Slidefire in Oak Creek Canyon

Smoke filling the Flagstaff sky today from the Slide fire. Photo by Amy Dryden

Smoke filling the Flagstaff sky today from the Slide fire. Photo by Amy Dryden

Two weeks ago we camped with our tent trailer at beautiful Cave Springs Campground in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona.  We have lived for decades in the area, but never actually camped in the canyon previously.

Yesterday, Tuesday, May 20, a devastating wildfire started in the canyon south of the Cave Springs Campground, and has been whipped along by high winds. Twenty-four hours later it is estimated at 4500 acres and has topped out of the canyon and approaches Flagstaff, Arizona. ABC News 15, reports at this time the fire is zero percent contained. (Air15 fire photos at the link)

T is for Texas Canyon, Tombstone and The Thing

If you drive a car on I10 in southern Arizona, you will undoubtedly see sign after sign asking “The Thing?”  In fact, a miracle in advertising, the first signs begin near El Paso, TX, traveling west. By the time you arrive at exit 322, in the middle of the desert between Willcox and Benson, Arizona, your curiosity should be aroused.  For a whole dollar, you can find out just what The Thing, the Mystery in the Desert, is.  And you can buy an ice cream cone, or other tourist delights.

In the same southeastern corner of the state you will encounter beautiful Texas Canyon, rich in the history of Arizona Territory, the Butterfield Stage Route, ranching, and Apache country.

Entrance to the historic Adams Ranch in Texas Canyon

Entrance to the historic Adams Ranch in Texas Canyon

Fascinating rock sculptures in Texas Canyon

Fascinating rock sculptures in Texas Canyon

Mesquites in Texas Canyon

Mesquites in Texas Canyon

Balanced rocks in Texas Canyon, Arizona

Balanced rocks in Texas Canyon, Arizona

Texas Canyon, Arizona

Texas Canyon, Arizona

A few minutes driving will take you to famous Tombstone, Arizona. In 1877 Ed Schieffelin announced to cavalry stationed in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, that he intended prospecting in the valley of the San Pedro River.  He was warned that he would only “find his tombstone there.” It was a dangerous time in Arizona Territory because this was Apache country.  But he persisted, found silver and staked the Tombstone and Graveyard claims.  Soon other rich deposits were discovered and more prospectors came and the town of Tombstone blossomed. It was a rough, tough boomtown until 1886 when fire destroyed the pump works and the mines flooded.  Tombstone remains as a thriving tourist attraction, complete with shootouts in the streets, busy saloons, stagecoaches and people dressed in the best of western wear.

Tombstone gunfighters

Tombstone gunfighters

Tombstone retains some of its rough and tough attitude

Tombstone retains some of its rough and tough attitude

Last stage to Tombstone

Last stage to Tombstone

 

O is for Outdoor

Arizonans are outside a lot.  Here is a big factor:

Desert Average Temperature highs and lows:

January                   67                46

February                  71                49

March                       77               54

April                          85               60

May                           95                69

June                        104               78

July                          106               83

August                     104               83

September              100               77

October                     89               65

November                 76               53

December                 66               45

See that lovely winter range of temperatures? Plenty to do outdoors when it’s freezing in other areas.  Golf, marathons, triathlons, swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, biking, camping, and the sports venues are amazing. We have botanical gardens, zoos, wildlife and don’t forget NASCAR. Even when it is HOT in the deserts of Arizona, we play outdoors.  If we want a change of scenery, a couple of hours drive will take us to lovely mountain lakes, ski areas and hiking and climbing spots.  Outdoors, Desert Botanical Outdoors-snow, skiing Outdoors Triathlon Outdoors sunset Outdoors Squirrel Outdoors Sports Outdoors OakCreek Outdoors hiking, riding Outdoors hiking desert Outdoors Grand Canyon Outdoors Fishing Outdoors Ducks Outdoors Burros Outdoors Beaver Creek Outdoors Bartlett Lake Speedboat Outdoors -biking

 

 

 

M is for Mesquite

Mesquite Bosque in Tucson

Mesquite Bosque in Tucson

Known as the Tree of Life to the Pima Indians, the Mesquite (mess-KEET) is common in the deserts of Arizona.  There are three native species in Arizona, the Honey Mesquite, the Velvet Mesquite and the Screwbean Mesquite.  Mesquites can grow into large, shady trees and are used in landscaping as well as found growing wild.

Mesquites are members of the Fabaceae Family, one of the largest plant families. A familiar member of this family is the pea plant. The unifying characteristic of these plants is the seed pod they create, called a legume. Many legumes are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into compounds useful to plants, through the nodules they have on their roots.  Mesquites are able to do this and this makes them valuable to the other plants in the poor growing conditions of a desert.  They also act as nurse trees for slow-growing plants.  Birds, insects and other animals rely on the Mesquite beans as a food source and for shade and nesting. Often the Mesquites found throughout the desert are no more than a shrub, but under good conditions, they become large trees. Mesquites bloom in the Spring with creamy yellow dense, narrow clusters.

Mesquite flowers

Mesquite in bloom, North Mountain Preserve, Phoenix.

Historic records show that every part of the Mesquite had a use to the native peoples, for wood, for flour made of ground pods (pinole), the bark for baskets, medicines, and fabric. Today they are used in much the same ways. Mesquite burns slowly and is nearly smokeless, so it is popular as fuelwood. It makes an aromatic charcoal for barbecuing. Mesquite honey is very popular.

The Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina, is very common in the southern part of Arizona.  It is remarkable in appearance because of fuzzy, short hairs that cover the entire tree and pods, making it look velvety.  The pods when ripe are narrow and brown and up to 8 inches long. This tree can grow a very long taproot, allowing it to access water deep underground. The Velvet Mesquite can get quite large, with a two-foot trunk and 30 feet tall or more. They can be found along streams or washes in shady thickets. Along some desert rivers, like the Verde and the San Pedro, dense mesquite bosques (forest in Spanish) can be found.

The Honey Mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa, has large spikes or thorns of up to three and a half inches and a sweet taste that make its beans delicious. The bean pods are mostly straight and up to 8 inches long. Its flower is a favorite of bees.  It is a smaller tree than the Velvet Mesquite.

The Screwbean Mesquite, Prosopis pubesens, like the Velvet Mesquite, has rough bark that separates into long, narrow strips. The bean pod on this tree gives it the name, Screwbean, because instead of a long straight pod, the pod is tightly coiled and spirals to 2 inches.

Mesquites growing on the shore at Lake Pleasant, with wild burros.

Mesquites growing on the shore at Lake Pleasant, with wild burros.

Arid

The most common adjective people seem to associate with Arizona is “dry.” Many factors combine to create an ecosystem that many label as desert.  The amount of  annual precipitation alone, 10 inches or less, is not the whole story.  Arizona is also sunny, sometimes windy and experiences temperature extremes.  During a twenty-four hour period, a range of 40 degrees is not unusual. These extremes increase
the amount of water that escapes back into the air. The composition of the soil also affects how much water is available.  Yet, Arizona is not devoid of plant and animal life.  Our deserts and high mountain ranges support abundant flora and fauna that is well-adapted to this arid home. Plants and animals here are expert conservationists to make the most of what moisture is available.

Much of the Sonoran Desert depends on seasonal rainfall and responds quickly to a brief storm.

Much of the Sonoran Desert depends on seasonal rainfall and responds quickly to a brief storm.

Reflections in Wet Beaver Creek, northern Arizona

Wet Beaver Creek is an oasis in the Sonoran desert in northern Arizona. It is a perennial stream that is a crucial source of water for elk, bear, deer, mountain lion, small animals and birds.

Willcox Playa

The Willcox Playa is an ancient lake bed in southern Arizona that receives only occasional rain but is an important stopover for migratory birds.