I’ve spent a week now camping on one of the Mule Mountains, a flat-topped eminence which serves as a support for two clusters of cell-phone towers. This enables me to have good 3G phone connectivity, but I’ve found it to be difficult to post reports and (especially) photos to the blog. E-mail is easy, though.
The pinkish granite canyons radiate down from the flat area on top, which has a rough road running down it with several convenient loops and pull-offs nestled in amongst the boulders. Though the name implies a predominance of junipers, the most common tree is the piñon pine, a short-growing species which grows in picturesquely contorted forms, especially in exposed spots. Some look like bonsai trees, patiently surviving and being shaped by the strong winds, more sun than any tree needs, and lack of rain.
I’ve become fascinated by the large agaves which grow here and there, mostly down-slope from the top. One morning at about sun-up I was clambering carefully across cliffs and arroyos (it’s one thousand feet or more to the bottom!)when I happened across two large agaves which were beginning their life’s work. Through the course of the succulent plant’s ten-to-thirty years on this earth the plant accumulates carbohydrate reserves in the central mass from which the leaves emerge. This starchy mass can be the size of a basketball encased in the nest of wickedly-tipped leaves. One year a mature agave will decide to flower, an act which will deplete the hoarded reserves and cause the plant’s death. The flowering impulse responds to who knows what — an internal biological clock, or perhaps certain climatic cues?
The flower-stalk, a massive spear-like growth rather like an asparagus stalk writ large, grows at an incredible rate. The two agaves I watched over a period of several days are growing about six inches every day! I measured this by holding a dead agave-stalk up by the two shoots and making daily marks with a red Sharpie marker. Here’s the taller of the two, with an ocotillo, extending its spidery weird branches next to it, and the Mule Mounains on the other side of the valley:
The shorter agave shoot is fatter, perhaps five inches thick at the base:
I was walking back up another rocky slope as the sun was setting yesterday. I came across this fetching scene of two clumps of Claret Cup cactus growing beneath the spreading branches of a squat pine, which was rooted between two craggy boulders full of sheet-like quartz inclusions. A ray of the setting sun illuminated the flowers nicely:
These photos were taken with a smart phone’s camera but didn’t turn out too bad, considering!