by David Salman
[caption id="attachment_720" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Hiking into Ventana Canyon"]
It’s been a long snowy winter in northern New Mexico. By mid-January, the El Nino had developed in earnest and the storms started tracking south across the southern CA, AZ and New Mexico. The abundant rain and snow has broken the drought of the past couple of years.
The Santa Fe Ski Basin (a favorite NM ski mountain) finished the season in April with over 12 feet of snow on its runs! Down in Santa Fe, we had 4 to 8 inches of snow weekly. By late March, a road trip seeking warm became mandatory.
[caption id="attachment_721" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Mexican Poppies w/Desert Lupine"]
[caption id="attachment_724" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Agave parryi w. Yucca elata, Ferocactus wislizinii"]
My wife and I headed south to Truth or Consequences (T or C), NM where we soaked in the healing mineral waters for several days before heading west. We cruised up and over the still snow covered Black Range of the Gila into Silver City, NM a fun, funky college town. After lunch it was on to Tucson. Just as we crossed into AZ, we had our first sighting of the desert wildflowers; carpets of orange-yellow Mexican poppies sweeping up the side of the rolling desert hills.
[caption id="attachment_725" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Opuntia basilaris"]
Botanically speaking this is a fascinating journey going from the Chihuahuan desert of southern NM into the warmer, lower elevation Sonoran Desert which encompasses much of southern AZ. Spending the night in Tucson, the next morning we hiked the incredible Ventana Canyon Trail on the south flanks of the Catalina Mountains. There is still snow on the upper peaks of the Catalinas but the canyon is sunny, warm and in the middle of an incredible forest of giant saguaro cacti and flowering Ocotillo.
[caption id="attachment_722" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Boyce Thompson Arboretum"]
Next, we headed northeast through the back roads of the Tonto National Forest on our way to Scottsdale. In route we drove past huge open pit copper mines, rolling hills filled with wildflowers and populated with big barrel cacti and huge saguaro. We drove through the mining town of Superior and stopped to visit the beautiful and fascinating Boyce-Thompson Arboretum. Image my delight when I realized we had arrived during their annual plant sale; lot’s of great cacti, succulents, shrubs and trees for the low desert. The Mexican redbuds were in full bloom and the wildflower meadow was at its peak.
[caption id="attachment_723" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Cercis canadensis v. mexicana"]
From The Boyce-Thompson to the outskirts of Phoenix, the ample winter rains have produced an incredible wildflower display with acres of annual flowers in shades of gold, blue, pink and orange stretching off into the distance in every direction.
The next day, we hiked the public parklands of the McDowell Mts. bordering Scottsdale’s northern edge. The slopes and arroyos were a blaze with bloom. There were magenta flowered Hedgehog cacti, brilliant yellow Brittle Brush, and coral red Ocatillo and red-orange Chuperosa being pollinated by numerous hummingbirds. And in between, carpets of blue lupine and golden Mexican poppies completed the display.
All too soon it was time to bid our friends good by. So into the car and off to NM we went. I was both sad and grateful. Sad that we were leaving the warmth and the wildflowers, grateful for being able to witness the abundance that the infrequent, life giving winter rains bring to this harsh land that is the Sonoran Desert.