Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sycamore Canyon

I just got back from a spring collecting trip to southern Arizona. The bad news is that the collecting was really dismal on this trip. The good news ist that the weather was, for the most part, beautiful and I had a lot of fun hiking around that part of the world.

Trailhead to Sycamore Canyon

On Friday, I visited Sycamore Canyon, which is someplace that I have been visiting for about 15 years now. Sycamore Canyon is located right on the Mexican border. It runs mostly north to south, and terminates right on the border. I have never been all the way to the end. It's a place of incredible beauty in the Atascosa Mountains that are part of the Pajarito (Little Bird) Wilderness.

Low walls in the upper part of the canyon
The hike begins where the canyon is little bit mroe than a small stream bed. The trail parallels the canyon for about a quarter of a mile, then drops down into the first part of the watercourse where the word canyon really applies. It's still very shallow here, and the walls are only about 15 feet high.

Spring trees in the canyon

As you walk downstream, there is more an more permanent water, and the walls become progressively higher. One enjoyable feature of Friday's hike is that the cottonwood trees were newly leafed out and the fresh grean was a striking contrast to the towering dark canyon walls and spires.

Canyon walls and spires

I walked about an hour downstream before I encountered the first of the trees for which the canyon is named. All along the way, I was dazzled with a profusion of blooming flowers.

One of the canyon's many sycamore trees

Hedgehog cactus, a desert species, grows just a few feet away from...

Monkeyflower, a wetland species.

While down in the wetlands of the canyon, it can be hard to remember that you are actually in an arid region. For the most part, it's not quite desert- the high elevation reaults in an open oak woodlands. There are even endagered species of fish. The Sonora Chub can be found in the many pools that dot the canyon floor.

Desert wetlands

Sonoran Chubs

The other fascinating thing about Sycamore Canyon (and other, similar north-south oriented canyons along the border) is that it's a place wehre numerous species of plants and animals make their only appearances north of Mexico. Although I did not see one on this trip, I have encountered elegant trogons (gorgeous tropical birds) on several visits. On this trip, I captured a beautiful chestnut-colored species of grasshopper called Tomonotus ferruginosus that is predominantly Mexican. I turned around at a pint where one is confronted with a choice between wading through a waist-deep pool of water ar scrambling across a very steep, slick rock. As I was by myself and the canyon was otherwise deserted today, I opted for prudence. Right at the turnaround point, there is yet one more indication that extreme southeast Arizona is getting somewhat close to the tropics. Ball moss, an epiphitic bromeliad grown all over the juiper trees here.

Ball Moss

After enjoying the delights of the MExican border area of southeast Arizona, I headed up to Phoenix on Saturday to spend some time with friends. It all made for a most excellent travel adventure.

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At 22:47, Blogger Ur-spo said...

We enjoyed seeing you, you Evil Jungle Princess.

At 11:02, Blogger robin andrea said...

Interesting observation that the extreme southeast desert is getting close to the tropics. Is that a new development, or is that a point where there is a typical transition between two habitats? Nice journey through the canyon. The desert is quite beautiful for such a dry and prickly place!

At 15:16, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Spo- And I enjoyed seeing you both, as well.

robin andrea- I love the desert and have periodically enjoyed its stark beauty for some time now. The nearness to the tropics is nothing new, global climate change notwithstanding. Southeast Arizona used to be home to a parrot, called the thick-billed parrot. There are tropical mammals like the coati mundi, and several butterflies with mostly tropical affinities.

At 15:48, Blogger rodger said...

Quite a contrast from the previous post. I guess if you can't find any insects, you might as well get a nice hike out of the deal. Looks like it was a beautiful day.

At 23:23, Blogger butterfly girl said...

Interesting as usual, princess. I hope to see some of this "stuff" in my lifetime, it must be grand!

At 13:33, Blogger Chilmarkgirl said...

Wow Doug- your photography is gorgeous- makes me a little jealous!!! -Must start my own Blog .....


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