East of Tucson, between the small towns of Benson and Willcox, Interstate 10 traverses a saddle between the Little Dragoon Mountains on the north side of the highway and the Dragoon Mountains to the south. This area, known as Texas Canyon, is famous for its spectacular boulder-strewn landscape. As the quartz monzonite boulders of Texas Canyon have weathered over time, they have tended to become increasingly rounded. This process of eroding and fragmenting rock is called exfoliation. Today, Interstate 10 follows the old stagecoach route of the Butterfield Overland Mail which operated here during the years just before the Civil War, allowing visitors to penetrate the heart of this fascinating area of gigantic rock outcrops.
As February progresses, things start warming up in the low deserts of Arizona, and the procession of rainy winter storms moving in from the Pacific starts to wind down, soon to grind to a halt. There is still some moisture left behind, however, held in cold storage as it were, high in the mountains that make up the Sky Islands. The water, in the form of ice and snow, is released gradually and helps to tide the land over until the arrival of the summer monsoons. This February photograph is from Bear Wallow at 8,000 feet in the Santa Catalina Mountains.
Though generally sunny and dry, the Southwest is subject to the vagaries of weather. In the winter, cold storms can suddenly sweep over the landscape, dumping snow on the mountains and bringing welcome rain to the parched valleys. In addition, they often add a bit of spectacle to an already dramatic landscape. The fast moving front in this photograph advanced through Cochise County, Arizona on a cold January afternoon.
If you examine a sufficient number of individual Saguaros, eventually you will encounter a “cristate” specimen. Cristate, or crested, Saguaros display abnormal growth patterns, most often wildly fan-shaped. The condition that causes this aberrant growth in Saguaros (as well as in other plants) is called fasciation, and it occurs quite rarely. This means that the discovery of one of these unique cacti is an exceptional find indeed.
The mountain ranges that make up southeastern Arizona’s Sky Islands are high enough and cover enough area to support forests at their higher elevations. Each forested mountaintop is an island unto itself, separated from the others by the surrounding “sea” of desert. The highest of all the Sky Island ranges is the Pinaleños. These mountains have 7,000 feet of vertical relief and are the only Sky Island range that reaches elevations over 10,000 feet. The high point is the summit of Mount Graham at 10,720 feet. The high life, indeed.
A small arroyo behind my house leads eventually to Mescal Wash and, from there, through ever widening washes until eventually reaching the Santa Cruz River, about forty miles to the west. Also near my house, there is this low ridge just a few hundred yards to the east. On the other side of its low crest is an arroyo called Cornfield Wash, and it leads a scant few miles to the nearby San Pedro River. That means that this modest ridge line marks a divide between two major river valleys in southern Arizona; the San Pedro drainage to the east, and the Santa Cruz to the west.
Water flowing into a tinaja, a term used in the American Southwest to describe naturally occurring basins that catch and retain water. They most often are found at the base of waterfalls where the scouring action of water and gravel can, over time, excavate depressions in solid rock. This tinaja is in the upper reaches of Paige Canyon in the Rincon Mountains of Arizona.
The high and dry desert grasslands of Cochise County, Arizona, seem to embody the idea of the wide open spaces. The grassy rolling country stretches away toward the distant horizon, unbounded by fences or buildings. It’s the repository of space, a refuge of emptiness in an increasingly crowded world.
The strong, pure light of the Southwest often produces a dramatically illuminated landscape when thunderstorms sweep across the region’s deserts, grasslands, and mountains. Here, as a storm clears, two towering yuccas glow in the warm light of the setting sun. In the background, a bright rainbow and tattered clouds hang in the rain-cooled air. This photograph was taken in the high grasslands near Mescal, Cochise County, Arizona.
The summer monsoon trails off in mid to late September in southeastern Arizona. Today’s streaming clouds and lush green grass mark the high point of rainy season’s bounty. However, the cool, dry breeze now coming from out of the west signals the monsoon’s end. Crisp and clear mornings will soon see temperatures dropping into the 50’s, and the turn of the season will be complete. This photograph was taken on the J-Six Ranch in Cochise County, Arizona.