Lake) forms Petrohué River and, where the river flows over lava from the Orsorno Volcano, Petrohué Falls. This set of photographs features the emerald color the river originating from glacial minerals.

Click any photograph for a larger view.

A strangeness of these photographs is this is the middle of February, Chilean summertime.

Force of Nature

Another strangeness, not readily apparent, is the effect of the Coriolis force. Here in the Northern Hemisphere water (any moving mass, really) moving perpendicular to the rotating surface of the earth (a property of water is the surface follows the contour of the solid surface over which it flows) will tend to flow in a clockwise direction. Crossing the equator, in the Southern Hemisphere the tendency reverses, tending to flow to the left, counter-clockwise. With some imagination the effect of the Coriolis force can be seen in the following photograph.

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.

Abstracts: graceful shadows

Shadow and Rock

Two Nature Abstracts, macros of Reavis Creek below the falls

The light of a early spring desert afternoon on a broad rock shelves along the creek.

I spent a day hiking in, two days hiking out and a day of canyoneering to the foot of Reavis Falls. The featured (i.e. “header”) photograph is a view of the inner canyon, the raw material for these abstracts.

Click this Link for a Superstition Wilderness Adventure

Waterfall Textures

Unrestrained chaos at the foot of Arizona’s highest waterfall

I received notice of IStock acceptance of select photographs from my last posting, “Wilderness Textures”, was accepted.  Click to view my IStock Portfolio, including  photographs from today’s posting included in the acceptance notice.

In this post I move up the Reavis Creek canyon from where the last posting, “Wilderness Textures”, was sited to the foot of Reavis Falls.  With the first photograph you look up at the falls from the head of the canyon carved by the creek over eons.  The rock wall, the canyon “head”, is thick with microorganisms, fungi, mosses.

Reavis Creek Water and Light – CLICK ME for more abstract photography.

In the foreground is a jumble of boulders, some washed down at flood time, spread wide at the bottom of the falls, piled to a jumbled height of 15 feet. 

Talus is the geological term for this formation.  Derived from the Latin word for slope (talutum) the definition, from the Oxford English Dictionary, is “A sloping mass of detritus lying at the base of a cliff or the like consisting of material fallen from its face.” 

 

The ankle bone is also called talus, from the French word for heel, I bring it up because climbing this chaotic, unstable jumble is a way to break your ankle.  The route to Reavis Falls, a climb up one side of Lime Mountain then down the other on a non-existent (lightly marked) trail, is rated difficult and impossible with a broken leg or ankle.  I was alone and very careful to check each rock for stability before putting my weight on it.

A climb of the talus pile was necessary to view the pool at the waterfall base, for this photograph.

A more artistic vertical format version, below, captured with the Canon EF 100mm “macro” lens.  All shots are using the Kodak DCS pro SLR-c (the “c” designated Canon lens compatibility) and a Manfrotto studio tripod with a hydrostatic ball head.  The horizontal format shot was captured with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens.   I prefer the vertical version, artistically, because the talus jumble is all but cropped out while the upper corner of the angular basalt boulder is left as an interesting focal point.  The boulder, not being in the spray, is in focus to contrast with the basalt wall behind the water.

I captured a series of shots from this precarious vantage point, working up from the pool to the brim of the waterfall.

My goals was a composite photo of the falls.  I have yet to succeed with this project.  Maybe I will give it one more shot in spite of having learned the hard lesson the best photographs are a single moment captured in a single frame.

I find in this series the vertical aspect is more artistic.  The water volume, of the falls, at this time of year offers only the finest of sprays with most of the basalt rock wall only moist.  The 100mm “macro” lens allowed me to include only the falling water with a bit of the moist wall for contrast.

In the following version I experimented with color, moving from the narrow range of hues, to more contrast.

Please browse my reasonably priced stock photography. License a photograph, download and use it for your website or blog. Click this link to browse all my Getty IStock Photography offerings.

Or click this link or any photograph or this link to select a print with custom framing from my “Textures” Fine Art Gallery.

Here’s another of my Arizona wilderness adventures, “Racing the Sun.”