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    • Silas_Sancona
      By Silas_Sancona
      I've shown the landscapes, now it's time to take a look at some of the plants observed both in Oak Flat, and while hiking to / from the lower end of Devil's Canyon..  As mentioned, pretty good diversity of plants there, and no doubt, walking around looking for stuff twice ( so far ) is just scratching the surface.. I'm sure there are more things to be found. Regardless..

      As mentioned in the video and article i'd linked, Mining development of the area will result in a 2.5 mile wide crater, approx. 1,000ft deep, or is what is estimated, based on the mining technique that has been discussed. ( " Block " mining, 7k ft below the surface ..and allowing the land to eventually subside < into the voids created below ground >.. Then extracting more material before abandoning and not being able to repair what damage will be done ) Aside from ..everything  else  that will be lost  -forever-,  so too will the botanical, and animal biodiversity  in this area.. 

      While some things can be found elsewhere pretty easily, other things are already facing climate- related challenges and erasing what bits and pieces might be left just sounds completely irrational, imo..

      Hopefully the plants < and other, more valuable things > win this battle for survival. There are far less sensitive areas in the state to pursue precious metals.   Waffled back and forth on whether or not to put this chapter in the " other " plants section, but have decided to keep it here..


      Emory Oak, Quercus emoryi  Where Oak Flat got it's name..  Has been a significant part of Indigenous culture and diet for as long as humans have occupied the region. Native from AZ. / N.M/ far West TX. to Durango and San Luis Potosi, Mexico..  Acorns are sweet and supposedly don't require as much processing to get to perfectly usable. Western Apache Tribe, and other local people have gathered and tended the trees here for generations. There is even a Tribe - initiated collaborative ( EOTCRI = Emory Oak Tribal Collaborative Restoration Initiative ) that teaches how to restore and maintain these trees.  " Stand " of Emory Oak here is considered the best / healthiest old growth grove in the entire state.  Was hoping there would be a few Acorns to collect to carry on the genetics of these trees, especially if all are clear cut, as planned, when Resolution ( Mining Company ) starts their mining operations - if this is the outcome. 

      Lots of diversity in sizes in this Oak here including numerous very old and " dwarfed " specimens  up on the seemingly solid rock table top above the campground.

      Typical look of old growth trees in the flat..

      Stunted ..and rather stunning looking " Mini - Trees " up on the Table Top...

      Single - leaf Pinyon, Pinus monophylla..  Had seen an observation or two of specimens here on iNat. and was hoping to see them w/ my own eyes..  To get to " Pinyon Country " in many parts of the state, one has to travel a bit further out than the distance from Phoenix to the Flat / Canyon.  While not extensive in area occupied, plenty of nice, old specimens, esp growing among the boulders near / in the Hackberry Creek area.  Unfortunately, while there were lots of older cones in many specimens, no fresh / just ripened cones to access seed from. Like many Pines, Cones on Pinyon take their time to develop ..somewhere in the range of 18-22 months..  Seeds are enclosed in " softer " shells, and typically have a shorter shelf life after ripening. That said, Pinyon nuts, are superior to traditional Pine Nuts ( usually harvest from Italian Stone Pine, Pinus pinea )  and  are considered quite a valuable crop.

      Like many other Pines, Pinyon, as a whole, face numerous challenges.. While much more extensive in the past, Pinyon - Juniper Woodlands have been inching upward as temperatures across the Southwest have warmed.. Major fires in places like New Mexico, Colorado, and here in Arizona have also wiped former tracts of this habitat from different areas.  Humans have also done their part in eliminating groves by cutting and clearing land of trees.  Several animals, including the Pinyon Jay, which is critical to dispersing seed, depend on Pinyon almost exclusively.

      As interesting as Pinyons are, Pinus monophylla adds to the uniqueness of the Genus ( ..and overall Family ) by being the only species of Pine possessing a single needle per Fascicle / bundle.

      Walking around, looking for specimens, saw several smaller trees scattered about  suggesting there is at least some level of on- going recruitment occurring out here..  Sad to think all of them may not survive past the next decade, ...a mere " half- second " in their total lifespan..  Hopefully this little guy i almost stepped on won't face that future, Would be neat to see again in 25-35 years... ( if i'm  still alive, lol )

    • Silas_Sancona
      By Silas_Sancona
      Onto part 2... A Saturday trip to yet another hidden gem in Arizona's scenic crown, which also faces an uncertain future..

      While Oak Flat itself is, ..er, ..rather flat, can't say the same thing once you venture away from the Campground / adjacent " table top " area directly south of the campground.  Hike in far enough and you will likely end up taking in awe inspiring views of massive rock formations, many referred to as " Hoodoos" silently standing guard over a narrow but deeply cut canyon that traces the eastern boundary of Oak Flat.

      Devil's Canyon is one of those " surprise " spots in the state which might be known to some, but not necessarily to all.  It is also an extremely popular climbing location which, if you viewed the video included in the link in part 1, was part of the biggest annual climbing competition, held in Oak Flat for 15 years, in the world..  That tells you something about the location.. 

      Like the flat, Devil's Canyon also faces being destroyed by the same potential mining development, though perhaps to a lesser extent ( not that less damage is any less significant ).. Regardless, access to the area will be permanently cut off ( at least ) Can see numerous spots where " exploratory " drilling / road cutting is already taking place as you hike out to the canyon itself.

      While there essentially 3 access points to the canyon rim from Oak Flat, the best area, for viewing the largest concentration of rock formations, is the lower section, and was where i headed Saturday.  From the flat, the hike is approx 6 miles one way.. 

      From another spot, where i started Saturday's hike, via Hackberry Creek.. which is accessed by driving a mile or two further southwest along the main ( paved ) road from Oak Flat ( Park where the pond is located on Google Earth / Maps, at a pull off at the hairpin in the road.. ).  From there, hiking distance to the lower portion of the canyon is roughly cut in half.. Terrain, as mentioned, is still a workout though ..made more of a workout by June's Telegraph Fire / rest of this summer's rains.. Do your homework because trails are not marked and one or two wrong trails taken will take you many miles off track..  I myself noted where i'd see the most shoe prints, etc marks of frequent trail use.. and took lots of pictures for future reference.

      There is also a side trail somewhere near the beginning  along Hackberry Creek that, if followed, will take you west directly up a canyon to the top of Apache Leap ( Supposedly a roughly 2 or 3 mile hike, by google earth measurements anyway < could be off by a bit obviously > ). Fire might make locating it a bit difficult.. Wasn't obvious to me, though i have an idea of where it might start... Anyway..

      Access to the upper ( more east / north along it than higher in elevation ) parts of the canyon are easier / less hiking time from the flat.  Can camp at any of the access points. Bet views of sunset / sunrise / the stars are spectacular. 

      Hike in, Starting from the pond at Hackberry Creek ( would you call it Hackberry Pond? / Lake? ) An ATV / ORV or really tough truck could probably get further in compared to most vehicles.. Note the effects ..and resilience of the landscape post fire along the way ( Torched a much wider area of the landscape out here compared to the Flat ). Was also told by someone i talked with out there the pond? was dry in June.

      Views of Pinal Peak, to the east of the Flat/ Devil's Canyon.. Telegraph Fire went up and over the peak as well..

      Stock pond / long abandoned windmill / Cattle Corral in the Valley below the last big hill...  Getting closer.. Head left, not right..

      Final leg of the trail..

      Just about there....

    • Silas_Sancona
      By Silas_Sancona
      After much editing, a look at one of Arizona's irreplaceable environmental jewels currently facing numerous challenges from many angles..  the biggest potential threat being human- driven  which threatens to erase the very existence of the landscapes here.  Beyond the starting point here at the Flat ( Part 1 of this series of threads ) lies much more that also faces a very uncertain future, for many of the same reasons...

      Considered sacred ground to local Native Americans, Oak flat is both a place where people come to connect with something spiritual, and a popular place people come to escape the valley and spend a weekend camping.  Located roughly 26 miles east of Phoenix along the U.S. 60, and about 6 miles east of Superior, AZ, Oak Flat sits nestled between the Saguaro filled lower portions of the Sonoran Desert, and the northern reaches of the Madrean Pine - Oak woodlands / forests to the east and south. Flora from the Rockies / Great Basin extends south to roughly the same part of the state as well.  Oak Flat itself sits in the middle of Arizona's version of the  scrubby " Chaparral Belt " and contains numerous plant species / families than can be found in similar habitats in South Central and Southern California, growing alongside plants of more tropical origin. Some of the same animals can be found in both places as well.

      While the transition between the upper Sonoran Desert and the Chaparral belt can be gradual in many places around the state,  the same transition is rather abrupt between Superior and Oak Flat, even though they're only separated by a few miles.. Ridge that sits between both places acts as a sort of sharp barrier.. blunting the heat somewhat, and allowing more cool air to move over the area from the east.

      Campground ( which is fee -free to use ) sits inside the bigger Tonto National Forest, which includes the Superstition Mountains / Brown's Peak ( " 4 Peaks ".. as everyone referrers to them here )and several reservoirs to the northwest, ..Apache Leap and Picketpost Mountain -to the west of Superior-, Pinal Peak directly east of Oak Flat, and a wide expanse of territory to the east / northeast of Phoenix. 

      Unfortunately, Oak Flat also sits in another notable region of the state ..Copper Country..  It the pursuit of new deposits of this precious metal that poses the greatest threat both to the flat, and a pretty large area surrounding it, ..as well as to Superior,  nearby Queen Valley,  and parts of the east side of Phoenix itself ( Queen Creek / San Tan Valley esp. )

      While the " battle " to save Oak Flat started with the threat a new mining operation would pose to sacred and ceremonial ground, it has gained much more attention across a wide audience as word has spread over the years.. Pretty much every national news outlet has mentioned the fight to save the land at some time, as has National Geographic, numerous environmental outlets, and international news agencies..

      It would take wayy too long to list all the different threats mining here would introduce, or everything that makes this area very special  so i'll include a link to a write up / video done by Earthworks several years ago.. Highly recommend taking the 18 minutes to listen to the video. Note that it isn't just something just one group stands behind stopping.. Destroying this land will effect everyone, and leave a terrible legacy for the state / country.
      Link: https://earthworks.org/stories/oak_flat_apache_leap/

      Regardless of how things turn out, highly recommend a trip here, whether local or living elsewhere.. Compared to some areas of the high country, Oak Flat / surrounding areas is very easy to get to from Phoenix.  Hopefully all the forth coming pictures aren't among the last the world is able to see of this spectacular slice of the Southwest. 

      For anyone thinking " The land would still be there once the Mine has been abandoned in the future " ....watch the video..  Not even close..    Is there a middle ground that could be reached, where both challenges can be met, ..w/ out sacrificing the land?  possibly..  though experience across the state has shown otherwise when mining companies have been given the benefit of the doubt..   Having grown up where Mercury was mined for years, i wouldn't trust any mining entity either.

      While there may be no native palms here, all land is sacred and worth being saved.   In the future, if things warm more, who knows what might be found growing out here.. Territory occupied by lest one sp. of Brahea, and Sabal Uresana isn't that far away.. ( Not including specimens of each already growing in Boyce Thompson's collection nearby )

      May have taken me some time to get out here, but well worth the wait..  As long as the area is accessible, -if the mine is granted the go ahead-, i'll be back as many times as i can.


      Starting out w/ pictures along the 60 on the way up, through the canyon that follows Queen Creek..  Grade is rather subtle..  Don't realize the elevation gained while headed " up hill " Would be a great area to bike if such access were added alongside the highway between Superior and Oak Flat..

      West of the Tunnel, on Saturday..

      From the road, on Tuesday..

      Stopping at one of a couple pull offs on Saturday..

      Landscape scenes from Oak Flat from both Tuesday and Saturday's trips...   Large sections of the Flat / surrounding areas was ravaged by the Telegraph this past June. While not as apparent in the flat itself, Notice how a wet summer is helping things recover in any post- burn pictures.

      Arizona's low country version of fall Colors.. Bushes covered by now in decline Trans Pecos Morning Glory, Ipomoea cristulata..

      We'll get to the plants observed there later.. There's a canyon to visit next.

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