Saturday, November 18, 2006

Atascosa Lookout

This morning I participated in a group hike organized by the Sky Island Alliance, a local environmental organization that promotes conservation of southern Arizona mountains---referred to as "sky islands"---and sustainable flora/fauna linkages between those mountains. Sky Island is also promoting the proposed Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness Area, just north of the Mexico border about fifty miles southwest of Tucson.

This morning's 6-mile (roundtrip) hike was to Atascosa Lookout, a peak at 6,235 feet elevation that hosts a 14-foot by 14-foot cabin complete with wood-burning stove and cots that has been used for a fire lookout in Coronado National Forest by the likes of Edward Abbey, writer and iconic desert curmudgeon whom many of you know I much admire. Atascosa Lookout is deep within the proposed wilderness area. I went not only to get off my butt, which has found itself in all kinds of seats much too much lately, but also to learn a bit more about the Alliance's work to study and protect southern Arizona's very rare jaguars. I'm writing an essay about said jaguars.

But enough rambling! On to the photos:

Entering the Tumacacori Highlands from the east, with great views of monolithic crags in a mesquite-scrub oak-grassland area.

A view half-mile along the trail, through the gate. Atascosa Lookout is on the darker, smaller peak behind and to the right of the peak shown here.

As the trail climbed---it's a constant climb of about 1,500 feet over 3 miles---we moved through beautiful grasslands dotted with small oaks and lichen-covered rock outcroppings.

Cactus was not all that common, though agaves were. Higher up, the trail moves into a juniper forest.

These photos don't do it justice, but the cliffs and other rocks glowed green with intricate lichen. More technical details on rock composition

View of the trail passing beneath juniper and toward the cliffs. No cliff swallows here, but I may have heard a kestrel or two, at the top there was a vocal pair of ravens.

Absolutely stunning views the whole way up. The farthest ridge in this photo is south of Nogales, Mexico.

A better shot of lichen on rock, with a small peak in the background.

This is the thimble-shaped peak viewable from the gate photo, above.

I can't tell if this is an alligator juniper or an oak, but it's a fairly cool contrast with the rocks and sky, no?

The lookout from a juniper-covered saddle; almost there!

The view from the lookout toward the northwest, with the mythical
Baboquivari Peak in the background.

Another view, to the southeast, and... hey? Who's that tall Auburn football-cap-wearing guy? By the way, Auburn beat Bama today. War Damn Eagle!!! Ah, what a glorious day.

A fellow hiker, an insect ecologist doctoral student at the University of Arizona, finds (and only slightly harasses) a young tarantula along the trail just below the Lookout.

There were also lots of butterflies, like this dwarf yellow on a pale purple-pink flower I do not recognize---a small penstemon, perhaps?

Here he or she is joined by a friend.

This Western pygmy blue enjoys the flower of another plant I do not know. Ah well, so many plants, so little time.

Finally, a parting shot that is fairly representative of the area: rock outcroppings, layers upon layers of mountains and hills and canyons down into Mexico and beyond, and a great mix of vegetation. Though my shins aren't happy about all the scratches I got, it was a great hike.


Simmons B. Buntin said...

Lovely photos! (Just testing comments.)

Jilly said...


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