Saturday, March 14, 2015

Bye Bye AZ for another year.

We took our last walk in Sabino Canyon on Friday and as usual it did not disappoint.  

Here are a fw of the things that caught our eye.  On the bird front there was no activity in the raven nest but we did manage to see one of the finches sitting on their tiny nest.  Neither one of these produced much in way of pictures.  For that we had to wait until we got on the path behind the dam where the Coopers Hawks live.  I did get a great shot of one of them sitting majestically in a tree near their nest.




New on the scene was this pair of House Finches


 
And of course the Cactus Wrens were on their stations.

 
In  spite of our constant trekking in the past two months we even saw a few new flowers.
 
This is called Mexican Vervain
 
 
 
Jan was thrilled to discover this one on the Bluff Trail. It is the Coulder Hibiscus and it a beauty.
 
We've seen Baby Bonnets below, but this shot was pretty enough to lobby for a return viewing. .



The butterfly watch turned up an Empress Leilia   
 


and an Echo Spring Azure munching on a Fiddleneck.



And our Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar was still hanging around. 

 
 
We will especially miss the path in the Riparian area that takes us to the little pond behind the dam
 
 
We'll off for now and hope to rejoin the blogosphere sometime after we return to the Midwest. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Gila Monster Day at Sabino Canyon



We don't need guides to take us around the canyon anymore.  We can stumble about all by ourselves and still find something to look at that intrigues, excites us, or more likely stumps us.


We started off the day with a good looking Triangle Leaf Bursage.  No problems there.


After some looking in our books this seems to be Dogweed, but there are a hell of a lot of yellow flowers out there.


 
For instance this may be Desert Senna or it may be some other DYF (damn yellow flower.)

 
 
There are a lot of whites too and it doesn't help if two flowers literally on the same Chickory plant sit side by side and don't look any more alike than a Doberman and a Spaniel.


 
Sometimes identification does get easy though.  This here nasty fellow is a Graythorn Bush and you do not want to tangle with it.



 Another one we are getting pretty good at is Mustard Evening Primrose
 

 
And this is Odora with a bit of Lupine thrown in for color


 
 Jan thinks this is cat claw acacia.  I am not convinced. Answer will have to wait for next year.

No dispute on this one. We have been following the Pipevine on which the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs for several weeks. We saw the eggs and now we are seeing the caterpillars. They are a bit scary looking but don't worry--they're only about an inch long.
 
You want worry, try this one on.  At the end of our walk and only about 1/4 of a mile from the crowded visitor center, we spied this creature lumbering along just off the trail . The Gila monster is indeed a scary beast.  They are poisonous and if they get ahold of something they don't release it easily. Keep your hands in your pockets and keep your distance.

 

Great finish to a great day.
 
Moral: Don't put your camera away until you are back at your car.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ned's Nature Walk With Anne

Ned's Nature Walk group was so big today that they split it into smaller groups.  We went with, "I stop for plants" Anne.  Our route took us up the Esperero Trail to the intersection with the Rattlesnake Trail and then back down the main road.

What did we see that was new and exciting?     Sandbells.


 
Then Chia, which is a rather skunky smelling member of the mint family.  Flowers are arranged in little pagoda like balls.  Seeds are in some kind of nutlet and are used in the Chia Pet industry.


 


We've seen these before but have always had trouble identifying them.  Anne says, and she is the Mustard Queen, that it is the Mustard Desert Primrose.

 
 
Again we've seen this before on the cliffs on the Bluff Trail and didn't know its name.  Anne nailed it down as Arizona Spike Moss. It stays brown and dead looking until it gets water and then will green up almost immediately.  A more common name is Resurrection Moss or Vampire Moss as it seems to change so rapidly.


Not at all new as it is everywhere, but the Caliche Globe Mallow can make a pretty picture.

For ID purposes I have generally tried to take closeups of single plants.  That tends to ignore the beauty of mixed blooms that make bouquets all over the desert at this time of year. Here is a nice spread of Chickory, Fairy Dusters, and Sand Bells



As the day warmed up the butterflies started to appear. I think this is an Empress Leilia not a Texan Crescent.
 


This one matches up nicely in our butterfly cheat book as the Southern Dogface




The critters just don't want to sit very still or pose with their wings open so the guess on this one is provisional. Let's try an Orange Skipperling here as a possible. Click on image to get an enlargement.

 
Lizards aren't any easier to identify as many of them are able to change colors to blend in with their environment.  We're pretty sure this is the Side-blotched Lizard.

 
This is a Greater Earless Lizard. 

 
 

We had some discussion on this one. I think it might be a female Eastern Collared Lizard; others weighed in as a side-blotched with its normal turquoise speckles on upper back and tail. Look carefully as the head is actually visible center left.  

 



 
 Nobody argued here.  It's clearly the Southwestern Stogie Bush.  

 

 
MORAL: You can find almost anything in the desert if you look.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Excursion to the top of Mount Lemmon

It's about 25 miles from the eastern part of Tucson up the Catalina and General Hitchcock Highways to the 8000 foot summit of Mount Lemmon.  The road is smooth but full of switchbacks and curves that may give someone unfamiliar with mountain driving a certain amount tension. Weekend crowds  and tons of cyclists can increase the strain. Take your time and don't exceed the speed limits.   

It was a sunny Monday morning when we headed out and traffic was blessedly light. We took our time with stops at almost every listed vista point on the Sky Island Scenic Byway map provided by the Coronado National Forest folks.  What follows is some of what you can expect to see on your trip.

You begin on the valley floor and you can see where the highway begins its climb into the foothills on that light colored slash just above the trees on the right.



You climb quickly and in short order are looking back down at the straight flat road you left just minutes ago.


Just as fast you leave the bahada (initial foothills)  behind.


About seven miles up we pulled in to the



This is now a campground and picnic area, but from the 30's to the 70's it was the site of a prison camp that housed prisoners who provided labor to help build the road.  The story of  the campground's namesake is too long to tell here but click on Learn more to get a rundown on this Japanese-American's battle against interment during WWII.

At the 8.4 mile marker you can look out at the Thimble Peak area. The peak at the top is a hard granite intrusion called a "sill." The jagged cliffs just below the thimble are the Gibbon Mountain Sill. These sills are only 50 million years old and were injected in molten form into the 1.4 billion year old Oracle granite.  The whole caboodle was lifted up later and erosion of softer materials has now exposed the harder surfaces.




A few miles further on you can stop at the Seven Cataracts vista to see a series of  (now dry) waterfalls that are carving out what might be a new canyon in a few million more years.


At 14 miles you reach Windy Point Vista where several geologic features can be viewed.

First you notice that the Tucson Valley has been left far behind.




And the highway is a narrow ribbon far below.


Around and above and below you are granite spires and cliffs that have splintered and eroded into strange and beautiful forms.







The cliffs make for some challenging rock climbing. See the climber in white below.

 
When you stroll out onto the main Windy Point cliff you can see Tafoni which are formed by a combination of water and wind. 


Another feature formed by nature's elements are these irregular depressions called solution pans.

Many of the forms begin to take on imaginative shapes.





None of them are push-overs no matter how hard you try.



My favorite shot has nothing to do with geology. It is just a look at "Selfie Heaven"



At 17.5 miles up you can peer over the top of the Catalinas and look down on the other side and see the San Pedro River Valley.


You can also begin to see the still standing upright scars of the horrible forest fire of 2003. It ravaged the mountain and almost totally destroyed the little town of Summerhaven.




 
 

Finally at 27 miles up you can see the top.

We took a lunch break at this restaurant in the ski area.


And then it was a quick trip downhill until we hit the flatness of the valley once again.
 

 


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