Juniper Flats

Joan has been complaining that I haven’t been posting enough about my experiences here in Southeast Arizona. She even wrote a poem:

          Juniper Flats 

We who sit in misery 
In temperatures ‘round twenty three, 
See you perched upon this summit 
Wishing that we could have done it. 

Tell us something of your place 
Hovering in outer space. 
To get there what does this entail? 
A lot of hiking on a trail? 

Spied the juniper, but "flat"? 
Don't see evidence of that.
That spiky plant on center stage, 
Is that agave? Is there sage?

Have you dealt with desert plants 
That itch and scratch and tear your pants? 
Tried once to pick a cactus flower 
Then picked out needles by the hour.

This macro view is awesome, daunting 
But micro vegetation's haunting 
Too. So please, pray tell us more 
Of fascinating desert lore. 

Send pics of desert vegetation 
Fuel to our imagination 
Warming those in misery 
From temperatures ‘round twenty three.

The photo above shows the pleasing contrast between a blue-gray lichen and ancient granite. Wait a million years or so, and if you are patient you will see that lichen patch and its descendants transform some of that granite into a teaspoonful of dirt.

Across the canyon from the house where I’m staying here in Southeast Arizona is a furrowed mountain ridge scantily clad in contorted scrub oaks and ruddy-barked manzanita trees. The only straight lines in the view are the scattered dead flower-stalks of agaves, some of which are thirty feet tall. The succulent agave plants, with their radially-arranged, fleshy, and spiny leaves, die after flowering and producing seeds. Depending on the species of Agave, it can take anywhere from ten to forty years for a plant to accumulate the will and energy to go out in a blaze of towering blossoms. It really makes the pollinators’ day!

Towards one end of the ridge is a cluster of cell-phone towers. From this side of the canyon it isn’t apparent that the mountain has an extensive relatively flat area along the top of the ridge. The area is known as Juniper Flats, and the only soil up there is what has accumulated over the millennia in puckers and creases in the lichen-clad granite surface. Alligator Junipers thrive in the stony barren environment, thus the name. These desert-adapted trees have foliage which resembles that of the Eastern Red Cedar, a close relative, but the bark lacks the stringy and shredded qualities of the eastern species; instead, the Alligator Juniper has blocky and corrugated bark which, truth to tell, really doesn’t look much like an alligator’s hide:

I love to photograph lichens. Bev shot this as my mouth gaped foolishly in anticipation of a good photo:

Here’s what I was photographing, perhaps a century’s worth of lobed gray-blue-green lichen ever-so-slowly spreading across the mica-flecked granite:

I looked up and Bev laughed from across a clear area:

The colors which lichens display are generally pleasing to my eye, being notably un-garish, muted, and subtle. Occasionally I do encounter a species with, shall I say, regrettable taste in colors. They can’t all be masters of subtlety, I suppose! A common species on granite around here exhibits, oddly enough, a color very similar to the vivid and sickly yellow-green worn by road workers and others who would rather be noticed rather than run over.

As an amateur botanist, I was pleased to see so many new (to me) species of oak! I stuck twigs in my back pockets for later identification:

The air at this elevation (about 6,000 feet) is remarkably transparent and, this being winter after all, usually has just a touch of a chill. It’s like having endless Indian Summer days. Good walking weather, and with such background scenes!



1 Comment

Filed under Essays and Articles, Natural History, Photos

One response to “Juniper Flats

  1. Joan

    Fascinating and informative post, Larry. I do think the bark of the Juniper looks a bit Alligator-like in your photo. I’m enjoying just about any colors of lichen, since around there the white barnacle like lichen is the norm . As for the day-glo green lichen…I love your analogy. That truly does not look nature made but man made. Sort of like toddler got into a bucket of lime green paint.

    Ok, those flats, about which I inquired. Is this mountain with the flat top and the tenacious vegetation actually a big mesa?

    BTW, ! I like the interesting arrangement you have there of the Desert Butt Oak. (grin)

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