“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
This beautiful picture is of the immense Tonto National Forest in Northern Arizona. When you take a ride from Phoenix up North to the Payson/Pine area you pass through this magnificent forest. I have always loved Northern Arizona. I went to graduate school at Arizona State University which is how my sister and parents came to live in the Phoenix area. I moved back to New York and they moved out to Arizona. I loved the seasons and hated the heat and traffic, and they hated the snow and seemed to ignore the heat and traffic.
My sister has a cabin in Northern Arizona to escape the heat. That is how we came to be on this trip when I recently visited for the Thanksgiving week. I hadn’t been to the cabin in ages, and I enjoy the drive North. I was able to capture a bit of the native trees and plants you will find in Northern Arizona to showcase them as I link in to Wildflower Wednesday and Garden Bloggers Foliage Day. I hope you enjoy a bit of the history and information about the area. So sit back and enjoy the ride.
The Tonto National Forest is almost 3 million acres of beautiful country, and the fifth largest forest in the United States. You will see Saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert at the 1300 foot level, and pine forests as you start to reach the 5000-7900 foot level. Nestled in the hills and mountains are mostly artificially created lakes with river valleys, rocky canyons and flat plains. Much of the area is full of cacti, along with bushes and grasslands starting at 4,000 feet. The higher elevations to the north support juniper, fir, oak and ponderosa pine.
In 1905, the Tonto National Forest was established to maintain a quality habitat through protection of its watersheds for the fish and wildlife in the area. There are more than 400 animal species represented in the Tonto, including 21 on the federal and state Threatened and Endangered Species lists. Portions of the Verde River have also been designated by Congress as Arizona’s first and only Wild and Scenic River Area. You can find squirrels, chipmunks, desert cottontail, black-tailed jackrabbit, spotted and striped skunks, red fox, coyote, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, and mountain lion. Wild turkey live in the Tonto, with the Steller’s jay, screech owl, hummingbirds, juncos, and common raven. Most of the snakes are harmless, but you might run across a western diamondback rattler.
Many of the archeological and historic sites within the Tonto are now protected and preserved by the Tonto National Forest Heritage Program. The Heritage Program works with nine Indian tribes to help with the preservation of their customs and the land of the Tonto National Forest.
The Tonto National Forest has been home to several prehistoric Indian groups, and was colonized more than a thousand years ago by a group of people known today as the Hohokam. The Hohokam were accomplished farmers, craftsmen and warriors. They built large villages and dug hundreds of miles of irrigation canals. About 600 years ago after several hundred years of droughts, floods, and warfare, these people left the Tonto area never to return.
In the mid 1880s tribes of Apache and Yavapai, who lived in the Tonto, were moved to reservations. Today the Tonto Apache Reservation is located inside the forest at Payson. The Apache still use the forest for gathering wild plants and other traditional practices. Once the army had removed the Indians from the area, the Tonto filled up with settlers. First were the miners and farmers, followed by sheep and cattle ranchers.
Now that you have learned a bit of the history of the area, here are some of the native trees found around my sister’s cabin. While they are not wildflowers, I thought I would share these native beauties anyway.
One of the most beautiful sights in the Tonto National Forest, and throughout Northern Arizona and New Mexico, is the pondersoa pine or ‘Pinus ponderosa‘. These magnificent trees tower a couple hundred feet high. The smell is intoxicating. In northern Arizona they grow at elevations between 6,500-8,000 feet. They support a diverse habitat of wildlife with their pine cones for food and their branches for shelter.
The bark of the ponderosa pine is gorgeous. It peels revealing a beautiful red wood below. You can tell this pine by that distinctive red wood and the curvy patterns on its bark.
Junipers can be found throughout the ponderosa pines showing off their berries, actually known as cones. Another incredible scent in the forest, the juniper has berries/cones growing thick at the end of the branches. What wonderful holiday decorations I could make from these trees and their treasures.
The junipers at the cabin are alligator junipers (also known as western or checkered bark juniper), ‘Juniperus deppeana‘, recognized immediately by their alligator skin bark. I just love everything about this tree. They are said to grow at lower elevations, but these are growing way up North at the 6,000 foot level. You can find these natives in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
One of the lovely oaks in Arizona is the Gambel oak or ‘Quercus gambelii‘. The leaves and acorns cover the entire front yard at the cabin, and are a beautiful mulch. These oaks grow throughout the west and southwestern US.
I was surprised to see so many acorns on the ground. Could be signs of a mild winter at the cabin this year. They have had very little snow so far. Without snow, the danger of fire can be very high.
We found this lovely flower growing among the oak leaves under the trees. Not sure what it is. I have done an exhaustive search online to no avail. If you have any ideas, let me know. It does not grow very tall and seems to be almost a ground cover perhaps.
This last image is one we took while up on one of the higher rims in the Tonto Forest. You can see the incredible sky against the sheer red cliffs. The vegetation grows right into the rock, only coming loose as the rock crumbles and sloughs off the face of the cliff.
I hoped you enjoyed the journey north into the beautiful wilderness we seldom get to see. If you are ever able to drive North from Phoenix, take the road to the Payson/Pine area. You won’t regret it.
Going to the woods is going home ~John Muir
I wanted to mention the new Blotanical website coming soon. Stuart has been working on the changes for well over a year now, and we hear he is about to unveil the new site in February of 2012. You can read about it here. I have been absent from Blotanical for a few months now due to my full time job. I should be back visiting and picking posts in the new year. I cannot wait to get back and I am anxious to start using the new Blotanical.
I have a Christmas Surprise post on the 23rd so I hope you will join me. And please join me at Beautiful Wildlife Gardens for my latest post on the Winter Solstice, December 22nd, paying homage to wonderful fall native plants.
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