Instead of doing one of our local trips that last only a few hours, Ed and I decided to make the longer trip to the Chiricahua Mountains, southeast of Tucson. We left early in the morning, arriving at Portal, on the east of the range, at about ten o’clock. A brief visit to the General Store, and then to the Audubon gift shop at the Research station, set us up for our drive up the East flank of the mountain range.
It was a beautiful day, highly complex cloud formations from horizon to horizon. We traveled along Cave Creek, with fast running water and lush vegetation. Then the road took us up to places where we could see for miles. We stopped several times, fascinated with the vegetation that is similar to plants that we know, yet very different. I commented to Ed that this road, on the East side of the mountains, was in much better shape than I remember the West side road to be.
Ed introduced me to Salvia lemmoni, a plant or shrub with beautiful red flowers. We saw another plant that we suspected was in the Bidens genus, but we did not know the species. The same was true for a Hedeoma, Ceanothus, Asclepias, Ipomopsis and Geranium. Another fairly large plant with thin leaves, tiny yellow flowers with red bracts around the base fascinated us. I also photographed one of the grasses, Bouteloua hirsuta, Hairy Gramma.
As we made our way toward Rustler Park, Ed noticed a lot of smoke in the air. Arriving at the camp site we could see that the Forest Service was burning off piles of brush, a good thing to do, but it discouraged us from getting out of the car and exploring the plant life in the area. A few drops of rain on the windshield suggested we might want to begin the long descent into the valley.
We came to Onion Saddle and saw the sign that said “12 miles to Route 181”. That seemed near enough, but before we had gone many miles, the road condition began to deteriorate. Just after two miles we came to a stream crossing, with flowing water. It was not very wide, but deep enough for me to wonder how our little Honda was going to get to the other side. Foolishly I drove into the gully and immediately got stuck. The car would not go forward or backward. The wheels just spun helplessly in the loose gravel. On getting out, I lost my balance and would have sat unceremoniously in the water, but Ed caught me just in time.
We stood, looking at the situation, and realized that we would never get home without some help. Within a few minutes we saw a Forest Service vehicle approaching from behind us. The driver, face blackened from tending the fires in Rustler Park, got out of the vehicle, surveyed the situation, and very calmly and efficiently pulled us out of the stream. He was wonderful. We talked about the condition of the road and he said that there was another crossing ahead that was even worse.
With that we turned around, retraced our way to Onion Saddle and back down the East side of the mountain, electing to go through Paradise instead of Portal, and with minor tension at some of the crossings, found ourselves on I 10, heading for Tucson. What a trip!
We got home after about 12 hours.
Thanks to a wonderful Chiricahua Plant list produced by US Geological Survey, and one done for the Chiricahua National Monument, I was able to look up most of the plants that I had not been able to identify in the field. Here they are with my tentative identification.
Bidens bigelovii – Bigelow’s beggarticks (no picture)
Ceanothus greggii – Desert ceanothus
Close-up of a single flower
Oxotropis lambertii – Purple locoweed
A branch, and an individual flower
All in all it was a great adventure.