November 20, 2009

Overton Loop at Cave Creek Recreation Area

At Cave Creek Recreation Area, Maricopa County maintains a variety of trails including the 3.3 mile Overton Loop. This trail wraps around a small mountain, providing views across the northern Valley of the Sun, as well as, some great Sonoran vegetation.

From this trail, you can see the McDowell Mountains in the near distance defining the northern edge of the valley. In addition, to the far east are the Superstition Mountains, Squaw Peak right in the middle of the valley, and the 4000 feet Sierra Estrella in the far distance which defines the southern extent of the valley.

It should be noted, we climbed 4000 foot Quartz Peak in the Sierra Estrella some years ago. Which resulted in one of my favorite pictures. So, I'll share it here again:

Lastly, I have to include a couple of additional shots of the spectacular sunsets we've been having. These were taken without a tripod, so I apologize for any blurriness.

November 19, 2009

Spurs Cross Conservation Area along Cave Creek

Located a few miles away from the Cave Creek Recreation Area is another park area managed by Maricopa County known as the Spurs Cross Conservation Area. This park protects a stretch of the lower Cave Creek and its tributary Cottonwood Creek, as well as, upland desert areas and some adjacent mountains.

While there are extensive hiking opportunities, including an 11 mile trek back to Cave Creek Recreation Area and a trail leading into the Tonto National Forest, we decided to take a beautiful little 2 mile loop trail that follows Cave Creek and leads into an some incredible old-growth Saguaro forests.

The trail was perfect for Hilina to walk, as it was mostly level and wide. The snail's pace Hilina walked today provided us with the opportunity to view dozens of cactus and desert plants up close and personal, and to soak in the beautiful desert vistas.

Cave Creek is a perennial stream in its upper reaches, with a spectacular riparian forest of sycamores and cottonwoods. In the lower stretches, it flows underground much of the year, thus there are only occassional patches of willows and cottonwoods. But, during the winter rains and summer monsoons it flows on the surface again.

There was a little pond oasis along the way which contained some rare desert fish. It was put in by the park managers at the site of an old horse ranch well to provide water for wildlife and to imitate the old waterholes that once existed along the creek for Sonoran leopard frogs and other riparian species.

In addition, we passed an old metate used by indians to grind corn and other seeds into flour.

November 17, 2009

Sunset in the Sonoran Desert

There are few places we have ever been that have such beautiful sunsets than the Sonoran Desert. I know the dust in the air contributes to its reds and oranges. But, we've been other places, other deserts, and never quite seen them as brilliantly as in the Sonoran Desert.

It was so  nice to eat outside again in the warm temperatures at sunset. And no...the beer was not for Hilina, it was mine! Maile also enjoyed hanging out in the warm desert!

I was late with my camera to capture the early part of the sunset, but some of these images may give you a sense for the amazing colors we saw last night.

November 16, 2009

Sonoran Desert at last

A few days ago, the first rainstorm we'd seen since we started this adventure 2 months ago rolled through the area. After the rains passed and the sun returned, the temperatures dropped dramatically. Last night the temperature dropped to less than 25 degrees F at night.

While the trailer has a heater, it still felt chilly inside and our motivation to go outside was greatly diminished. Thus, we decided to head south to the northern edge of the Valley of the Sun. We are staying at Cave Creek Regional Park in the Sonoran Desert.

Warmth awaited us as it was over 70 degrees when we arrived with lows only expected to be in the 50's at night. Hilina was also extremely excited to see the "cactus trees". She is a major fan of cactus in general, so to see these giants really got her going.

We'll be spending the next few days here at Cave Creek as we prepared for our flight back to Seattle next Tuesday. We'll spend the next 6 weeks in Sequim for the holidays, visiting family and so forth, but the blog will keep going.

November 12, 2009

Wildlife Sightings and Pictographs

One thing about being out there all the time, hiking all over in different habitats and in different times of the day have provided excellent opportunities to view wildlife. Hilina has had the tremendous opportunity to see animals upclose such as deer, elk, bison, pronghorns, squirrels, skunks, jackrabbits and cottontails, owls, herons, woodpeckers, ravens, and so much more.

A Great Horned Owl

Skunks going after the bird feeders at the campground

Great Blue Heron high in the trees

We also took a trip over the Palatki ruins, where a Sinaguan pueblo village was located in the Sedona Red Rocks and left beautiful painted pictographs.

Palatki Ruins

The landscape around the ruins

These pictographs date from several different time periods and can often be told apart by the pigments that were used. White colors indicatae Sinaguan art from around 1100AD. The black are charcoal drawings of later Yavapai indians. There are also pictographs from the Apache and some ancient ones to peoples well before the Sinaguan.

These pictographs were originally white, but then the soot of a fire coated and protected them

November 10, 2009

Montezuma's Castle National Monument, AZ

Yesterday, we did a tour of some of the fabulous Sinagua Indian sites of the Verde Valley. Due to the year-round waters of the numerous streams flowing down the Mogollon Rim and into the Verde River, this valley was a major place of activity for the Sinagua indians, a group of puebloan peoples.

They built some amazing puebloes and left their mark on the landscape through agriculture and irrigation canals. The National Park Service preserves three of the sites at Montezuma's Castle and Montezuma's Well National Monument and Tuzigoot National Monument.

At Montezuma's Well, an amazing sink hole some 55 feet deep is the place of a Sinagua community, where ruins are perched on the sides and on top of this interesting feature. The water that spring from beneath are 74 degrees F year-round and a home to a unique community of endemic amphipods that are good for endemic leeches, as well as, waterfowl.

Then, the water flows through a cave to the outside of the well and down into the Beaver Creek. However, the Sinagua Indians created an irrigation ditch to transfer the waters to their cotton fields 1000 years ago.

Hilina also greatly enjoyed hiking around the sites, identifying the little animals on the petroglyphs, seeing the little "houses", and dipping her feet into the canal waters.

Further up Beaver Creek is the V-bar-V Heritage Site. Here, thousands of petroglyphs line the cliffs above the creek. The petroglyphs are aligned such that when the sun hits the "corn" petroglyph on the same day each year, it is the day to plant the corn. When the sun hits the other "corn" petroglyph in the fall, it is time to harvest it.

Those lines with lots of horizontal cross-lines located are the corn cobs that would be elluminated by light by the sun. The one at slight left is the corn planting sign, while the one at far right is the corn harvesting sign.

They have also found many more alignments.
 Some in particular show the sun aligning with the solstices and equinoxes

November 8, 2009

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Verde Valley, AZ

As we have completed our first week at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in the Verde Valley, I wanted to share some photos on the trails around the park. The park sits on the Verde River and is said to have the largest bottomland riparian forest left along the river due to a drop in the water table associated with irrigation withdrawls for Phoenix and the rest of Arizona.

The weather has been absolutely wonderful with upper 70's all week and mostly sunny.

Hilina is a big fan of when we do campfires. She always asks for "Ma-ma-lo" when that time comes and we dance around the fire with her drum. She also knows not to get near the fire. When we suggest she touch the fire she always answers "no no no keedz dont play wi fiah"

Granddaddy Cottonwood

The edge of the bottomland forest where the mesquite end and the cottonwoods begin

The Verde River at Sunset

November 7, 2009

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness - The Fall Colors

Just a short drive from Dead Horse Ranch State Park, at the meeting place of the Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim is the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness in the Coconino National Forest. The beautiful perennial stream creates a verdant oasis in this otherwise stark desert landscape.

Amongst the mesquite, creosote bush, and cactus there was a herd of pronghorns.

The snows and rain that fall on the top of the rim at 7000 feet percolate through the lava beds, coconino sandstone, and supai shales to the bottom of the Colorado Plateau sedimentary layers. Here, in the redwall limestone springs emerge at the bottom of this canyon to supply this oasis with water.

This lush riparian forest consists primarily of cottonwoods, Arizona ash, walnut, willows, box elder, grape, and the namesake sycamores contast with the reds and oranges of the canyon walls. The alders remain green the longest and had not started dropping their leaves.

Slightly further back hackberries, acacias and mesquites provide slightly different shades of green and brown.

Just a few feet above the water table, the landscape changes to mid-desert vegetation of prickly-pear and cholla cactus, yucca, palo verde, agave, and junipers.

We visited Sycamore Canyon in late summer 7 years ago to see the beautiful green colors contrasting against the red rock of the redwall limestone.

But, to visit it in early November at the peak of the fall colors was a real treat. The bright yellows of the various trees made for a brilliant sight. The cool waters made for nice splashing for Hilina and Maile. This wonderland of vegetation is one of my favorite places in the world. And, I do not mean that lightly.

It is hard to argue when you see sites like this. It is just too easy to lay back, relax, and waste away the day in this true wilderness.

Oh and did I mention it was 75 degrees in early November at 3800 feet?