Riding A Mule (mountain, that is…)

This morning, after writing the previous post about a scorpion encounter, I was feeling restless and in need of a walk. Yet another beautiful sunny day — residents here in Bisbee, Arizona assure me that such days are common here.

I stepped outside and regarded a wall of mountains rising behind the house. These are the Mule Mountains which surround the town of Bisbee. The slopes were covered with patches of stunted oak and manzanita trees, and granite outcrops jutted forth here and there. It occurred to me that I had no idea of what sort of landscape would be visible from the top; probably more of the same, but really, there was only one way to find out!

The ascent wasn’t too arduous. I stopped now and then to shoot some photos of scenes of interest and to extricate myself from clutching thorns and dead branches. I’m used to making my way through thickets and brush. The trick is to move at a leisurely pace, turn sideways when necessary, and don’t lose patience and try to bull your way through.

About three-quarters of the way up I took this photo of the house Bev is renting and where we are staying. It’s the stucco house with a courtyard enclosed with a wall at the center of the photo:

I noticed clumps of gray-green wooly ferns growing from crevices in the granite outcrops. I was surprised to see ferns, which I associate with moist and humid environments, growing in such a dry and droughty place. This fiddlehead must have emerged just a few days ago:

I didn’t see many cacti on the slope. This young Rainbow Barrel Cactus has found a sheltered spot nestled up against a granite cobble and with partial shade from a gnarled oak tree:

I hovered my camera directly over the eight-inch-tall cactus and shot this photo of the intricately-interwoven geometry of the multi-colored thorns:

A starburst of sotol leaves surrounds the plant’s lofty flowerstalk, which might stand erect for a few years before the very slow forces of desert decay take their inevitable toll. Unlike the agaves, which die after setting seed, the yucca-like sotol can bloom repeatedly. A dead oak keeps the spiny-leaved sotol company:

An agave dies after the seed has been set near the top of the fibrous stalk; eventually the remnant of the basal leaf clump along with the roots falls over, with the stump of the seed-stalk still attached:

Manzanita bark exhibits curls which look like plane shavings, or the metallic curls which cascade from the cutting tool of a metal lathe cutting bronze. I liked the play of sunlight on this scene, which made me forget all about any worries I might have:

The manzanita is usually a gnarled shrub, although some species can attain the stature of a tree in favored situations. Manzanita branches can assume fantastically contorted positions, as if they were doing some sort of tree yoga:

Ocotillos are just plain weird at any time of year, extraterrestrial visitors who favor deserts. After their leaves have fallen the stems take over the photosynthesis chores, while wicked-looking thorns keep intruders from bothering the busy chloroplasts:

I saw a few prickly pears on the slope. I enjoy seeing how the thorny pads grow at right angles in order to maximize the amount of sunlight gathered at various times of the day and year (I assume).

I returned to the house all bristly with seeds and thorns, as I sometimes had to lie down in various positions for certain shots. A good walk, though, and I got to see what is on the other side! (more of the same…)



1 Comment

Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos, Plants

One response to “Riding A Mule (mountain, that is…)

  1. Joan

    The bear went over the mountain
    The bear went over the mountain
    The bear went over the mountain
    To see what he could see.
    And all that he could see
    And all that he could see
    Was the other side of the mountain
    The other side of the mountain
    The other side of the mountain….
    Was all that he could see.

    stunted oaks
    granite outcroppings
    wooly ferns
    Bev’s house
    fiddle Heads
    rainbow cactii
    agave plants
    manzanita trees
    prickly pears

    All in all, not a bad day for a restless bear. Thanks for another beautiful and informative tour, Larry. I’ll be thinking of you all tomorrow, here in St. Louis when we have our projected sleet storm. 🙂

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