Come on along with us for 5 days of camping fun in the Land of Enchantment, where we had some weird and close encounters with botanical beauties, a bare-butted gopher, a swarm of bees, and voracious leaf-footed beetles! All this, and more while exploring a National Conservation Area, a Desert National Monument, and a New Mexico State Park, all within the Chihuahuan desert ecosystem.
After having just returned from a fabulous week in southern New Mexico (blog posts to come) where we hiked and hiked, and got reacquainted with the Spring-time desert flora and fauna, we seemed to be craving pine and fir trees and some mountain air. How high do we dare hike? Would there still be snow? These and more questions rattled about in my mind as we headed the truck up the 13 mile long and winding Sandia Mountain Crest Road (central New Mexico). Ahhhhh …… so invigorating!
Satisfying our craving (at 8500 feet in elevation) and answering the question about leftover winter snow (not a single snowflake to be found), we pulled up to the Tecolote Trail trailhead and began our ascent, in shorts and T-shirts. The first half mile up was brisk, both in temperature and pace, but after I was well warmed up it was time to open my eyes to investigate anything and everything growing, sprouting and blooming.
This was the earliest date (May 7th) in the Spring we’ve hiked Tecolote, so I was hoping to see a variety of wildflowers that were new-to-me species. I wasn’t disappointed! Blooming beautifully were the minuscule Pygmy-flower rock jasmine (in the primrose family), Arizona valerian (a species of honeysuckle), along with lance-leaf bluebells (borage family), and White Mountain bladderpod (a brilliant yellow 4-petaled member of the mustard family). Covering the slopes everywhere we’re the bright yellow flowers of Oregon creeping grape (aka creeping mahonia), and common along the trail were flats and flats of the dwarf purple and white lousewort (in the broomrape family), it’s flowers growing close to the ground amongst its deep green dense and curly margined fern-like leaves. Perky Sue (a happy yellow daisy) and the soft-like-a-teddy-bear prairie pasque flower (a type of buttercup) rounded out the bloomers that I could find.
These pages in my journal focused on the shrubs and trees showing growth alongside the trail, drawn from snippets collected during the hike.
It was a perfect morning for a hike! Wished you’d been there with us.
Until next time …… How’s your Spring is shaping up! Do you have a favorite plant that’s blooming, or a singing bird tending chicks? I’d love to hear your story.
P.S. This journal page layout was inspired by an amazing nature journaler, artist and teacher, Jean Mackay who loves all of nature and sharing her discoveries through illustration. Thanks Jean!
Oh my goodness! What a brilliant Spring Super Bloom is on display mere steps east of Albuquerque.
Alas, I found myself lamenting for months over the long and snowy wet winter we just climbed out of here in the East Mountains of central New Mexico. It seemed the back-to-back snowstorms since last November were never ending; snow shoveling every morning became the norm. But I know better than to whine. An abundance of winter moisture always results in a spectacular abundance of spring flowers. And this Spring has proven that true.
The last two months we’ve seen a mad splash of sunshine yellow from the blooming of a native winter annual called Golden Corydalis, aka Scrambled Eggs (Corydalisaurea). This member of the poppy family quickly converted the dusty hillsides from brown to a glowing yellow as the many-flowered stalks of this plant seemed to shoot up over last season’s dried grasses. Scrambled Eggs was the plant I thought would be our Spring super bloomer.
But, oh no!
During a full two weeks of being distracted by the glow of all that yellow, all around our feet, 1,000s and 1,000s of blue-gray-green rosettes began to grow. I noticed these rosettes (the very same mystery rosettes I described in my January journal), were rapidly expanding outward to make room for flower stalks heavily laden with little rosy orange buds. And then one day one of those buds unfurled into a brilliantly white 4-petaled flower. In the center of that flower were 8 lemon-yellow pollen-heavy anthers surrounding a 4-fingered lemon-yellow stigma, ripe for pollination. Of course …… now I knew with certainty ….. the flower blooming atop the pretty winter rosettes is the White-stemmed Evening Primrose (Oenotheraalbicaulis)!
Also known as Whitest Evening Primrose, it wasn’t long until more flowers began to appear. “But, wow, was it possible that all those 1,000s and 1,000s of rosettes would each produce a bouquet of flowers?” Hiking these foothills every day paid of. As the excitement of possibility steadily unfolded, hundreds of thousands of large 2-4” white flowers unfurled each evening about sunset to greet potential overnight pollinators, and to welcome hikers the following morning.
In about a week since I noticed that first open flower, this native Evening Primrose was carpeting the hillsides in white as brilliant and sparkly as newly fallen snow. The ground became “Snow White” with flowers, out-performing the still profusely-blooming Scrambled Eggs.
And the show won’t end any time soon …. there are still an unbelievable number of White-stemmed Evening Primrose buds awaiting their turn to enter the play from stage right! Now that’s what I call a true Spring Super Bloomer.
What marvelous transformations have or are happening outside your world this Spring?
Like my January “Littles” page of the bird species that visit our feeders in winter, here’s another “Littles” to commemorate the not-quite-winter-or-spring month of February ….. Seeds and Seed Pods. As a way to pass the time while waiting for Roy to finish up with a doctor visit, Luna and I conducted a focused scavenger hunt along a 2 mile circuit surrounding a large Albuquerque shopping mall. In no time at all, my collection bag was full. But knowing my pages would need some local flavor and color too, I scavenged a bit longer and turned up a few more curiosities.
Like with January’s page of birds, sketches of the species of seed pod and seeds (if collected) took less than 5 minutes each; my watercolor pencil paintings took about 10 minutes each. The restaurant logo and the frog design took a bit longer, and were done using my photos as reference.
I’m not sure why it took nearly the entire month to decide what to do for my February “Littles.” In hindsight, the decision should have been obvious, because I love seeds and the seemingly unlimited variety of pods. Now I have a record of a few city seeds that will soon germinate, helping change the landscape from brown to spring green!
Let me know what you think! I’m looking forward to March, when wildflower seedlings will be popping up which may appear in a few “Littles” boxes as well!
Thanks to “Made by Fay” for the “Littles” inspiration!
The much anticipated finale, Snowbirds, and wrap-up to a grand anniversary week celebration in and around Tucson, AZ, follows!
Despite an unexpected snow the evening of our arrival, we never seemed to slow down, taking in as many sights and good eats as humanly possible. …… Open the full post for a recap of our week, and a bit about some of the birds we found while traveling around.
We totally get it! Why Mt. Lemmon is nicknamed “Tucson’s Great Escape.” Why the scenic highway is ”Cool!” From the Lower Sonoran Desert and the Tucson Valley (2,200 feet) to the upper reaches of a Spruce-Fir Forest (topping out at about 9,200 feet), the popular Scenic Highway up Mt. Lemmon offers breathtaking views, plants to discover, geology to learn, recreation opportunities, and temperatures often 30 degrees F lower than the desert below. That means a lot, especially when Tucson’s summer temps are in the triple digits!
But on the day of our driving adventure we found snow ….. on the highway, at scenic overlooks, and on walking trails. The storm hit 4 days earlier forcing closure of much of the highway. But on this day, most of the roads were clear and so was the sky.
So come along and learn what there’s to see along the Mt. Lemmon Scenic Highway.
The Desert (Eastern) Mountain Mahogany is a very branchy shrub commonly found in the mid-elevation foothills of the Sandia, Manzanita, and Manzano Mountains east of the Rio Grande River in central New Mexico. This species’ formal and very appropriate name, Cercocarpusbreviflorus variety breviflorus, comes from both Greek (kerkos: tail; karpos: fruit) and Latin (brevi: short; florus: flowered). As a matter of fact, the 9 species of the genus Cercocarpus all have long feathery tails that twist and turn from the tip of a single fruit, called an achene (like a sunflower seed).
So why is this species odd?
Well, the fruit, for one reason. Most of the thousands of rose family members have fruits called a hip (rose), pome (apple), drupe (prune), or aggregate (strawberry). And even though the strawberry is composed of numerous miniature achenes, it’s the single achene found in the mountain mahoganies that’s unusual to the family.
To further emphasize the oddness of the Cercocarpus genera, all of its 9 species has a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria called Frankia. And that’s an unusual characteristic of the rose family, which moved Cercocarpus and 4 other genera into the subfamily Dryadoideae. That’s all a bit technical when it comes to plant classification, and kind of skips the real reason why the Frankia bacteria is important to the survival of Desert Mountain Mahogany. Nitrogen Fixation!
We certainly enjoyed visiting Saguaro NP – East. Most of the Rincon Mountains Unit is wilderness and only accessible on foot; no dogs allowed. But the cactus Forest Loop Drive was scenic, with views of the Rincon Mountains to the East, and saguaro everywhere!
Really couldn’t seem to get enough saguaro! The highlights of this day were finding another crested saguaro while hiking an area Luna could enjoy, standing next to some shoulder high fishhook barrel cactus, and enjoying the Phainopeplas with their shimmery black feathers.
If you’re up for more saguaro botany, read on. This post will be dedicated to this largest of all North American cactus, Carnegieagigantea. (Beware. This post is long, so settle in!)
This day we explored areas as far as 50 miles north of la Casita. Following the old highway between Tucson and Phoenix, we first came upon a roadside rest area and memorial to the legendary cowboy, Tom Mix, who died at this spot 83 years ago. Tom who? Of course we had to stop and learn more about this interesting bit of history.
Then on to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument where history dates back more than 1700 years, well before the first Spanish explorers showed up, exploring. Even Luna was permitted to wander around this cultural monument, but we may have appreciated the stories surrounding the Hohokam more than she did.
Then to complete our tour for the day, we came upon a lonely ranch road on the way back to la Casita, where the saguaro stood tall over countless cholla, barrel cactus, iron trees and palo verde. It was here, in the middle of “where-are-we-now?” that I peered under a creosote bush and found the weirdest puffball fungus ever.
Not wild, but wildly rattling in the wind? Not snakes, but the showy seed pods from a row of Chinese Lantern trees, hanging on for dear life throughout our numerous winter wind events.
We frequently park near 8 of these non-native trees used as sidewalk landscaping, just before the Copper trailhead. After wondering for several years what these medium sized trees are, in September 2020, discovering the answer, I drew them out …… seed pods, leaves and all.
Searching for something wintery to add to my journal this year, these hardy seed pods called loudly. It was hard to resist!
Browsing my 2020 journals, I came across my first drawing. Always fun to see if and how my technique has changed. Can you detect the differences?