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The Emerald Desert, Take Two: Part Two, Arizona's subtropical " Great Plains"


Silas_Sancona

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Time to enjoy some lush, Monsoon painted scenes from one of the most unexpected regions of the state full of landscapes that could easily be mistaken for destinations far removed from here, yet, are familiar, depending on the time of year... 

  Included in this year's addition are a few views from the historic Empire Ranch that sits within Las Cienegas, and some views from the Paton Center for Hummingbirds / Sonoita - Patagonia Creek Preserve in Patagonia, Two great summer retreats where rare exotic birds visit, and Jaguar have roamed... And yet, this is just a taste of vast and nearly uninterrupted horizon that stretches east from here, all the way to west Texas ( ...and beyond ), and southeast toward Central America down the Mexican Plateau. Head due south for another hour or two in the car from Patagonia and you'll likely begin to encounter Plumeria, Dioon and Brahea species, Tillandsia, more species than just Ball Moss, and increasingly exotic rock and tree-dwelling Orchids growing on rugged hillsides that look almost exactly as the ones on this side of the border... 

As for what makes the region's grasslands / Mesquite woodlands " Subtropical"?  Climate and evolution tell the story.  The further south one goes in Arizona, ..or New Mexico,  the less winter rainfall is seen with areas close to the U.S. / Mexico border here relying more on summer rainfall than what might accumulate in winter, ...if any occurs.  Due to this, most of the grasses ( ...and many other native plants in this part of the state / region ) are considered C4 - type plants, ..In simple terms, C4 plants evolved to fix Carbon differently than C3 plants, mainly due to the differences in climate.. Generally speaking, most C3 plants evolved in temperate regions and thus are at their best when it is cooler,  while C4 plants respond to hot / humid subtropical / tropical conditions.

Because of the region's proximity to the heart of mainland Mexico, and varied terrain, numerous plants associated with the subtropics can be found here, while at the same time, other plants from the more temperate north / northeast,  or in-between climate areas to the west can be encountered as well..

The interesting thing about this portion of the state is it is higher in elevation compared with the lower deserts and can get fairly cold in the winter, which limits, ..at least for now, the advancement of distinctly tropical plants / plant families that would have a tougher time surviving multiple cold winters here in all but the most ideal micro climate locations.  Given a few decades of continued moderation of winter conditions, if that occurs,  it is entirely possible more of these " tender ' things may turn up / spread around more.  Regardless,  an incredible place to visit, especially when adequate Monsoon rains transform dusty and sun backed landscapes into lush horizons that exhibit a strangely Florida, Kansas, ..or California ( in spring ) like feel.

While warmer and a touch less humid on this trip compared to last year, weather was still perfect.. While i missed good thunderstorm coverage here by about a week, still a few morning storms roaming the horizon and nearby mountains on and off through the day. Just enough storms around to carry the sound of distant thunder through the air, and some cool, moist breezes from those distant showers.

Enjoy...

Headed south along the 83.. Dominant grass lining the roadsides is Purple Three Awn. Is some Buffelgrass trying to establish itself here as well.


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Can see some of the Ocotillo starting to dry out on the hillside on the right.
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Up and through the Santa Rita Foothills.

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Unfortunately, this lookout area is closed.. Not sure if by a private owner nearby, or the Mining Company looking to destroy this part of the Santa Ritas cut off access here. Exploratory work they've been doing on the ridge is more evident on this visit ( especially in pictures # 2 and 3 )

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The road to Sonoita, on the way to Patagonia

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Nice look at a cloud-shrouded Mt. Wrightson.. 

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Red Mountain, near Patagonia.

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Some " Green Scenes " from the Paton Center... Some info first..

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Viewing Ramada, and a nice- sized Pecan.

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Garden Oasis. Pretty sure the second pond / Meadow ( Pictures #2-4 ) was constructed just a few years ago.. Pretty neat how quickly everything gets established.

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A few from Sonoita / Patagonia Creek Preserve..

Wider view of Sonoita Creek.

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Randoms:

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Excellent example of a large Arizona Black Walnut, Juglans major.  Ironically, there's an open space area i used to hike pretty often back in California that has a massive California Walnut ( don't remember which sp. Two occur out there. ) growing in the center of a floodplain that is oriented in a similar fashion.

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Headed back toward Las Cienegas.. Where are we?

Kansas, Wyoming?

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California.. or somewhere further north?
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South Central or South Texas?
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.......

 

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Continuing on.... 

Home sweet home

Opening scene w/ Mountain "Sky Islands" in view:  Far left, Whetstones ( ...and Apache Peak ),  Distant, far right = Huachuca.  Roughly center, Mustang.


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Despite a the drier overall conditions on the day of  this years visit, interesting how the sky itself looks very similar to when i was here last year.

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Looking west toward the southern end of the Santa Rita Mountains and Mt. Wrightson ( capped by clouds ) and south toward the hills / mountains near the Mexico Border. Can see that despite the time of day, small showers are already starting to pop over Wrightson and drifting east toward / over Sonoita and the Cienegas.

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Little something something starting to boil up over the Whetstones.

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Monsoon Magic.. Was about a week late for widespread, and bigger storms rolling over the area but this will do for now.. Maybe next year.

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Not sure what happened to this Yucca ( Y. madrensis, i think.. ) but same one that was upright last year.  Same giant Agave palmeri i photographed last year ( Picture #2 ), this time with a telephone pole full of ripening seed..  Seems some of the other A. palmeri specimens i noted last year have disappeared this year ..or i just forgot where i observed them, lol. Anyway, overall, noticed a lot of specimens along the highway out here are also producing a good seed crop this year.

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Soaptree Yucca ( Y. elata ) specimens looking good..

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As mentioned elsewhere, diversity of summer season color seemed a bit muted compared to last year. That said, grasses are front and center this year.  Among the many that grow out here,  Sprucetop Grama ( Bouteloua chondrosioides ) was a standout in many spots. Interestingly, it has been studied and trialed as a potential, low water turf grass option for cultivation. Can survive on as little as six inches of water provided between May and September.  For a Grass, the bright red/ red orange Stamens, and reddish purple " blush " on the seed heads and stems is quite attractive. A tuft-type bunch grass, so it doesn't spread like wildfire. W/ out the seed heads, it will stay around roughly 6-8" in maximum height.

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A taller relative to Sprucetop, Sideoats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula  is a well known, and well liked ornamental native grass option in the nursery trade.. About as tough, ..or tougher.. than Sprucetop but taller To about 3ft in height, taller with the seed heads. ...A good option for planting against boulders / near block or brick walls, etc to soften up the look. Last part of the species name provides a clue to how the seed heads look as they develop.. Pendulous,  ...somewhat hanging / weeping.. They too have bright red stamens / reddish blush which adds to the attractiveness of the species in a more "tamed" landscape design. Have observed this species in California, AZ, Texas, and Kansas.

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Empire Ranch:

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As the sign says,  A working Ranch since the mid/ later 1800's  with the overall area being occupied by humans for an estimated 10,000 years.  Not too far east of the Cienegas are  some Archeological site that may reshape who inhabited the region before more modern settlers arrived, let alone the path traveled by a famous explorer.

A couple articles:


http://westerndigs.org/unexpected-3000-year-old-bison-hunting-site-discovered-in-southern-arizona/

http://westerndigs.org/new-discoveries-in-arizona-may-be-game-changers-in-mystery-of-ancient-cultures-collapse/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronado-expedition-1540-artifatcs-found-arizona-archaeologist/

Important:

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Corral that i'm pretty sure is still used today.

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Old house and the Adobe/ mud motor construction of it's walls. Fascinating that they're still in decent condition. Would be interesting to enter it and see how much the materials used help regulate temperatures inside, if at all.

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Old school Refrigerator / freezer / cooler

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Randoms of the main building area.. There was someone from the from the foundation out trying to find a Snake that had been spotted by another visitor beyond the hallway after she had to " Notify the manager ".   City folks, :lol:.

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Closing Views, for now:

Yep, right here  ...Then i'm gonna mosey on down that road over there 'fer a bit... :mrlooney:


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Whetstones and Apache Peak closer up

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'Stangs... Closer up

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Examining the land's underpinnings along a random creek

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Randos..

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More showers bubblin' up down near and over the mountains across the border in Sonora.

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A few views while headed back down the hill to Tucson ( ...and home )

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~Fin....

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  • 4 weeks later...

That's amazing!  Wow.. thank you for sharing. Totally awesome.. way greener than any desert here during monsoon..  that is flat out prairie..

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27 minutes ago, SailorBold said:

That's amazing!  Wow.. thank you for sharing. Totally awesome.. way greener than any desert here during monsoon..  that is flat out prairie..

I'd heard parts of S.W. New Mexico greened up pretty well this year also,  though that whole " Square " < ..if you drew a line due south from Tucson to Nogales, and another line due east from Tucson to the AZ/ N.M. state line >  usually gets the most rain every summer compared to everywhere else in the region, except the mountains.

  As "dry" as it was at the house/ in the immediate area, i was waiting to start seeing pictures posted on twitter from storm chasers in the area before i decided to head down there this year.  Patagonia was a bit of a surprise.. Knew it would be green down there, but lusher than expected.

If winters were 9B, i'd consider moving down there.. Think that part of the state is mostly 8a-8b with micro climate pockets of 9a here and there. Sonoita sees a dusting to a few inches of snow at least once some winters.

That said, i did see decent sized Red Bird of Paradise growing in a couple yards in Patagonia.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

** Bonus edition**

Made a surprise trip back down to the borderlands Saturday, stopping at the Cienegas along the way to enjoy some end of Monsoon Season / early Autumn views, and do a little sniffing around for any late season seed of a few things, mainly a couple species of Grasses.

About as perfect as it gets in the early Fall around here.. In the 50s when i got up into the foothills / to the Cienegas. In the upper 70s/ low 80s as i headed back toward Tucson, closely followed by storms that had started building over the mountains near Patagonia by about noon.

While the change to Autumnal shades of Straw and Gold are clear,  Sonoita and some other areas across far Southern AZ have continued to see some rainfall on and off through the end of September and into the start of October so there are still patches of faded green mixed within the overall sea of pale gold sweeping over the grasslands out here.


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Southeast facing Flank of Mt. Wrightson.
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Northern Flank of the Huachuca Mountains southeast of Sonoita and Elgin.
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Mt. Wrightson from near the entrance to Las Cienegas
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View south toward the Canelo Hills and Sonoita along the 83.
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Views of Mt. Wrightson along Hwys 83 and 82
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Red Mountain, near Patagonia
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Headed back toward Tucson
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Obscenities screamed loudly!

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Any data in this post is provided 'as is' and in no event shall I be liable for any damages, including, without limitation, damages resulting from accuracy or lack thereof, insult, or lost profits or revenue, claims by third parties or for other similar costs, or any special, incidental, or consequential damages arising out of my opinion or the use of this data. The accuracy or reliability of the data is not guaranteed or warranted in any way and I disclaim liability of any kind whatsoever, including, without limitation, liability for quality, performance, merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose arising out of the use, or inability to use my data. Other terms may apply.

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