Monday, March 02, 2015

Notched a Gila Monster at Saguaro East

Given the crowds at Sabino Canyon on Sundays, we decided to try Saguaro East National Park for our Sabbath walk.

 It was not at all crowded as we drove slowly along the loop road.  A van looked kind of small and lonely at one of the overlooks.

At the Cactus Forest North Trailhead  we pulled off and started our walk.

This trail is mostly wide and fairly flat; they even let people on mountain bikes use it though we only ran into one pair of cyclers.  We ran into a Cottontail almost immediately, but he was moving too fast for photos. We saw a few more later and they too were moving or at a distance.  It soon became apparent that Saguaro East was behind Sabino Canyon in flower development and of course fewer flowers also diminished the number of butterflies.

The only one that sat still long enough for me to catch was this one.

It may be a Painted Lady or our old friend the Texan Crescent.

On the other hand there were still plenty of sightings to keep us occupied.   We saw some fiddlenecks, desert zinnias, and cryptantha and were especially happy with the nicest and brightest stand of Christmas Cholla that we had seen this year.
Stand of Christmas Cholla

Close-up shot of Christmas Cholla fruit

There were spider webs to admire and 

Nice spider web
about 3/4 of a mile along, we did come across one of the remains of the old lime kilns that dotted this area prior to the park's creation.  We were reminded that producing lime for mortar was a major industry, that along with cattle grazing, almost destroyed the saguaro habitat here. Below is the lime kiln site. 

A closeup of the old chimney base is below.


Other ruins were a tribute to the remarkable resilience of the saguaro even in death.

Lone Saguaro Sentinel

You cannot take a walk in the desert without finding a mystery or two.  This was ours this morning. It was a plant we had never seen before and we are still uncertain what it is.

In spite of the mystery we returned to our car mildly disappointed that there weren't  a few more things to see on the trail. We particularly missed hearing and seeing a lot of birds.

That disappointment turned to exhilaration when, on the drive out, less than a half a mile from the park exit,  we spotted a Gila Monster lumbering along the side of the road. Luckily nobody was behind us and Jan was able to stop the car long enough for me to snap one long range photo of him before he disappeared into the brush at the side of the road.   He is that thin dark line in the gravel just in front of the prickly pear about center in the photo. Click on it to enlarge for a slightly better view.







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