Such breathtaking views in every direction! Autumn is a wonderful time to visit the desert Southwest. We just returned from a two week Autumn adventure in Arizona. Visiting family was truly the highlight of our vacation ~ making lots of happy memories together, sharing our favorite stories, and smiling over old family photos together. Each moment was a precious one! A true gem!
Oh, there was hiking, too!! Each day we made time to hike a few miles into the desert to admire its unique beauty, so different from our Midwestern landscape. The Sonoran Desert is exceptionally green this Autumn, following the recent Monsoon rains that brought severe flooding to many parts of the Arizona desert. In my twenty years of visits to this special place, I have never seen it so lush and green! It’s so nice to have interesting new places to walk…
We thought you might like to hike with us. It’s important to be prepared for walk in the desert. We always remember to wear sturdy hiking boots, hats, and sunscreen. Carrying a bottle of water is really important! I always bring my camera on our hikes and my husband brings his compass (just in case!).
Don’t worry, we won’t get lost! Today we will take you to some of our favorite places in the Tonto National Forest, in sunny Arizona. This is the fifth largest forest in the United States, so there is a lot to see!
Silence. It’s the first thing that I always notice in the desert. Only the crunch of our boots on the sand and pebbles breaks the peace and quiet. Blue skies, gentle breezes, warm Autumn sunshine, and beautiful mountains in every direction always energize us as we hike.
Named after the Tonto Apache Indians, the Tonto National Forest stretches from Phoenix in the south, to the Mogollon Rim in the north. Our hikes were in the desert habitat in the south part of the forest. The higher elevations in the north are home to tall Pine trees and cooler temperatures.
Nine Native American tribes currently live on Tonto National Forest land. Archeological sites are carefully protected here. The Native Americans are ensured the rights to continue to practice their religious and economic activities on what has become public land, since 1905.
The mountains add to the peaceful, easy feeling of the Tonto National Forest. The Usery Mountains create a lovely background for the desert plants. The lighter stripe along the top of the mountain is the Wind Cave Trail. Over the years, I have only hiked part way up to the Wind Cave, but my husband has climbed the steep, rocky path all the way up to the top of Wind Cave Trail. Beware of the Cholla cactus, with its sharp needles, in the foreground. Little bits of the ‘Jumping Cholla’ are often in our path and we try not to step on them!
The giant Saguaro cacti are truly the most amazing plants that I know! The Saguaros will be featured in some posts of their own in a few days. There is so much to share about these fascinating giants of the Sonoran desert. They are so unique and important to the desert habitat!
The mountains seem to change color from moment to moment all day long. Clouds, although rare over the desert, cast beautiful dramatic shadows on the mountainsides. It’s such a treat to behold!
The Salt River meanders through the Tonto National Forest most of the year. Several dams control its water levels for irrigation and drinking water supplies to the area. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy fishing when the water is low and tubing in the deeper, fast moving waters of the Salt River. Often when we visit, we are able to hike on the dry river bed of the Salt River, seeing the desert vistas from a unique perspective.
While hiking, if we stop and stand very still, we can see wildlife of all kinds. Lizards scuttle across the desert floor. Roadrunners and quail scurry across the ground, while hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and doves dart about. Overhead, hawks and vultures soar over the desert. I love hearing the unfamiliar birdsong in the desert as we walk. Jackrabbits, javelinas, desert chipmunks, coyotes, and an occasional bobcat have been spotted moving across the desert in our recent visits. We have watched so many butterflies collecting pollen from the late Autumn flowers in the desert. Holes in the dry, desert soil remind us that rattlesnakes might be waiting out of sight, while rocks provide shelter for scorpions, beetles, and other creatures.
We really looked forward to our moonlight hike in the Sonoran Desert under the Full Frost Moon. With rangers to guide us, and flashlights and water bottles in hand, we met at the trailhead at dusk. To our surprise, two hundred other hikers had the same plan! So, all the hikers ~ boy scouts, families, and other visitors ~ walked two miles under the Frost Moon together, through the desert washes and amidst the cacti, with flashlights to guide us through the desert terrain. Informative rangers taught us about the history, wildlife, and plants of the desert during our hike. For days, I had been
wondering worrying what creatures might approach us during our nighttime hike. No need to worry!! I’m sure that the sound of four hundred feet pounding the desert floor frightened away every creature within miles ~ except for one very large, black, ground beetle in our path! We felt so sorry for frightening him that night!!
There is so much more to see in the Sonoran Desert! Let’s meet back here again to explore the flora and fauna of the desert. I think you will be fascinated by the life cycle of the giant Saguaro cactus. We will hike together through Saguaro National Park very soon. There are some important ‘words of wisdom’ to share… and an unexpected surprise is awaiting, too!
I’m already looking forward to our next hike! It’s the perfect way to chase away the Winter chill!
Warm sunny wishes!