Yucca Meets Juniper

One, I associate with the desert. The other, I associate with temperate climes. But high in the Madera Canyon, you’ll find them side-by-side on the rocky hillside.

The Sonoran region was, between ten and twenty thousand years ago, a temperate zone, flourishing with oak, pine, aspen, juniper, sycamore … many kinds of trees more like what flourishes in the Pennsylvania of my youth. As the ice age receded and desertification spread across what is now Arizona, that temperate vegetation rose higher and higher into the mountains, becoming a series of temperate ecosystems all cut off from each other, what are now known as the Sky Islands.

Today we went back to the Santa Rita Mountains in the Coronado National Forest to explore Madera Canyon.

The first thing we encountered was these fellahs.

Some of the trees at this altitude approach the craggly look that so fascinated me on the western edge of the Ozarks, while others stand straight as their northeastern counterparts.

I was particularly fascinated by these trees with their slender silvery leaves so much like an olive tree, but it turns out they’re an oak variety, the appropriately termed silverleaf oak, a broadleaf evergreen tree — related to the deciduous red oaks, but never shedding its silvery leaves.

We started at the downhill end of the Nature Trail at the amphitheater, which is where we saw the butt ends of some white-tailed deer — the Coues’ white-tailed deer, a smaller subspecies mostly confined to Arizona and New Mexico’s southern mountains and across the border in Mexico. They were pretty skittish, bounding up the canyon parallel to the little stream, but I caught the flag end of one of them, if you can spot it.

It was later in the day than was ideal — someday we’ll make a plan the day before and leave before noon for a hike! — so we figured we’d go as far uphill on the Nature Trail as seemed wise, and then come back down.

I only managed to find two solitary flowers on our little hike, but there were plenty of other details to appreciate.

I kept hoping there’d be a big panoramic vista and stunning sunset right around the next bend, but it wasn’t that kind of hike, more of a meander up through the trees.

And just as we were almost back to the parking lot, we spotted another white-nosed Coatimundi scampering up the “oak- and sycamore-lined canyon,” just as the Park Service predicts!


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