Camping in the Snowies

Camping in the Snowies

Friday, January 30, 2015

Desert boondocking; a feast for the senses

Once again, our friends invited us to come camp with them. Their group of six rigs were located at a BLM site south of Ajo AZ just off a scenic loop road that circles an open pit copper mine. You can see the mine on Google Maps or Google Earth just south and west of the town. Another marker you can see on these websites is a trio of bald rocks that were a short distance northwest of their campsite, which is west of the mine pit.
The road is dirt and twisty in places and is prone to wash when it rains so slow going for travel of any kind. But the saving grace for all the effort of getting there is the beauty and serenity of the landscape.

                                                   Our rigs from a distance.

The sun was out after a rainy day making the teddy bear cholla, the fuzzy looking cactus, appear to glow. Scents of desert plants and the earth itself wafted up to us on a light breeze. At least seven different cactus could be seen around our camp which was on a rise between two washes. This is a part of the Sonoran Desert where organ pipe and saguaro cactus are prevalent. Hard packed gravel and rock made a solid foundation but made hiking painful if your shoes lack a thick sole.
Tom Bonn invited us on a hike along a dirt trail and eventually across the desert, up and down washes and finally back to the road and our camp. Tom is an outdoor adventurer, hunting and fishing guide and camp cook. As we trekked, he was looking for signs of animals in the soft sand of the washes and along the trails. He spotted coyote scat as well as that of deer. He pointed out the "jumping cholla" so named for the plant's propensity for loosing its branch buds at a mere touch. The spines are plentiful and painful. He told us that pack rats will gather these loose spiny bundles together into a pile and create their nest underneath where no coyote or hawk dares to go. Then he pointed one of these cholla piles out to us, a little hard to make out but here it is.

       The tufts of cholla are heaped up around this creosote bush, an impervious barrier.

             We enjoyed the beautiful Arizona sunset and a glass of wine after our hike.

The next day while Dave and Katie were practicing fiddle tunes, I hiked the washes looking for cactus varieties and bird nests and came upon some moss along the bank of the wash. So green!

Birds sang and called flitting about as the desert went about the business of getting ready to bloom. I was able to identify these birds:
  • Silky Flycatcher called a Phainopepla; 
  • Gila Woodpecker, a woodpecker of the southern desert
  • Verdin, a small songbird
  • Costas hummingbird
  • Crissal Thrasher with a down curved bill; this desert thrasher was quite a songster. 
The height of desert bloom will come in March and April so not much was in bloom just now. I had my binoculars out and caught a glimpse of pink against the bald rock above us. I hiked up there and found shrubs in bloom in this protected environment snuggled up against the rock. The honeybees were busy. I didn't have my camera but took some twig specimens to photograph.

I also found what looked like a fern frond. The plant with the blue flower had leaves that had a distinctive almost mint-like scent when they were crushed. The pink flower looked like s smoke flower and the leaves were very fine and many-lobed. The ocotillo leaves were coming out and looked somewhat like the leaves on this next twig but this shrub was not an ocotillo. As I was climbing down, I spotted what looked like something's abandoned den up under the eroded rock and this bone that looks like the spine of a big snake. 
A ocotillo leafing out. The ocotillo blossom looks like a flame at the top of each whip like cane. The common name for ocotillo is "coachwhip." This cactus loses its leaves and looks like it is dead much of the year. After enough rain, the wood swells and leaves appear.

I found two different bird nests in the fuzzy type cholla cactus. One made with fine twigs and grass and the other with more coarse twigs. 
                      A nest with fine material. It looked to be unused at present.

Coarser material is used here. Both nests had two entrances, maybe for airflow in warmer weather.

Finally, some pictures of the lushness of the desert in this area and one of the organ pipe cactus on a south facing hillside.

       This shrub was leafing out with narrow pointed leaves that were burgundy colored.

                                     Few cactus other than organ pipe here.

             Another sunset view. This is a place that we want to revisit for a longer stay some day.

We left our trailer in the care of these good friends. We will return next week and relocate for the Ajo Fiddle Contest. Stay tuned.

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