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.

Elderberry wine? Elderberry pie? Elderberry jelly?

Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea

The blue elderberries of northern Arizona are ripening! There are various names for this plant, including elder, Arizona elderberry, American elder, sweet elder, blueberry elder and more. It also has various taxonomic names and changes have recently occurred.  Southwest Biodiversity (swbiodiversity.org) lists it as Sambucus cerulea. All parts of the Elderberry plant are valuable as healing plants in many folk remedies. Flowers are even used medicinally and can be prepared as a tea.

Blue Elderberries are edible

Only blue or purple elderberries are edible. Red elderberry fruits of other species are toxic.

Hiking the Kachina and Weatherford Trails

The Kachina Trail runs along the southern side of the San Francisco Peaks, shown here, at the 9800 foot line. The highest Peak is Humphrey's Peak at 12, 633 feet. (3851 m) This is the highest point in Arizona.

The Kachina Trail runs along the southern side of the San Francisco Peaks, shown here, at the 9800 foot line. The highest Peak is Humphreys Peak at 12, 643 feet. This is the highest point in Arizona. This photo was taken from Schultz Pass Road at about 7000 feet elevation. Flatlanders planning on hiking the area should allow time for acclimation.

Kachina Trail sign 1

The Kachina trail is named for the Kachina Peaks Wilderness through which it runs. The San Francisco Peaks, or Kachina Peaks are sacred to many tribes including the Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo and Zuni. The trail head shown here is located just below the Snowbowl ski area outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Kachina Trail winds through the aspen groves

For much of the 6.8 miles, the Kachina Trail winds through massive groves of Aspen trees.

Kachina trail enters wilderness area

The Kachina Peaks Wilderness area covers over 18,000 acres. and only foot travel is allowed. The ecosystem is fragile, and hikers are encouraged to stay on the trail.

Quaking Aspens and big meadow

Quaking Aspen trees line the edges of the many grass and fern covered meadows.

Hanging garden on layered lava wall

Everywhere are reminders of the violent origin of this mountain, a stratovolcano, which last erupted 1.4 million years ago.The original 16,000 foot summit collapsed, maybe in a blast such as Mt. St. Helens, creating the caldera now named the Inner Basin. Ice ages have passed this way previously, and glaciers scarred the slopes. These peaks are the centerpiece for a huge volcanic field which was last active in AD 1100, when indigenous peoples inhabited the area. Here you can see various layers of lava flows now hung with delicate greenery.

 Long View from clear area

Looking south from the high elevation you can see far into the northern Arizona countryside, spotting some of the 500 cinder cones of the volcanic field.

Ferny slope leads up to peaks

Looking north you can see the tips of several of the San Francisco Peaks, which are above tree line.  Here are Agassiz, Fremont, and Doyle Peaks. The tallest, Humphreys, lies hidden behind the others. If you imagine drawing a line to connect the sides of these slopes up in the air, you can get a picture of how large this volcano once was.

Sunny start

Summer weather around the San Francisco Peaks can change rapidly. What starts out as a sunny day with a low chance of precipitation can change quickly. Do remember to bring plenty of drinking water on your hike. Elevation sickness can be eased by staying hydrated.

Kachina Trail, Rain coming!

The sunny sky can suddenly darken with rain-laden clouds.  Hail is a common occurrence. Come prepared for heavy summer monsoon storms with possible lighting and loud thunder.

Verbena macdougalii

Fields of wildflowers join the ferns in the meadows. These are Verbena macdougalii.

Forest of ferns

The ferns are huge and grow tall in the sunlight. Can you spot the trail? It’s there…

Hiker lost in ferns

Luckily, we hike with our dog, so staying on the trail was easier.

Here's the trail!

Can you see me now? Here’s the trail!

The slope

There are some long uphill slopes and some very rocky passages.

Narrow passage

Some of the trail leads over and through huge boulders.

Ridges and ravines

Eventually the Kachina Trail begins to lead downward towards Schultz Pass and the Weatherford Trail. The trail dips into several ravines carved long ago in the volcanic slopes.

Kachina rain drops on ponderosa

The Weatherford trailhead is located at Schultz Tank at 8800 feet elevation. As you descend toward it, the vegetation changes and you find dense stands of spruce, fir and Ponderosa Pines.

Fine tall ponderosa

Some of the tallest and healthiest Ponderosas along the trail are a good reminder of why these pine trees own that name. The tallest known pine on record is a Ponderosa. Arizona hosts the world’s largest contiguous stand of these trees. Mature trees have orange-brown bark, and some say they smell like vanilla.

After the rain, the insects are visible

After the rain, the insects come out of hiding, and go back to work. This fly is on a Lupine flower.

Weatherford Trail sign

The Kachina Trail intersects with the Weatherford Trail and the Freidlein Prairie Trail.

Weatherford trail is an old road

The Weatherford Trail is an old road that once was an enterprise to take Model T Fords to the mountain top. It has been closed to vehicular traffic. It must have been quite an adventurous ride in a car, back in the day.

A stand of aspen seen from Weatherford

Looking back toward the Peaks from the Weatherford Trail, you get another nice view of a dense grove of Aspen.

Approaching Schultz Tank

Since the Weatherford Trail itself leads uphill again, we take the lower section that leads down to Schultz Tank where it is possible to park a car. There are also bathrooms at Schultz Tank. We left a car at the Snowbowl, hiked one way, and used the second car at Schultz to retrieve the first one.

End of trail, or beginning, depending on your plans

The end of the trail, or perhaps the beginning, if you choose to hike up to the Snowbowl trailhead, or take the Weatherford trail to up Doyle Saddle.

There’s Fungus Among Us

Arizona’s monsoon rains in the mountains produce a summer crop of mushrooms, toadstools, slime molds and other delights.  Here are a few that have appeared already this 2014 season.  I don’t know enough about fungi to attempt to identify them for you.  Experts can determine if any are safe to eat, but many are deadly poison. Squirrels seem to eat some of them but I don’t know that is an indicator of human tolerance.I think they are fascinating to find.Coral Fungus Amarita Clusters Determined mushroom Earth Star, Astraeus hygrometricus fungus Squirrels seems to dig these up  Galerina Lycogala slime mold Lycogala terrestre slime mold More spikey ones Mushroom clumps Mushrooms around Aspen Mushrooms at base of tree Mushrooms Pinched face one Red Mushroom Spikey white mushroom Tan Mushroom coming thru pine needles Truly weird orange mushroom two stages same mushroom Yellow mushrooms Yellow slime mold