Hiking in the Cool Country of Northern Arizona

A short, easy Summer loop hike from Snow Bowl Road on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff leads to Alfa Fia Tank.

The Trailhead for Alfa Fia Tank

The Trailhead for Alfa Fia Tank begins at this post and rail fenced meadow. Parking a car is easy.

The San Francisco Peaks as seen from the shoulder of the mountain.

The San Francisco Peaks as seen from the shoulder of the mountain.

A butterfly on wild Iris.

A butterfly on wild Iris.

Deep ferns line the trail.

Deep ferns line the trail.

Aspen, Spruce and Ponderosa Pine trees.

Aspen, Spruce and Ponderosa Pine trees.

The first view of the meadow and the distant cinder cones of the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

The first view of the meadow and the distant cinder cones of the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

Alfa Fia Tank.

Alfa Fia Tank.

Tall Aspens surround the meadow.

Tall Aspens surround the meadow.

Aspen Corner -  Alfa Fia Tank don't fence me in-1

The meadow offers many great picnic spots.

The area once was fenced, but only the posts and a few strands of barbed wire remain.

The area once was fenced, but only the posts and a few strands of barbed wire remain.

Rain closes in on the trail.

Rain closes in on the trail. The Summer monsoon season typically lasts through July, with frequent showers and thunderstorms.

Filled with Surprises

Cave Creek area desert wash

I enjoy finding things about Arizona that are new to me after living here for a lifetime. I grew up hiking with my father and scouring the ground ahead and around me for rocks that he would help me identify. I find myself doing the same thing now with plants. Sometimes the new ones are minuscule, as this morning’s find.

I took a quick hike in the Cave Creek area, and deep in a wash were these amazingly tiny specimens. Can you spot them?

Cave Creek Eriastrum diffusum, Phlox Family ( Polemoniaceae ), Miniature Wool Star

Sometimes to really see what’s out there in nature, you have to get in really close.

Cave Creek in April Eriastrum diffusum, Phlox Family ( Polemoniaceae ), Miniature Wool Star

Cave Creek Eriastrum diffusum, Phlox Family ( Polemoniaceae ), Miniature Wool Star

Yes, crawling about on hands and knees can be dirty and awkward, and I do have to watch out for spines and biting things, but the interesting things are there to be found. These tiny flowers bloom in the desert in April and are called Miniature Wool Star, Eriastrum diffusum, Phlox Family (Polemoniaceae) I don’t recall seeing them before, but they actually are very common. Often they might be larger than these, up to 8 inches in height. These were barely 2 inches off the ground.

The Desert Botanical Garden Butterfly Pavilion

Naturally, once all the desert plants begin producing bright flowers, the first to be aware of them are the various types of pollinators. This is a small sample of the many beautiful butterflies housed in the spacious Butterfly Pavilion within the Desert Botanical Garden.

 Agraulis vanillae,  Gulf Fritillary

Agraulis vanillae, Gulf Fritillary

Anartia jatrophae, White Peacock

Anartia jatrophae, White Peacock

 Battus philenor, Pipevine Swallowtail

Battus philenor, Pipevine Swallowtail

Buckeye, Vanessa cardui_

Buckeye, Vanessa cardui_

Zebra Longwing

Zebra Longwing

Male Papillio troilus, Spicebush Swallowtail

Male Papillio troilus, Spicebush Swallowtail

Zebra Longwing, Heliconius charitonius

Zebra Longwing, Heliconius charitonius

A Zebra Longwing, Heliconius charitonius

A Zebra Longwing, Heliconius charitonius

Bursting with Vibrant Color

A bee wallows in the pollen filling this yellow prickly pear bloom.

A bee wallows in the pollen filling this yellow prickly pear bloom.

At this time of year the Sonoran desert is filled with flowering cacti.  These samples of prickly pear flowers are all from the Desert Botanical Garden, but you can encounter them throughout the Arizona desert. These hardy plants adapt to suit their location and are found throughout the state, from lowland deserts to high elevations.

A bee is making an interesting approach to the flowers on this pricklypear.

A bee is making an interesting approach to the flowers on this pricklypear.

This  pricklypear has lovely yellow blossoms and very long spines.

This prickly pear has lovely yellow blossoms and very long spines.

Englemann's Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii) has pink buds but yellow flowers.

Englemann’s Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii) has pink buds but yellow flowers.

This Beavertail Prickly Pear has bright pink flowers.

This Beavertail Prickly Pear has bright pink flowers.

A delicate orange flower on a large opuntia, or Prickly Pear cactus.

A delicate orange flower on a large opuntia, or Prickly Pear cactus.

A Bunny Ears Prickly Pear Cactus. Opuntia microdasys

A Bunny Ears Prickly Pear Cactus. Opuntia microdasys

Brilliant orange flowers cover this large prickly pear.

Brilliant orange flowers cover this large prickly pear.

The Life of an Arizona Hedgehog

Hedgehog cacti grow from seeds found within their fruit and spread by the birds and desert animals that eat them. A clump of columnar stems four to twelve inches tall makes up a single cactus. A cactus might have sixty stems in a clump. There are many varieties of Hedgehog cacti.

At low altitudes in the Sonoran desert, the most common Hedgehog is the Saint’s Cactus, or Strawberry Cactus, Engelmann’s Hedgehog, a member of the Cactaceae, Echinocereus engelmannii.

Hedgehog closeup New Hedgehog buds Very long Hedgehog spinesMarch is a good month to look for Hedgehogs in the desert, as they begin blooming at this time of year. The Engelmann’s Hedgehog produces purple to magenta blooms that are two to three and a half inches wide. This cactus blooms during the daytime and closes at night. The red fruit will mature in late Spring or early Summer.

Hedgehog with early buds 1Hedgehog with tall stems Strawberry Hedgehog flower Engelmann's Hedgehog bud opening

They are said to taste like strawberries and are a favorite of small animals and birds like the curve-bill Thrasher, which can easily   reach the fruit with its long bill.

Curved bill thrasher

At higher altitudes, the Claret Cup or Crimson Hedgehog, Echinocereus triglochidiatus grows.

Claret cup hedgehog Desert Botanical Garden Claret Cup Hedgehog Cactus Claret Cup  Claret Cup

Claret Cup or Crimson Hedgehog is shorter and more densely arranged than the Engelmann’s Hedgehog. They also differ in that the Claret Cup typically blooms at night and closes during the day. They are the only Hedgehog cacti with red flowers.