Visiting Mountain Natives

“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.

prickly pear cactus

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.


Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.


  1. Becky says:

    It sounds like you had a wonderful trip. The lavender flower looks a bit like Robin’s Plantain. I found that growing wild here. It is in the aster family and blooms here in the spring. I couldn’t find it until I looked in Mrs. William Starr Dana’s old wildflower book.

    • Donna says:

      Thx Becky we did have a great time. It does look like a Robin’s Plaintain. If it is, it is not native to AZ but sure is a pretty little wildflower brought from somewhere else. Hope you are having a lovely fall and wishing you a Merry Christmas!!

  2. Donna says:

    You seem to know volumes about Arizona and thanks for the tour of the national forest. Arizona is one of the states I think is the most beautiful in the whole country, along with Utah and New Mexico. I adore the color to be found in the natural landscape and the way the sun paints the scenery of deserts and mountainsides. I lived in Utah for almost a year (for skiing and just plain fun) and did much visiting of the South West and always wanted to move there, but I too would miss the seasons, but not mind the heat or traffic. Your plant does look like it is in the aster family.

    • Donna says:

      Donna, I have spent a lot of time in AZ and I love learning about some of the places…fun to share the info…the SW is a beautiful area but for me I need to stay away from the urban areas to really enjoy it…I was thinking it was an aster too but then I wasn’t sure…I think it may a form of the western aster and is smaller than usual because it is growing in shade under some pretty big trees…glad you enjoyed the virtual trip!!

    • Donna says:

      Diana it is sad that this happens all over the world. It is the only Wild river since all the others in AZ are dammed and used for recreation…

    • Donna says:

      Oh Christine I am so glad you really liked it..I wasn’t sure if it was too technical and full of information and not enough plants…. 🙂

  3. HolleyGarden says:

    I loved seeing the close ups of the trees. I love trees, but have never studied them – the names all seem to fit so well, now that they’ve been explained. Nice that you got to visit family.

    • Donna says:

      Holley I so love trees too and love learning about them. It was so much fun exploring the forest with family. They had some info on the trees at the cabin but I had to do some exploring on my own to find out more….

  4. Elaine says:

    Great pictures! I love the colors and contrasts in the Southwest. It’s always good to migrate south in the winter….Merry Christmas….don’t eat too many cookies!

    • Donna says:

      Elaine you are right it is wonderful in the SW…I would love to live in New Mexico even in winter since there are still seasons but you get the beauty of the SW. So glad you enjoyed the pictures. I won’t be eating the cookies this year. I have been having a gluten problem so any cookies not gluten free will give me quite a tummy ache. Hoping to learn more about gluten free baking and then i can make my own…yummy!! Hope you have the most wonderful Christmas!!!!

  5. Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens says:

    How lucky you are to visit this amazing area, and thanks for sharing it with us. The photo of the acorns made me dizzy? Is it upside down? It was such a weird reaction. I see you got it to snow on your blog—so fun—I was sad when it went off last year. Merry Christmas, Carolyn

    • Donna says:

      Actually the acorns are right side up but kind of look upside down…it was a bit weird…it was so shady I had a hard time getting a picture in focus…so glad you enjoyed the post..AZ is an amazing place!! Yes the widget worked so far…let it snow!!

    • Donna says:

      Debbie I was so happy at how the bark came through on the pictures…the trees were so amazing I kept touching and smelling them….

  6. Kay G. says:

    Just found you on Dee’s blog, red dirt ramblings.
    If I ever have recipes on my blog, they almost will always be gluten free.
    Your blog is wonderful. I am glad to find you!


    • Donna says:

      Kay so wonderful to have you visit and I am glad you found me…feel free to drop by any time and browse around…Lovely to have you!!

    • Donna says:

      Jennifer I am glad you came along for the wonderful ride through AZ. If you ever get the chance, you must visit. I can tell you all the places you won’t want to miss!! Happy Holidays and here’s to a great 2012.

  7. Carolflowerhillfarm says:

    Dear Donna, I will have to bookmark this article so that when I go out west I can print out your informative tour. How lucky to have a cabin in Arizona to visit . . . family too, of course. It is good that some of your family decided to keep their roots in the warmer climate. Wonderful images . . . your descriptions make me long to be there now. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and all Best in the New Year! Carol

    • Donna says:

      Carol, how wonderful to see you..I think of you often. So glad you enjoyed the tour. I am lucky to have family scattered so I can visit such beautiful places…I do enjoy visiting the SW. You will love Northern Arizona. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and here’s to a great New Year!!!

  8. Andrea says:

    Oh Donna, i feel a bit sorry for the natives when they were removed from their land. But your photos are so beautiful, with those splendid bark textures and shapes. I am sure many of our tropical plants grow in Arizona, however this ponderosa pine is not one of them. Merry Christmas and Happy holidays.

  9. Donna says:

    You are correct Andrea. Parts of Southern Arizona where it is a desert love to use tropical plants that are not native. They have lots of palm trees for instance in the desert and they are like a fish out of water literally. Many people living in AZ think palm trees are native but do not realize so many of their plants there are not native but are beautiful tropics coming from beautiful places around the world. And they use a lot of water which is not found in great supply in the desert. Too bad they plant so many tropical plants. Not good for the environment, habitat and water supply. The desert natives are so lovely themselves. So glad you enjoyed the Ponderosa pine and the post!!

    • Donna says:

      Julie thank you. Having visited AZ once you know then. The Grand Canyon is a must see for everyone. Such a spiritual place…Merry Christmas to you and your lovely family!!

  10. Rose says:

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful images and all the interesting information about this part of Arizona! My daughter has lived in the Phoenix area for the past four years, and I’ve visited her several times during that time. I’ve come to love this area and have enjoyed learning about the different plant life there. On one visit we visited an area east of Phoenix that must be the southern end of the Tonto Forest– so lovely! Sadly, she’s been transferred (sad for me–she’s happy about being promoted) and is moving to Houston soon, so I don’t know when I’ll get back to Arizona. We made it as far north as the Grand Canyon one year, but there is so much more of the state I want to see!

    • Donna says:

      Rose so glad you enjoyed the native trees of AZ…sorry to hear your daughter is moving..there certainly is lots to visit in AZ but being able to see the Grand Canyon is the tops…I could spend the rest of my life exploring it and be so blissfully happy…thx for joining in today!!

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