Baboquivari Peak

Approaching Kitt Peak

The Contreras fire threatening Kitt Peak last month brought to mind a spring visit of mine to the National Observatory.

From downtown Tucson get onto Interstate 10, heading “east” toward El Paso. East in quotations as the road only turns east after the fork for Interstate 19, headed south past San Xavier del Bac mission and Nogales at the Mexican border. A few miles down I19, well before the mission, a turnoff for Arizona route 86, a road you’ll follow the better part of 36 miles, passing the Tucson Mountains on the right. Most days, the Mayall Telescope of Kitt Peak shines bright white ahead, as it did the right after dawn on Wednesday, April 20, 2005.

At some point R86 enters the 4,453.307 square mile extent Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation, you pass the town Three Points where Arizona route 286 heads south to Sasabe and the Mexican border. The next turn south is the Kitt Peak access road, Arizona route 386. On that Wednesday I was so early the gate to the peak was locked, so I pulled off the road and waited. It is a lonely place on the route for migrants from Mexico. I wandered off the road, into a wash (dry, sandy stream bed), to relieve myself, where junk from migrants was scattered around. Back in the car a helicopter approached with a black SUV. A big guy got out, walking by into the wash: the border patrol.

Here is a photograph from that day of Baboquivari Peak taken from Kitt Peak’

Baboquivari Peak is the most sacred place to the Tohono O’odham people. It is the center of the Tohono O’odham cosmology and the home of the creator, I’itoi. According to tribal legend, he resides in a cave below the base of the mountain. This mountain is regarded by the O’odham nation as the navel of the world – a place where the earth opened, and the people emerged after the great flood. Baboquivari Peak is also sometimes referred to as I’Itoi Mountain. In the native O’odham language, it is referred to as Waw Kiwulik, meaning “narrow about the middle”. The O’odham people believe that he watches over their people to this day. — Wikipedia

Baboquivari Peak was mentioned in the journals of Jesuit missionary Padre Kino, who made many expeditions into this region of the Sonoran Desert, beginning in 1699, establishing Spanish Missions in the area. — Wikipedia

Kitt Peak is in the sacred precinct of Baboquivari, the land just below the peak is the “Gardens of the Sacred Tohono O’odham Spirit I’itoi.” The month of my visit, the O’odham nation brought legal suit against Kitt Peak to halt construction of new telescopes in the garden. The issue was settled out of court.

About the header photograph: From the bottom clockwise. Birds by Anmelia Juan of Geawuk (Kitt Peak 1972) – I purchased this from the Kitt Peak gift shop during my first visit; Turtle by Olvera and Simon Valenquela (Saguaro National Monument 2005); Stars by Simon Valenzuela for his daughter Pasquala Valenquela 16th Birthday (2018). Simon is of the Pascua Yaqui tribe who Learned basketmaking from his wife’s family.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

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.

Sycamores and Riparian Space

a Preview of Reavis Ranch

….continued from the chapter “A Peaceful Day at Pine Creek.”

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.

Click me for the next episode, “Desert Luxuries.”

Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery.

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

First Water Trailhead, repost

A desert garden with plans

….Click me to visit this post of the Sonora Desert in bloom.

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills