by David Salman

[caption id="attachment_729" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="David and Jarrah at the base of Giant Alligator "]Giant Alligator Juniper[/caption] Hi, I’m back. But let me first offer an apology to my blog readers for missing quite a weeks of postings. Prior to April, I’d been trying to post weekly, but spring washed over me with work like a giant wave (as it does every spring) and I fell behind. My wife, dog Jarrah and I took a long weekend trip to the Chiricahua National Monument at the north end of the Chiricahua Mountains. Located in southeastern most corner of Arizona, I’d heard about this “sky island” mountain range from several of my friends, all avid amateur botanists and professional horticulturists. And with good reason! Here you will find a narrow, 40 mile long range of remote, rugged mountains that jut up [caption id="attachment_730" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Giant Alligator Juniper"]Giant Alligator Juniper[/caption] from the desert grasslands to elevations of over 10,000 feet. In fact, the tallest peaks were still covered in snow at the beginning of May! The Chiricahuas are [caption id="attachment_731" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Measuring a giant two trunked AZ cypress "]Measuring a giant two trunked AZ cypress [/caption] located at the intersection of four major life zones; the Chihuahuan desert, the Sonoran desert, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madres Mts. of northern MX. As a result, this mountain range has the greatest plant and bird diversity of almost any place in North America. [caption id="attachment_732" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Huge 50 to 100 ft. tall rock spires "]Huge 50 to 100 ft. tall rock spires [/caption] And the National Monument has some of the most spectacular rock formations you’ll ever see. I had heard about the plants and read about the incredible rocks but no one mentioned the ancient giants that grew along Bonita Creek, a seasonal stream that flows out of the heart of the monument. Camping along the creek, we took Jarrah out for her walks first thing in the morning and after dinner along the trails that followed the stream. It was here in this miraculous riparian forest that we discovered the giant alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana) and Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) growing happily in the thin soils nourished by water from the spring run-off and summer rains that course down Bonita Creek. [caption id="attachment_733" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Looking up into the crown of the Giant Alligator Juniper "]Looking up into the crown of the Giant Alligator Juniper [/caption] I was in awe of these incredible trees. Hard scrabble living through centuries of periodic fire, prolonged drought, scorching heat and bone chilling winters, some of these juniper and cypress have reached incredible size. I would estimate them to be at least 300 to 400 years old, probably older. I didn’t have a tape measure, but two long armed people couldn’t reach around their massive trunks and touch finger tips. Walking among them was an inspiring, reverential experience. Later as I looked through my photos of these desert giants, it reminded me of the imperative that we preserve the world’s ancient trees where ever they may be found. Truly my brief time among this forest of ancients captured my heart and my imagination and will stay with me for the rest of my days.