Monthly Archives: June 2014


On our mountain hikes we have come across some animals that I have rarely seen. One was a little black mouse, scurrying along so fast that I only managed to catch a picture of the rear department. His head was tucked under a fallen leaf.Mountain  mouse











A few days later we came across this pocket gopher at 9000 feet, almost the very top of the mountain. The gopher was just inches away from the parking lot (it was a Saturday and the mountain was very crowded.) We watched as he poked his head out, moved a little stone, then withdrew, only to emerge later in a burst of soil, always coming out of the hole head first. He even ventured a few feet away from the hole, and held still as if posing for my camera.





The name “pocket gopher” refers to the pouches in their cheeks where they hold food





Gopher2Pocket gopher











They back into their holes, using their tails to feel their way





We are still waiting for rain. There was a quarter of an inch on the mountain last week, much of it in the form of hail, but nothing in the valley. The day time temperatures often rise above 100 degrees. About an inch of water evaporates from a bird bath in a 24 period this time of the year. Since our bird bath is an inch and a quarter deep, I need to fill it almost every day.

We managed to find some grasses, including Weeping love grass (Eragrostis curvula), a non-native species. It is an elegant looking grass. The flower parts are very small. I was pleased with this picture showing the anthers (in yellow) and the white fern-like stigmas.

Eragrostis curvula3Eragrostis curvula 7b


Lately I have been going up the Santa Catalina Mountains overlooking Tucson several times a week, often visiting the same trail two or three days in a row. This week it was the Palisades Trail, a trail that goes down to Sabino Canyon, a distance of about 14 miles.  We walked just the first mile or so of trail. The lack of rain has also resulted in a lack of wildflowers. Walking along the trail we saw a few plants blooming here and there. Of greater interest was the magnificent views. These views have opened up quite a bit since the Bullock fire in 2002 and the even worse Aspen fire of 2003. At the time some people said it would take twenty years to restore the forest. Well, after 11 years there are some areas with saplings up to about six feet high and large patches without trees without any saplings at all. The land is dry and the trees are seriously stressed as can be seen from this photograph.

dry hillside


The dry slopes

The spires are at the top of the mountain






On our walk we came to a beautiful overlook point, enjoying the view and the cloud patterns. We sat beneath the largest silver leaf Oak I have ever seen. Nearby was a huge log of a fallen Ponderosa Pine, with a lizard scurrying up and down the now vertical roots. It seemed quite content to keep us company for quite a while.

Palisades trail view



The view looking West




Our lizard friend holding perfectly still








Quercus hypoleucoides large tree





The Silverleaf Oak we sat under (Quercus hypoleucoides)






On the way back we came across the rarely seen Blue Lettuce. The botanical name tell us that it is a  plant with milky sap (Lactuca) and grass-like leaves (graminifolia). In fact the leaves look so much like grass that it is virtually impossible to identify without the flowers. And the beautiful blue flowers open for a short time in the middle of the day. On our hikes we might miss seeing it on the outward journey, and then notice it on our return, probably because it was not open before. Lactuca graminifolia


Blue lettuce flower







Driving down the mountain the Madrone trees were very noticeable. June is their fall. They are an evergreen species, but a large portion of their leaves turn bright red in June before letting go. You can see the difference in these two pictures.
Madrone green




Madrone (Arbutus arizonica) in its normal green foliage




Madrone red



Arbutus with many of its leaves turned red in June






The monsoon season is due to start later this month. I am looking forward to seeing how the plants respond to our summer rains.


The June issue of TUCSON LIFESTYLE HOME & GARDEN has an article called: “Blood is thicker than watercolor” by Megan Guthrie. It is a fine write up of the father/son duo, Frank and Owen Rose. This is one of the paintings featured.

-thundering falls

“Thundering Falls” by Frank S Rose









And here is a link to the article (pp. 10, 11).,%22issue_id%22:210119%7D

It has been a long time since we have had significant rain here in Southern Arizona, but there are many flowers in bloom in the mountains. There is a field of Lupine (Lupinus palmeri), the only Lupine species growing high in the mountain (4500 feet and above). The flowers are normally blue, but in one patch we saw three albinos.

Lupine white



An albino lupine







Not far away was a rare example of Green gentian, or Deer’s ears blooming (Swertia radiata). These plants have large leaves, (like deer’s ears) and year after year store energy underground until they finally send up a flowering stalk. These can be as tall as eight feet.
Swertia stalk


A portion of a five-foot tall stalk









Swertia radiata7



An individual flower






Another large plant is Cow Parsnip (related to Hemlock), whose name Heracleum lanatum, means woolly Hercules, referring to the Greek muscle man. The leaves can be larger than dinner plates. The flowering heads have many groups of flowers, and each group has many flowers. These tend to be irregular, with larger petals at the edges of the inflorescence.
Heracleum lanatum3




This plant is about five feet tall







Heracleum lanatumFL



Looking down at the flower head









Heracleum lanatum9


Two flowers – note how the petal size varies








Ed and I were hiking along the Mint Spring trail. We came to the site of the old spring, now dried up. Looking up we saw a hillside that used to be covered with Ponderosa pine. As you can see in this photograph, they all burnt in the fire 11 years ago. On one slope I did not see any new trees. About a quarter of a mile north there were many young pines. But the most successful trees after a fire are the Quaking Aspen. These trees regenerate from the roots, and a patch that seems to contain hundreds of trees may be just have one root system underground with many trunks rising out of the ground as if they were separate trees.
snags and sky


Looking up at the burnt forest. Note the interesting cloud patterns






snags and new growth



A portion of the hillside with new pine trees




snags and aspen


A portion of the hillside with new aspens




These days the temperature goes above 100 degrees in the valley, but the mountains are cool and beautiful. And the plant life on the mountain is slowly coming back after the fire of 2003, a fascinating process to watch.