Canyon Oasis

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been caretaking a house in Wood Canyon, a pleasant job which involves watching after a dog named Frank. Frank is a friendly dog and he likes nothing more than walking, a proclivity which he and I share.

The geography of Bisbee’s streets and neighborhoods is topographically constrained. The town follows the winding course of Tombstone Canyon, while side-streets mostly follow tributary canyons, most of them feeding into the northeast side of Tombstone Canyon. The highest of the Mule Mountains lie on the opposite (southwest) side, and most of that steep land belongs to mining interests.

Wood Canyon Street is out of the way, up on the north side of town about a mile and a half from the busy and touristy downtown. The street’s cross-section is shaped like a very shallow V. During wet years (now a distant memory) water flows down from canyon slopes and forms a stream in the middle of the street.

A quiet street; I rarely see anyone walking down it. I suspect many of the residents are retired and don’t get out much.

If you walk up the street, as I have been doing every day, it turns into a driveway or lane. After that is the original rocky stream-bed. I wave to the rare resident upon whose property I’m trespassing in order to get beyond civilization. I think they know Frank as a resident dog, and if I’m with him I must be okay.

An aside: since I left Knox County, Missouri, I’ve spent uncounted hours trespassing upon other people’s property. Not once have I been ordered off or threatened in any way. I attribute this seeming luck to several factors. I’m not furtive, and if I see someone out (really, a rare circumstance) I approach the person and try to initiate a conversation. You can’t go wrong with “Nice place you have here!” as an opener.

Back to the walk — once the paved street had disappeared the first thing I encountered was the first of many check-dams constructed in these canyons during the 1930s. The WPA employed people to build these dams in order to slow the tumultuous and potentially disastrous flow of monsoon rain-water. Just think of it: an inch or more of rain cascading down from many canyons into the center of town! People got tired of the frequent floods and the word must have percolated up to the WPA administrators.

Dragon Rock, a spine of stone which juts from the canyon slope, was visible up above towards the left. I’d never noticed how crooked that formation is!

This dam is about the third one I encountered. It was originally a natural dam, but the WPA workers added a couple of feet to its height. As I approached it I could hear a pervasive buzzing sound. Insects of dozens of species were flocking to the gravel beds at the base of the dam, but why?

None of these insects, many of which were wicked-looking wasps and bees, seemed to notice my presence. Frank sighed and found a shady spot, doubtless thinking something like, “So much for this walk! Next he’ll be getting that damned camera out!”

I sat down on a rock and watched the insects’ activity. They seemed to be finding moisture, but the surface of the stream-bed was barely damp to the touch. There must be a seep, I thought. These tiny butterflies, one of the many species known as Blues, were present in the hundreds:

This tattered specimen of Arizona Sister was as avid for water as any of them. Surely its reproductive duties were done, and it would die soon, but I suppose the splendid weather affects insects as well as humans:

I’ve always been fond of the various butterfly species known as Painted Ladies. That afternoon the American Painted Ladies (Vanessa virginiensis) were out in full force. Such exquisite patterns on their wings! Note the twin eyespots on the ventral surfaces:

This beetle had eye-spots, too, and seemed just as thirsty as the others. The striped abdomen made me wonder if the species was imitating a bee or wasp as a camouflage defense:

I was rather surprised at how little attention the wasps and bees paid to me. I suppose that as long as you don’t approach their nests they don’t see people as a threat:

Finally I had my fill of sitting in the October sun photographing this congregation of disparate species. I stood up and Frank looked at me pleadingly, as if to say, “Enough, Larry! Let’s walk!”




Filed under Arizona, Essays and Articles, Natural History, Photos

5 responses to “Canyon Oasis

  1. bev

    Very nice post, Larry. The photos are excellent! What luck to find a little oasis that attracts such an variety of insects. That’s a very neat little beetle. I love the look on Frank’s face. He does look like he’s thinking, “Oh no! This could be a long wait!”

  2. Thanks, Bev! Frank is a very sensitive dog, and over the past couple of weeks he’s become familiar with my idiosyncrasies. The look he gives me if I forget the treat he’s supposed to get after pooping!

  3. bev

    Ha ha! Yeah, I can’t imagine Frank overlooking a missed treat!

  4. Joan

    Great pictures of bugs gathering
    For seeping drinking water
    No reason why they shouldn’t sip
    In fact, I think they ought’er
    I’d purchase photos of them there
    And would not mind the cost
    The butterflies, the beetle too,
    (Except, of course, the wasp.)

  5. I love the mountain islands of southern Arizona. so much life, so interesting. I hope I get down there when next in Tucson. There is always so much to do on the house that it’s hard to get away. Thanks for the pictures.

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