Hiking to the old corral

Sonoran Desert Toad
Sonoran Desert Toad
[Edited 3/31/15 - added identification of wildflowers]

My hikes, even when following the same route, always yield surprises.

Last Saturday Liz and I did a short two-mile hike around the old corral. One of the old-timers here tells me it was the Double-E Ranch back in the day – 1960’s or so. If the cattle gate was open, you could wander up to the ranch.  If it was closed, keep your distance.

Echinocereus fasciculatus – Pinkflower Hedgehog Cactus
Echinocereus fasciculatus – Pinkflower Hedgehog Cactus

George wanted to talk to the old man, so asked the local Justice of the Peace, who gave him the heads up.  George was going to bring a six-pack as a gift, and the Justice said “Whoa!, if you take liquor or alcohol up there, we won’t see the old man for two weeks!”. George opted to take a box of cigars, and said they chatted for hours.

The wash is dry
The wash is dry

This week on our hike, Liz spotted, no pun intended, a toad in the rocks. This is a Sonoran Desert toad – its skin excretes a toxin that will poison animals, and can kill a large dog.  This fellow was a baby, a little more than 2-inches long.  Adults will grow up to 7-inches.

Phlox tenuifolia – Santa Catalina Mountain Phlox
Phlox tenuifolia – Santa Catalina Mountain Phlox

The flowers were still out, and while I missed the poppy bloom, there was still plenty of color in the desert.  The washes are drying out, although there is still plenty of running water if you know where to find it.

The hedgehog cactus were in full blossom, bright fuchsia flowers topping the spiny stalks. They are the harbinger of summer, and soon the prickly pear cactus and barrel cactus will follow suit.  The fruit of the prickly pear, in fact most of the plant, is edible. The flowers can be used in a salad, the fruit is high in anti-oxidants and very sweet. The prickly pear pads when properly cleaned are great in an omelette.

Cirsium ochrocentrum – Yellowspine Thistle
Cirsium ochrocentrum – Yellowspine Thistle

You can eat very healthy in the desert, if you know what you are looking for.  But, you can also poison yourself if you make a mistake – so it is best not to experiment.

The morning quickly heated up, we got an early start and still by 10AM it was hot enough that our hike was over.  It is a good thing we selected a short route.

 Gila County live-forever (Dudleya collomiae)
Gila County live-forever (Dudleya collomiae)

We made a run to Home Depot after the hike, and I picked up the less sexy components necessary to make the ceiling fan under the ramada a reality. We still can’t afford a swamp cooler, so the fan and our misting system will have to suffice for this summer.

But back to the hike – it has been said that the best way to become an expert in something is to teach someone else. I use this forum as a way to teach myself and share the wealth of my new-found information.  I am in no way an expert, I just use my resources to learn.

On this last hike we discovered a succulent growing out of the rocks – aloe-like leaves with a pink stalk and yellowish flowers. Cactus and agave are succulents, as are aloe plants – but aloes are not native to this hemisphere.

Both plants have adapted similar forms and shapes to deal with similar water-deprived habitats. But there the similarity ends, they have adapted different methods of coping with periods of drought.

This plant appears to be of the aloe family, with the soft fleshy leaves that store moisture. I can find no reference in the books and websites that deal with Sonoran Desert plants. Maybe somebody can help me identify this?

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