In my previous posting “Hoodoos on the Descent to Reavis Falls” I describe how I came to find these strange rock formations during a solo expedition to Reavis Falls in the remote eastern Superstition Wilderness.
Here I present several photographs captured from my tripod mounted Kodak DCS pro slr/c and a Canon EF 200 mm f2.8 L telephoto lens. These provide a better understanding of the strange, wonderful and possibly frightening impressions these formations make when discovered in a deserted location such as Cedar Basin.
Here is the highest point of the ridge….
…..and from a portion of the ridge that projects closer to my observation point above the canyon mouth of Reavis Falls. The numerous green poles are young Saguaro cactus. In the distance are mature Saguaros with lateral arms.
..and even closer than this were the rocks standing around me. This specimen I captured with the 50 mm 1.4 Canon lens. I believe it is a different rock type than the above, rounded, hoodoos. Those look like rock from ash of a volcanic eruption. This rock seems to be igneous, formed deep inside the earth.
My next posting will describe the surroundings of the campsite from which I explored the canyon and Reavis Falls.
Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved
My visit to Finger Rock Canyon of the Santa Catalina Mountains filled two mornings. On the first morning, the subject was the lower canyon as morning light filtered over the eastern ridge.
Early morning to the north / northwest looking over a 20-foot fallen Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantean), toward lower ridges of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The saguaro is among a stand of healthy fellows, some with new growth and flowers on the tips of arms and main columns. This giant must have grown over rock through 60 years. It was brought down when the roots weakened. Specimens that are more reliably rooted can live to 200 years.
A clump of brittlebush shrub (Encelia farinosa) grows from the same rock.
Pima Canyon is the next over, behind that near ridge which provides similar shade. Unlike Finger Rock Canyon, the Pima Canyon trail follows the western cliff and loses the shade much sooner. During our three-week trip, my wife, Pam, and I visited Pima in our first week.
These photos were taken between 6:20 and 7:00 am.
Along the trail I noticed a multitude of buds on the tip of selected saguaro arms. In a previous blog, there’s a photo of this same saguaro in the shade. The following series captures the one blossoming top just as the sun passes over the eastern, shadowing, ridge.
The same saguaro, two minutes later…….
Here is a portion of the saguaro forest, around 7 am with the lower canyon filled with light. There are a few foothill homes with west and southwest Tucson. The Tucson Mountains are in the distance.
Saguaro flowers start as buds on the tip of the cactus body or arm. The specimen in the photograph below, growing in the yard of a foothills home on the border of federal land, is over 30 feet tall and, at the end of April 2011, buds are sprouting from every tip. Look closely for opening buds and full saguaro blossoms.
Flower buds grow only from some tips and around the center, along the sides, not from the point at the very end of the tip, from which the limb grows.
These buds first appeared mid-April and are here shown in the latter stages of maturity, prior to opening. Sometimes, the base of an arm weakens and the arm lowers close to the ground while remaining healthy. While descending the canyon I noticed this had happened to the arm of a particularly large specimen, an arm in full flower. This and the following photographs are from that arm.
I have read that each flower opens in the cool of the night and lasts only until the following afternoon. Here is a fully blossomed flower with a pair of opening buds.
And more, from a different view of the same arm.
A saguaro flower in full bloom, having opened the previous night. This flower will last a single day. It will wilt in the heat of a single afternoon and close. In this brief time, flying animals will pollinate it. You can see numerous honey bees on the flowers, in a previous blog, “Saguaro Flowers in Finger Rock Canyon.”
The perfection of April in Tucson is nowhere better than mornings spent in Finger Rock Canyon of the Catalina Mountains. Oriented on a north/south axis, the eastern cliffs shed a long shadow well past 9:30 am. For early risers such as me, this means no hat and cool hiking to the canyon head: the trail hugs the eastern cliffs.
These three shots were taken 5:30 – 6:00 am mountain time (Arizona does not follow daylight savings time except on the Navajo Reservation).
View North / Northwest from Peter’s Mesa. At our feet is a mature Saguaro Cactus towering over Charlebois Canyon, to the right Black Mountain. Bluff Spring Mountain, middle distance, then Black Top Mesa. Flatiron Peak, of the famed Superstition Mountain, is in distance. Photographed from Peter’s Trail on a March afternoon 2008. Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest, Arizona
Bluff Spring Mountain, middle distance, then Black Top Mesa. Flatiron Peak, of the famed Superstition Mountain, is in distance. Photographed from Peter’s Trail on a March afternoon 2008. Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest, Arizona
The eye of Miner’s Needle is clear in both these South / Southeast views from Peter’s Mesa looking across the Music Canyon.
Many wildflowers, sprinkled like stars through the foreground of the morning photograph with Prickly Pear, Cholla and Saguaro cactus. Beware of “Jumping Cholla”, named for its seeming ability to attack passers-by. Another name, “Hanging Chain Cholla”, is more appropriate. Each chain with many hooked barbs is lightly attached to the branch, ready to snag a ride from unwary hikers.
Light rakes across the landscape in the evening photograph, taken from another vantage point on Peter’s Mesa. Miner’s Needle is four (4) miles away “as the crow flies,” i.e., line of sight distance.
View North / Northwest from Peter’s Trail looking back the way we came. Black Mountain on right, Bluff Spring Mountain left with LaBarge Canyon running to the Red Hills center. On a March afternoon 2008.
Here we are climbing Peters Trail to the eponymous mesa and facing East to Music Mountain. Scattered in the brush are desiccated and live Prickly Pear cactus. Poles of young saguaro cactus like randomly placed telephone poles poke up around the lower slopes.
The first published record of Music Mountain is by Ray C. Howland of Mesa Arizona who sent a letter to “Everybody’s Magazine” that appeared in a feature called “Everybody’s Meeting Place: Where writers, readers and the editor gather for informal discussion,” May 1928, Volume 58, Issue 5, page 173. I reproduce Howland’s letter here with minor editing:
“I am in the deserts and mountains of Arizona most of the time. I go into town once each month for mail and provisions. I meet many things as I ramble around, many strange things, things that are beyond my ability to comprehend. One particular was in my mind as I read your printed thought in the back of Everybody’s. Far in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, in the deepest, most rugged canyon, there are three caves halfway up a great yellow bluff. In these caves are mud dwellings. There are not the cliff-dwelling as found in other parts of Arizona.
The mud walls of these dwellings were made by people with very small hands. The handprints of these ancient masons remain as though they were made yesterday. Just below these caves a beautiful pool of crystal-clear water lies between grassy banks. Tall ghostlike sycamores grow there in great numbers.
I have camped many times beneath those sycamores. It is a beautiful spot. Such a difference between there and the hot desert that lies fifteen miles to the south.! As one lies there, just at twilight, begins the most wonderful music one could imagine. I have never heard music that could compare to it, vague, elusive at times, then again of greater volume. It is my opinion that no living being could record it.
The music is, I believe, beyond description. It seems to take you out of your moral self and transport you back ages and ages, almost to the beginning of things. For the time being one feels as though he were in another world.
I have often tried to solve this little private mystery. I can’t explain it. I can’t even describe it intelligently.
You will probably say as you read this that is is the wind among the pinnacles, caves, trees, etc. that make this wonder phenomenon. It cannot be, for usually there is no breeze in the mountains at twilight. It is still as a tomb except for that music. Besides when the breeze is blowing at any other hours of the day there is no sound.”
Here is a copy of that issue for you to see for yourselves.
In my photographs the bluffs described by Howland are seen clearly in the distance. During our expedition we were never able to visit the caves, though Dave described the location, caves, and dwellings. On Peter’s Mesa are remains of pits where Apaches and Yavapais gathered hearts of agave to roast. We visited a small cave in the side of Peter’s Mesa showing signs of high heat and possibly used for roasting agave.
After a respite among the cool spring waters, we headed up Peters Trail for the top of Peter’s mesa where, for all we knew, there was no water.
In this photograph I face northwest, looking down on Dutchman Trail. The peak, upper center left, is Black Mountain. The cleft of Charlebois Canyon is lower middle right. Stag Horn Cholla cactus is lower right with Prickly Pear cactus scattered in the brush. Poles of young saguaro cactus are scattered around the lower slopes. Look carefully and you can make out the pooled water of our rest stop.
Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved
As we descended Upper Black Top Mesa Pass into Bluff Spring Mountain canyon we found, foreground, Palo Verde and brittle bush, and, midground, Saguaro. The presence of Palo Verde reveals water flows through this area intermittently though not enough to sustain a large tree. Palo Verde is in the pea family (Fabaceae), as evidenced by production of seeds in pods.
Calling it “Buff Mountain” some say the mountain is named for these buff-colored cliffs. Others, calling it “Bluff Spring Mountain” name it for the cliffs and the spring within a canyon on top.
Closer to the junction with Terrapin Trail this Bluff Spring Mountain ridge rose above us. A fine specimen of mature Saguaro cactus is in midground.
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