Tuesday morning I awoke late in the morning to an even thicker fog. It rolled into the backyard obscuring all but the closest houses. It raised and lowered; raised and lowered like breath in the chest of the earth. The fog didn’t burn off until after 11 a.m. I drove into town to do errands under heavy gray skies. When I left the store after 3 hours of shopping the sun was shining, but soon disappeared behind thick clouds in the west. As I headed south on Kolb towards home I glanced in the rearview mirror to change lanes. It almost took my breath away to see the snow capped Catalinas reflected in the golden light of the setting sun. I drove south with this beautiful view in my rearview mirror and finally pulled off the road when it was safe enough to have a good look. On all sides of me desert scrub and cactus spread out. The air was warm enough to be in my shirt sleeves. But there, suspended above the desert floor the mountains wore a coat of white with evergreen trees poking through the thick white blanket. The sight rivaled any seen in Utah or Colorado. I drove home with a smile in my stomach.
Beneath our feet the ground was gravel and sand. On much of the canyon floor the sand had gathered into deep sand bars or deposited in thick swaths. As we walked our feet squished in the sand and our legs worked twice as hard to push us forward with each step. A few Arizona Ash saplings gathered on the banks of the wash. A Gooding’s willow fell across the dry creek and we had to duck beneath it as we headed south. Here the leaves of the cottonwoods, ashes and willows still flaunted their autumn gold, while the mesquite endured in desert green and even a few cedars tucked themselves in along the banks. Dead leaves lay on the ground decaying in the moisture of the recent rains. The fragrance of wet leaves wafted up around us in the cool morning air.
As we continued south down the canyon the sun rose higher in the sky. The canyon widened out to a more open area with a grassy island in the middle with a smaller side channel. We continued on the main channel and stopped to investigate footprints in the sand and mud. We saw prints that could have been from coatimundis or raccoons, as well as javalina prints. We found evidence of cattle in the form of large cow pies, and still more scat piles of reddish berries. Whatever deposited them had been here recently for they were still wet and fresh. When we found a Hackberry Tree along the wash full of red berries we decided whatever deposited the scat must have been feasting on this and other Hackberry trees. The berries were hard and reddish orange. They didn’t look appetizing to us at all. However, the piles of scat looked like cranberry-orange relish being served up on desert stones, for that is where whatever animal was responsible seemed to always deposit their scat.
With the warming sun more birds ventured out. A flock of 20 or more white-crowned sparrows flitted in the brush keeping ever ahead of us. In the trees we saw numerous ruby-crowned kinglets busily collecting insects for breakfast. We turned around when we reached the bridge near I-10. Two huge Arizona Ash trees towered over the canyon here with golden crowns, but we found no access points from this end of the canyon. We headed back toward Cienega Creek stopping to observe a Northern Flicker as it flew with its undulating flight into a large cottonwood tree. The red of its underwings flashed in the sun and its white rump patch was clearly visible. We also saw a Say’s Phoebe along the way.
Here the creek flowed freely. A black phoebe caught our eyes as it darted towards the water then flew back to its overhanging branch again. Another flash of movement proved to be yet another kinglet. The gentle gurgle of water was a soothing sound in our ears. It washed over my being with memories of other creeks, eastern streams and forest brooks. But I am here, this day in this place in Arizona. I am in a desert and this is a true desert oasis. It draws me even as it draws the wildlife with its promise of life giving water and cooling shade. Above us the open desert burns, but here deep in the canyon is shelter, shade and serenity.
In the creek Mark noticed tiny minnows swimming against the current. Along the rocky cliffs Jean pointed out a spider web hung with cottonwood leaves giving the effect of a child’s mobile hanging over a crib. At this point we turned back due to time constraints, but we were delighted with one more surprise when we saw a Canyon Towhee bathing in the creek beneath an overhanging tree. The towhee stayed close to the bank but splashed with delight in the pool formed by the bend of the creek.