November is a special time for the ranges and basins of southern Arizona deserts. Climb a bajada of foothills, face west and wait for the sunset. That is what I did this day, November 3, 2005. East of Tucson the Saguaro National Monument at the foot of the Rincon Mountain Wilderness is where I parked, unpacked the photo gear and climbed the side of the Tanque Verde Ridge for a favorable view. Weather was pushing high level moisture from the west, clouds were developing.
You see here a shot from that session. In the distance, looking across Tanque Verde, are the Santa Catalina mountains. Months since the last rainfall, the giant Saguaros are using internal moisture reserves drawn up from a shallow root system, the flesh is less plump, the supporting structure of the ribs, always evident, are more pronounced. The last light catches these ribs in relief against a dramatic sky.
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 Rincons are one of 42 Sky Mountain islands isolated from each other by the gradual warming and drying climate changes since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. While this marvelous environment of oak and pine forests only accessible with much effort on foot, it is literally visible from every point of the Tucson valley and million human inhabitants.
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.
Here the red rock of the northwestern corner of the Navajo Nation was pulverized into sand by the action of wind, water, sun and cold. The red sand flows here over a water-shaped bench, having blown into the darkness of a narrow canyon, called a slot.
I waited in the dry darkness of upper Antelope Canyon for the perfect moment to capture the spirit of the place.
In my last post, Homecoming Parade 2003, I described my initial reconnection with the University of Arizona (U of A) as a 1975 graduate and alumnus. This personal project of involvement with U of A and Arizona continued through 2011 with annual autumn trips to coincide with Homecoming. The travel was as a CALS (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) Alumni Board of Directors member, a primary responsibility was raising funds for scholarships.
The Amerind Foundation and weathered boulders of Texas Canyon granite. Beyond are the Dragoon Mountains
I met, Linda Kelly, the owner of the Triangle T Guest Ranch, while camping in the Chiricahua Mountains. I arrived a week before homecoming to photographing the landscape, nature and rock formations of the Chiricahua National Monument. Click this link for my Arizona Online gallery, including some work from that time. Linda and a friend were visiting that day and we struck up a conversation about the area and her Triangle T Guest ranch. The next day I was scheduled to guest lecture a class at the U of A, as an alumnus of CALS. The ranch was on the way and I needed a place to stay, so Linda gave me directions and I checked in.
She gave me a tour of the incredible weather granite rock formations of Texas Canyon and, meanwhile, shared stories of the history of Texas Canyon. It is appropriate for the Amerind Foundation to be here (see first photograph), the winter camp of an Apache tribe for generations.
Weathered granite boulders greet visitors to the Triangle T Ranch.
That night, my request was for a room storied to be haunted by a spirit they call “Grandma,” as in when her foot steps wake you from a sound sleep you say, “It’s all right, Grandmother.” She woke me that night, footsteps in the dark, hollow on the wood floor, the room filled with a hard cold. I talked to her, without a response, while swinging my legs out of bed to reach the gas heater in the wall. I turned on the heat and the sound of expanding metal heat fins lulled me to sleep.
I call this pair, “Father and Son.” The restaurant is built around a round boulder.
It made a good story for the students. They were surprised I could fall back asleep, but after all I had to be there the following morning.
Your imagination roams among the natural forms.
I gave Linda a few of my photographs from that day and we made arrangements for the Triangle T to supply a two night package for the CALS “Dean’s Almost World Famous Burrito Breakfast” silent auction during 2008 homecoming.
A tableau of figures keep silent watch with the ghosts of Texas Canyon.