A Monsoon Walk

The monsoon season is in full swing here in Bisbee, Arizona, and I have to say that cloudy skies and showers are welcome after the unvarying sunlight of June and late July!

The canyon slopes are becoming greener, although the scrub oaks are remaining wary. They won’t vegetatively respond to the unfamiliar moisture for a while, as if they fear being duped.

It’s been raining every night lately. Lately I’ve had my eye on several sprawling patches of a peculiar species of morning glory. The plant grows like a cucumber vine and has narrow strap-like leaves held upright from the stems, very unlike most morning glories, but the flowers are typical of the genus Ipomea. They are growing in the gravelly scree up on the canyon slopes and I dearly would like to photograph these plants at their peak of bloom. Unfortunately, I found only one somewhat tattered flower. Another day!

The sky was filled with patches of shifting clouds and cloud shadows drifted across the slopes. I looked up at the very crest of the ridge. I’d been wanting to make my way up there for some time, but my previous attempts had been foiled by sheer steepness. This time I thought I’d found a feasible route; a path I’d never seen before diverged at an angle from the main trail.

Here’s a view of Bisbee’s historic district, known as Old Bisbee. Notice the scarred and terraced mountains on the edge of town, the remnants of 20th Century industrial copper mining. Beyond the zone of devastation can be seen a newer part of Bisbee called Warren; beyond that community is the vast Sulphur Springs Valley and in the distance the Chiricahua Mountains serrate the horizon.

[Later note: Bev tactfully let me know in an e-mail that the distant mountains are actually in Mexico, a range called the Sierra de los Ajos, and the fragment of valley visible in the photo is the Naco Valley]

Turning towards the east I saw Zacotec Canyon. Bisbee extends partway up this side canyon along Brewery Gulch Street:

As I neared the ridgetop, making my way through rock outcrops which bore witness to a distant past filled with unimaginable geological tumult, I began to see patches of a plant with scarlet tubular blossoms. It looked like a species of Penstemon, but the leaves weren’t right for that genus. I later determined that the plant is Bouvardia glaberrima, a showy plant which oddly enough seems to lack a common name. I imagine hummingbirds make much use of it.

As I walked along the crest of the canyon-top I hit upon another trail which seemed to lead to a high point, and of course I wondered what I might be able to see from up there. Minutes later I found myself a comfortable niche in the rocks and saw a new prospect towards the north. I was pleased to see Juniper Flats, an elongated and flat-topped mountain upon which I had camped for several days earlier in the summer. You can just make out the clusters of cell phone towers as spiny growths towards the left end;

As I was walking along the narrow gravelly path I noticed a small plant growing beneath a dying scrub oak. I half-slid down the slope a ways and shot some photos. I haven’t been able to identify this plant, but I was pleased by the elegant structure of the 3/4″ flowers. Note how the pistil arcs so gracefully over the petals, probably a lure or inducement to attract some unknown pollinator:

[Later note: see Bev’s comment below for an ID for this plant. Thanks, Bev!]

The ridge-top was dotted with patches of a very charming plant which has been given the interesting common name Arizona Mala Mujer (Cnidoscolus angustidens). Supposedly the plant has stinging hairs, but perhaps the plant recognizes an appreciative soul, as they don’t sting me:

Nestled in a rocky hollow I saw a patch of Bead Ferns, probably a species of Cheilanthes. The ferns were responding to the monsoon rains, and I enjoyed seeing these fronds slowly unfurling:

The upper slopes of the canyon had evidently burned sometime in the recent past. Dead and blackened oaks, yuccas, and manzanitas could be seen, but most of the woody vegetation had survived. Then I saw this arresting sight:

Imagine a species of enormous eyeless rock-worm which tunnels through the mountains, emerging at night to devour small mammals and reptiles. This one had the bad luck to emerge during the fire and died without being able to withdraw to its dark stony lair deep within the mountain. I could almost hear its screams of agony as the wind-whipped flames seared its chitinous hide. Wait… pardon me, it’s just the core of a yucca which didn’t survive the fire.

On my way back down the mountain I encountered a small orange-flowered plant with succulent leaves:

Later I determined that the plant is called Orange Fameflower (Phemeranthus aurantiacus). The plant blooms during the monsoon rains. A closer view of the flower:

I wended my way back to the house, descending hundreds of feet in the process. It rained again later in the day, so I was glad I got out when I did!


6 comments on “A Monsoon Walk

  1. Bev Wigney says:

    Wonderful photos, Larry. I especially appreciate seeing some botanical shots as I miss out on so much of the plant activity while away up north during monsoon season. Also some great shots of old Bisbee!

  2. Bev Wigney says:

    Oh, and I meant to comment on that rock-worm shot. That is just what it looks like to me, Very threatening! Perhaps that is why the javelina population seems to have dropped off in recent years!

  3. Bev Wigney says:

    Me again! Try Trichostema arizonicum – Arizona Bluecurls – for that delightful unknown flower.

  4. Rain Trueax says:

    Great photos. August is my favorite month to be in Arizona bar none. It’s exciting with the storms and what the rain creates for both plants and bugs. Great that you share it here. I’ve been there but lately it’s hard for us to get away in the season hay is being stored for the winter.

  5. Joan says:

    Having gone semi-blind trying to locate the “spiny” cell towers on Juniper flats, I turned my interest to the rock worm. Wow! Even the sand worms from “Dune” didn’t have the ability to go through solid rock. Who would have thought you would be the first to discover this species. Perhaps he only surfaces during a monsoon in order to get a drink. He does look a tad thirsty.

    Great to see all these great photos and you are pretty brave going out into a storm to photograph them.

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