This is Usery Mountain:
That strip of light color you see is actually a wide band of bright yellow lichen, which does really well on the type of rock that is exposed there (don't remember what kind of rock that is; apologies.)
This is my friend Chris, the ecology TA:
He has a much bigger camera than I do.
This is the bitchin' sock tan-line I got from hiking the Usery Mountain ridgeline with my friend Chris, the ecology TA (and my special gift basket to those of you with a foot fetish):
(My calves aren't really that big. It's just the angle. )
Chris and I used to work on an ecology research grant together which required us to visit Usery Mountain Park at least once a week. On Friday he called me up to go have a beer with him and a former ranger at Usery, and we all got to talking about how beautiful the park was and how much we missed going there, and Chris and I resolved to go hiking on Sunday (the ranger didn't want to go seeing as she is still a ranger, albeit at a different park, and does that for a living).
So I strapped on my brand new running shoes:
and we headed out to Usery.
(Side note (with the disclaimer that I don't get paid to say this or have any affiliation with New Balance): I am obsessed with these shoes. These are the New Balance 840 trail runners; they are a slightly different version of the 800, which are the. best. shoes. ever. I've been wearing the 800 for two years now, and they basically feel like I'm wearing socks with a crapload of tread. Unfortunately, they were either sold out or else discontinued when I went to buy a new pair last week, so I bought the 840. I think the only difference is the 800 has a built-in tongue, which I loved because it doesn't do that annoying thing where it moves over and sits on the side of your foot after you wear the shoe for awhile. But the tread is the same, and the fit, and the material. If you're interested as to why I'm obsessed with a shoe that has virtually no support or padding beyond the tread, please note that in a year of running I've suffered no injuries, shinsplints, or any sort of discomfort, which is a big deal for a girl who tore her ACL and medial meniscus at the age of 13; and please check out this article. Also, I have tried Sauconys with moderate support to compensate for my slight pronation issue, and all they did was make my ankles feel like somebody was bending them the wrong way. Which, now that I think on it, is exactly what they were doing.)
Back to the hiking.
This is a saguaro in bloom:
So is this:
And that's why this is the perfect time of year to go hiking in Arizona.
The first part of the trail goes up to the Wind Cave, which is a hollow in the side of the mountain carved out by--you guessed it--the wind. The rest of the trail, the ridgeline we hiked, is not actually a Usery Park-sanctioned trail. It's technically a part of Tonto National Forest, and it's kind of nasty in places.
This is one of my favorite things about Usery Park: the giant Phoenix sign. It used to be a sign for airplanes, back when the suburban sprawl didn't reach quite so far out into the desert; now I think it's just a relic. Just underneath the sign sits the shooting range, and our whole hike was peppered with the sounds of gunfire at a distance.
Here's a better view of the lichen:
Here's a baby bird nesting in a palo verde that we saw at a rest stop on the way up to the Wind Cave:
Interesting fact about palo verde: they evolved photosynthesis in their bark, which is why it's green. I guess it takes a lot of energy and water to produce leaves in the desert heat, and the bark is a little more efficient.
Update: Erm, now that I've actually looked at this photo, I realize that this isn't a palo verde because it has brown bark. So I'm kind of a moron but the thing about palo verdes is still true so I'm leaving it in there.
A common species of lizard. Chris informed me that they're actually all female (technically hermaphroditic) and reproduce asexually:
A bee's nest in the ceiling of the Wind Cave. It's hard to see, but there's a hummingbird there feeding on the honey.
Four views from the southern edge of the ridgeline; east, southeast, south, and west, respectively:
A lovely windowrock view of Four Peaks:
A cholla bloom, and the view to the north:
Looking back at the southernmost peak of the ridgeline, where we had been standing:
A young saguaro:
A closeup of the spines of the saguaro, which evolved mostly to provide shade with the least amount of effort on the part of the plant:
(Disclaimer: Chris took this photo, which is why it's so awesomely good. I am still learning about macro functions, etc.)
A barrel cactus, from the top down. Did I mention I love plants?
Weaver's Needle, my very favorite rock formation:
The Phoenix sign, from the ridgeline:
We figured out you can see for about 60 miles in every direction.
My all-time favorite native plant, the ocotillo (which is technically a succulent and not a cactus), on a background of lichen:
Not sure what kind of cactus this is, but it's pretty!
The log book at the very top:
Four Peaks, from the top:
Looking northeast into Tonto National Forest:
Ocotillo and cholla sharing space. Not very comfortable cuddling, that.
More of the view from the top:
One of the more beautiful ocotillos I've seen, still with all its leaves:
A prickly pear in full bloom. Out on Rt. 88 there's a place that sells prickly pear ice cream, which I have yet to try.
A chain-fruit cholla:
And, finally, we have arrived at the end. To close, I leave you with a cactus that put me in mind of those images of a lonely steer skull, drying out in the desert sun. Sorry, I guess that's not a very happy image, but look how freakin cool it is: