Saturday, June 24, 2006

Gardner Canyon Trails & Flowers

Just returned from a five-hour drive on the backcountry trails of Gardner Canyon, nestled among the high grasslands and rolling foothills along the southern edge of the Santa Rita Mountains, south of Tucson. I tried to complete the Gardner Canyon 'moderate'-rated trail loop in the Guide to Arizona Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails in my trusty Subaru Outback. I made it about 2/3 of the way through before having to turn back. I didn't have low-enough gearing nor quite high-enough ground clearance for the section, in the book, labled "Toughest Spot." No kidding.

But I had a wonderful time nonetheless. And a fun drive like that deserves to be shared:


A side, "ATV-only" trail with Indy (as we call the Outback; Indy short for Indigo) and the Santa Rita Mountains.
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Not far off Highway 83, I came across a sprawling tangle of these wildflowers, which I think is buffalo bur.
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At higher elevations---probably about 5,000 feet in this photo---cholla blooms are just coming to a close.
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See, the new trim color of our house is a desert color, as this cholla exhibits!
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Stands of prickly poppy, each plant about four feet tall and prickly indeed, lined the dirt road for the first mile or two.
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Gosh, I feel almost like Georgia O'Keefe with this photo!
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Once I turned off the main road, the trail was much rockier, and the Outback's 8.7 inches of ground clearance definitely needed. Stunning views all the way, too.
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As the high grasslands gave way to a forest of juniper and oak scrub, I came apon a beautiful Arizona madrone, its bark red, nearly glowing. It's fairly rare.
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The red bark is smooth, though this one has a fair amount of dead branches, perhaps caused by a wildfire that burned through much of the Santa Ritas last year.
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As I crawled up a particularly rocky section of the trail, I happened to glance off to the left and saw this beauty: Western coral bean, also called Indian bean and chilicote. Generally these only bloom in spring and fall, so this is a real delight.
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If the flowers are this seductive to me, imagine how they must be to pollinators like bees, bats, and hummingbirds...
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According to my flower guide, these shrubs can grow to 15 feet, though this one---the only one flowering though I saw a couple others of the same size---was only about three feet tall.
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Interesting guide book quote: "The bright seeds, often used in Mexican necklaces, are deadly poisonous." Seductive indeed. Hey, maybe these are the seeds and not the flowers? Hmmm.
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The return trip provided wide vistas of the sloping, oak-, mesquite- and agave-dotted grasslands and, to the east, the Whetstone Mountains.
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Job well done, Indy. Where to next...?
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4 comments:

Windy Lampson said...

Beautiful Pictures!

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Thanks Windy. I see you've got some great photos and paintings at your site, too!

gina said...

More gorgeous photos, Simmons. Thanks for these views of the desert. I love them.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Thanks G. Looking forward to lunch today!