Monday, March 22, 2010

How Green Was My Desert

"Generous winter rains have turned the desert a vibrant green."

So began John Stanley's "Explore Arizona" column in the March 19th edition of The Arizona Republic.

We were up early on the morning of the day we planned to go to the Cave Creek Regional Park.

Our campground is on the edge of the desert, so we have seen how green this area is compared to our stay here last March.

The Cave Creek Park, located just north of Phoenix and a short drive from the RV Park, is a 2,922-acre park in the upper Sonoran Desert. We started on the Go John Trail, not planning to hike the full 5.8 mile round trip, but at least making it to the top.

This would mean going from an elevation of 2,000 feet to 3,060; retracing our trip would amount to a hike of about 2.6 miles.

This palo verde (“green stick” in Spanish) tree was quite striking. All parts of the tree from the leaves to the branches, limbs and trunk are green. The trees can photosynthesize through their green bark, an important adaptation for a tree that drops its leaves during the warm season or drought periods and in response to fall cooling. The Arizona state tree is superbly adapted to the desert.

The Go John Trail is a multi-use trail, meaning the hikers share the trail with mountain bikers and horse riders.

The greens of the desert covered a range from silvery green to a hunter green, but the range is hard to see in these photographs. What was more striking to us was the difference between the green carpet surrounding the saguaro cacti and the brown rug that we hiked on last year at this time.

At the entrance to the park was a sign noting that "rattlesnakes are out." Fortunately, we missed the snakes and only met a few lizards.

In the bright sunlight, the cholla cacti provided some subtle "lighting" to the dark green landscape.

The Go John Trail looped around a mountain and presented us with this view to the south (toward Phoenix)

and this view to the north. Hard to believe that we were only a few miles north of Phoenix.

Along with the vibrant green were brilliant yellows and oranges, along with subtle blues, lavenders, and whites. The flowers of the desert were beginning to put on a show made possible by the same rains that created the greens.

After today's Big Picture of Cave Creek Regional Park comes the smaller bursts of color in tomorrow's entry.

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