Monthly Archives: February 2015


Ed and I were hiking up the trail and had stopped to look at some flowers. A couple came down the trail towards us, evidently having gone over five miles of rough terrain. They asked us if we knew any of the flowers. This led to a pleasant botany lesson. The man looked at me and asked how old I was. I said: “Eighty-seven”. We then talked a little more and finally I couldn’t stand the suspense any more. “And how old are you?”

“We are both ninety” he said with a great smile. The two of them looked to be in their sixties. I felt a little ashamed. Ed, who is younger than I am, did not even admit to his age. After some awkwardness I asked him the secret of his longevity. “I haven’t died yet” was his full explanation.

Six times in the last eleven days we have explored this trail (Babat Do’ag in the Catalina Mountains) and every time we have seen new flowers in bloom. On the first trip, February 18, we saw about 30 species. Today we saw over 50.  Perhaps the most interesting was the Broom rape (Orobanche), a plant that lives by drawing nourishment from the roots of other plants. It is not green at all, does not have chlorophyll, and is incapable of making food from the energy of the sun. On one trip we saw one fully grown one, with four near by just beginning to pop their heads through the soil. The next trip we found another near by. Today Jim and I saw all of those, and more than a dozen more on the Soldier Trail, just a couple of miles further down the mountain.




The Orobanche – the penny gives an idea of size







Orobanche white





Another smaller Orobanche





Orobanche FL



A close-up of one of its flowers









Two of the many we saw on Soldier Trail




Among the most spectacular plants now is the “Indigo Bush”, Dalea pulchra. This time of year the plant is covered with deep blue or even purple flowers. And the bees and other insects love it.
Dalea pulchra 3


Indigo Bush





There is a fairly common low growing plant imported from Europe called “Filaree” or “Heron’s Bill”, (Erodium cicutarium). It has the ability to drill its own seeds into the ground. Long ago I learned of a  native Erodium, called “Texas Geranium” or “Stork’s Bill” (Erodium Texanum) and for years I have been trying to find it. This was my lucky month. I found quite a few on the Babat Do’ag trail, and then noticed it growing in our church parking lot!

Erodium texanum PL



Texas Geranium plant





Erodium texanum FL2



A close-up of the flower






Since I began working on “Invisible Flowers” I have become interested in the Euphorbia family. Many of its genera and species are low growing  plants with small flowers. In particular there are a half a dozen or more euphorbias called “spurges” in this area. I have been trying to learn to how tell them apart. Today Jim told me that while many spurges have single flowers at the end of each stalk, one has flowers growing in a little cluster. It is called Euphorbia capitellata (meaning “having a little head”). I find its tiny flowers quite charming.

Euphorbia capitellata 5


The flowering head of this Spurge







Euphorbia capitellata 9One of the many flowers in the head

A walk in Cienega Creek

It was a very windy day, so Ed and I were looking for a place to hike that was somewhat sheltered. We found it in Cienega Creek, a wild-life preserve. We had to make reservations, but that turned out to be very easy.

After parking the car we descended the trail to the creek bed. We met only one person that day, and he was a naturalist friend, Joe. We stopped to chat with him and walked together for a while. Joe spotted an ancient artifact on the trail which we examined, and then carefully put back in place.

The creek bed was dry, but after we turned north for a short distance, we found a stream. On either side there were twenty-foot cliffs, so the wind was gentle and the air warm.

Cottonwood and sand


The creek supports a large population of trees: giant cottonwoods, ash, mesquite, willows and other trees. Where the creek was fairly wide, and thus moving slowly, the male flowers that had fallen from the cottonwoods covered the surface, turning it gold. Flowers on creek


There is water under this carpet of gold flowers from the Cottonwoods overhead






We looked upstream and saw the point where the water was coming out of the ground. Beyond it was just sand. This is fairly common in these western washes. The water may be running year-round underground, surfacing here and there, only to descend again.

Water start


In the top half of the picture there is just sand. In the middle you can see where the water starts flowing, some of it covered in cottonwood flowers



Another stretch was lined with the bright green foliage of yellow monkey flowers, a plant with blue flowers which we did not identify, and possibly some water cress.

Water plants



The creek bordered by aquatic plants, with shadows of cottonwood trees





Blue flower


Just a few of these plants with blue flowers were blooming





Ed was able to identify all kinds of birds that were flitting from branch to branch.

The surrounding cliffs were carved by water. We especially noticed a mesquite tree that had been deeply undercut. We wondered how it could survive living life on the edge like that.

Mesquite overhang








There were signs of high water in canyon, including this mass of tree trunks and branches. This creek must be impossible to explore in high water, and a section of it is part of the Arizona Trail that runs from Mexico to Utah, over 800 miles.



A six foot high pile of debris from floods in the canyon



We made our way back up the hill to the car park, driven by a steady wind at our backs. This was one of those short and sweet nature walks.


It has been almost a month since my last posting. Not being able to include pictures has been a deterrent to making new entries. Our son, Owen, has solved the problem, for which I thank him.




This is one of Owen’s great photographs





In the last week or so we have had a lot of rain – about three inches in three days at our house. Considering that this area receives only a little over ten inches a year, that is a lot. And more is on the way. This leads us to expect a spectacular show of spring flowers.

Recently Ed and I were invited by our friends Doug and Arlene, to see the birds in the nature preserve known as Whitewater Draw in Sulphur Springs Valley, near the border with Mexico. The preserve is one of a number of locations for the Sandhill Crane. It has several very large ponds, full of all kinds of water fowl and other birds. Doug and Arlene, both keen birders, pointed out a number of them: Great Horned Owl, Shovelers, Pintails, Coots, Ruddy ducks, Green winged teal, to name but a few. We arrived late morning.  It was a beautiful overcast day, with grey clouds reflected in the water. This part of the valley is flat, and is ringed with mountains ranges. I thought, “This is a watercolor day.” When we got home I did a little sketch which I will later develop into a painting.



A 5 by 9 inch watercolor sketch




We saw only a few cranes in the morning, but were treated to a large flock of Snow geese, which circled, finally landing in the water only to take off later, circle, and then land again. It was a wonderful sight, especially when the sun caught their brilliant white color.

We went to the old mining town of Bisbee and returned after lunch. As soon as we got out of the car we could hear flocks of sandhill cranes, in raucous conversation. They came swooping in, some landing on the ground, others waterskiing up to the shore. Later more flocks arrived. Had we stayed until dark, we might have seen as many as ten thousand of them. What a treat! The flocks stay here until the middle or end of February when they will migrate north for the summer, some going as far as northern Canada and Alaska.

cranes landing


A flock on the ground, and a half a dozen coming to join them





In my last posting I mentioned seeing a number of Jack rabbits on a couple of our hikes. Here are some pictures.Hare ears



hares twoNote the huge pink ears








Sometimes they run rather than hop





Rabbit 1


And this is a rabbit








In a few weeks, we will see the desert in bloom!