A hiker’s journal: April 2012

Last entry first.

Start of the saguaro blooming season.

April 26, Thursday:  North Mountain Park, inner basin.  I hit a wall in late March with my hiking.  Now I owe Long Row accounts of two major hikes, which I’ll get to another day.  Ah, yes, the procrastination bug bites again.

Today, I visited the park in a successful search for the flowering saguaro.  It’s the beginning of the season.  Most of the saguaro sported at least one white flower or two with many more to come in May, sprouting from rounded, green knobs.  The saguaro flower and fruit, I read, are the primary food for the many Gambel’s quail that live here.  But other desert plants are still in bloom too.

A sickly Compass Barrel but flowering.

That includes the badly-injured, rock-propped Compass Barrel found near the divide on the Christiansen Trail.  Laying now on rock, the red-spined plant forged one yellow flower with the tell-tale brown mid-ring.

Although past its prime blooming period, the creosote’s small yellow flowers are hanging in there, though many have turned to gray seed balls.  The ocotillo still shows its red-orange flower, but the rest of the park has a Chartreuse cast due to the mixture of the abundant palo verde’s green leaves and yellow blooms.

Ocotillo bloom hanging in there.

I saw a covey of quail in the distance.  Late April is on the cusp of their breeding season, which can run into August.  Toward the end of May I hope to see some chicks scurrying about.  The Gambel’s can produce two broods a season, I’m told.

For the first time, I saw a verdin in the park.  It’s a small bird, slightly larger than a hummer, with a yellow head and a rufus patch on its shoulders.  It was thrashing away among some palo verde flowers with a pair of equally-small Lesser Goldfiniches.

Goat Hill, a view from the southwest.

April 1, Sunday:  National Trail, South Mountain Park.  Any memorable moments of this 7-mile hike, up and back, were beaten down by the one element of weather I hate most.  Wind.  A chilly blast from the north struck full-bore as Nebra and I began to walk the ridgeline of the Gila Range, one of three ranges in the world’s largest city park.  The temperature not counting wind chill was 20 degrees below yesterday’s 91.  I donned a jean jacket.  Nebra wore a red wind-breaker with a hoodie.  Unreal.

One of many open mine shafts in park.

The National Trail is the park’s longest, running east and west 15.5 miles.  It is one of Liu’s 60 Hikes, and I will do it in segments.  The Gila range is the more isolated western part.  Not much to see other than the vistas north to downtown Phoenix and south to Pima Butte, that pimple in the flatland desert along the old wagon trail to Tucson.

Stone hut (center) at Telegraph Pass was built in 1873.

A stone lookout hut near Telegraph Pass draws much interest, particularly from children.  Along the way there is the usual chaparral and a couple of open mine shafts and the landmark called Goat Hill.  Goat Hill is the bump on the mountain you see driving south of 15th Ave.  The highlight, if there was one, had to be the several beautiful ocotillo in full red-orange bloom, lashing like whips in the wind.  Was glad to get this segment out of the way.

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