Misty Walk On Juniper Flats

Lately I’ve been wondering how the granite ridge Juniper Flats has responded to the monsoon rains. Juniper Flats is just a mile or so north of Bisbee, a quick drive, so Friday morning I drove through the Mule Pass Tunnel and headed up the steep and switch-backed road to the top of the Flats.

The road, with its frequent rock outcroppings, straightens out at the top of the ridge. There’s an area about two miles long and one-quarter mile wide which is reasonably flat. On the west side the drop down to Highway 80 is a sheer cliff, while on the other sides many canyons dissect the slopes.

I stopped for a while at a pull-off where I had camped for ten days back in May. Ephemeral monsoon flowers were in evidence, such as this modest narrow-leaved morning glory:

This is a plant in the Lily Family which I’ve not been able to identify; I saw it scattered among the stunted piñon pines and alligator junipers:

There are two high points at the north end of the flats, and these have been dedicated to modern communications. The existence of the cell phone towers on those eminences is the only reason the road up there is maintained. I drove to the access road which leads to the lower of the two tower complexes, parked, and walked up to the top. A view looking north:

As I looked westwards I noticed that while the San Pedro Valley was dimly visible, the clouds moving in obscured the normally-visible Huachua Mountains:

I clambered back down and drove a farther on to a dip between the two tower complexes. There was an unlocked gate barring access to a rough jeep trail which parallels a canyon I’d never explored. I parked again and slipped by the gate, which was cleverly counter-weighted by a chunk of granite enclosed by iron bands.

I encountered a piñon pine growing from a crevice in the granite, it’s squat trunk shielded by a profuse growth of Fairy Sword ferns:

The jeep trail became rougher and it was obvious that a jeep hadn’t been back along this path for several years. Granite boulders had fallen into the trail, but someone had gone to some effort once upon a time to establish the road, even building up the downhill side with rubble walls.

The trail came to an end at a green, built-up and leveled platform. Eighteen-inch concrete walls had been hand-poured on top of what must have been a slanting granite ledge, but for what purpose? It seemed like a lot of work to have done just to have a level spot for a picnic or campfire:

Spring seeps converged on this platform and the runoff joined other temporary watercourses draining from the heights. I could see down in the canyon that a temporary creek was flowing.

I jumped down from the anomalous platform and saw that traces of a crude road continued. I suspected that mines might have been the reason, as only the prospect of material gain could justify the labor that pushing that road along the slope must have involved.

Before I descended into the canyon I ended up seeing at least half-a-dozen mines, crude slots and holes blasted out of the granite, such as this one:

Piles of rotten mine timbers could be seen now and then:

The road petered out and I descended to the canyon bottom, expanses of granite shimmering with sheets of water. There was a thirty-foot drop-off, and presumably a trickling waterfall, but the water-worn stone was slick enough that I dared not venture too close to the edge:

I began to make my way upstream. A flash of red caught my eye, a flowering plant sheltered beneath a massive boulder:

A closer look revealed a species of Coral Bells, Huechera sanguinea. This was a new one for me and I enjoyed seeing it in its native habitat:

A close-up of a flower-cluster:

The vegetation around the creeklet began to close in on me as I ascended, and it became difficult to find my way around some of the pools. I began to feel confined and thought I’d make my way back up-slope to the relatively bare rock. Unfortunately I ended up in a thicket of dead and living manzanita. The weathered dead branches, with their elbow-like contortions, seemed to willfully impede my progress. Here’s another remnant of the mining days I found buried in the thicket. Perhaps an iron boiler?

During this past drought decade the canyon slopes around Bisbee have experienced a die-off of perhaps half of the manzanita trees. The dead trunks and branches will take many decades to decay. This seedling piñon pine seems determined to take over the photosynthetic duties in this particular spot of desert:

I gradually made my way through the clinging dead branches. Surely, I thought, I’d get to the typical open landscape before much longer! I happened to look up as I rested for a minute. I was surprised to see billowing plumes of mist being blown up the canyon, and I noticed that the temperature was dropping. A rainstorm in the morning is a rarity during the monsoon season, but it looked like some change in the weather was imminent. The mist obscuring the mountains was quite beautiful and I had to shoot some photos.

As I left the thicket behind I had to remind myself that getting wet was not going to hurt me, but the instinct to seek shelter as a storm approaches is a strong one. I was hoping to find the jeep trail but it eluded me. Then I saw a most peculiar structure perched on a ledge, and there appeared to be no road or trail allowing access from the outside world. It was a cleft in the granite roofed over with soldered copper sheets, and it had two skylights! The edges of the copper roof had been sealed to the irregular contours of the rock. The entrance to the structure was surrounded by a high fence:

I noticed an electrical cable snaking its way down to the building, perhaps originating at the cell phone tower complex high above. From a rock-face above the structure a 3/4″ iron pipe protruded. A standard hose-faucet was attached to it and a coil of weathered green hose lay just below. Did someone once live here?

The mist was clinging to the opposite ridge-top in a most appealing way:

I finally came up to the jeep-trail just one hundred feet from my truck. I sat in the truck, eating some bread and cheese, and watched distant showers descending upon the Huachuca Mountains. As I drove back down from the flats I pulled over at one switch-back and watched a rain shower advancing across the San Jose Mountains in the nearby Mexican state Sonora

Ten minutes later I was home. It’s nice to have such an area to explore just outside of town!




Filed under Arizona, Photos, Plants

7 responses to “Misty Walk On Juniper Flats

  1. Fantastic photos and sounds like a great walk. I miss being in Arizona in August as then, with the benefits of the monsoons, is one of my favorite times. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Rain! This is my first monsoon season and I’m getting a kick out of it (aside from the humidity).

  3. bev

    Loved seeing the mist covered mountains. Makes me think of winter when the snow showers create a moving veil over the mountaintops. Interesting white flower which looks familiar. I will do a bit of looking around after. That mysterious copper roof is so weird. You may have to discuss it with some of the resident experts!

  4. Looks like something a survivalist built, maybe? Great post.

  5. Linda

    Great pictures Larry, thanks for sharing these, an amazing walk! I actually have a clump of the lovely coral bells with the variegated leaves. I also loved the pine growing from a crevice of the rocks. Hardy indeed. The clouds in that picture make it even prettier. Are you going up to the Pacific NW this summer?

  6. Dave, either a survivalist or just a recluse. Thanks for the comment!

    Linda, I don’t think the PNW is in the cards this year; we’ll probably do some traveling around the Southwest once Bev gets back down here.

  7. Joan

    These are just stunning photos, Larry. What fun to have all this beauty almost literally in your front yard.
    I was curious why you did not get a shot of the front of that strange dwelling. I’m guessing it was too dangerous to climb down from where you were.

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