Sunday, March 24, 2013

Adventures from Our Roper Lake Hub

We're wrapping up our short stay at Roper Lake State Park, just South of Safford, AZ. This park is yet another Southern Arizona birding mecca, and we have seen thousands of yellow headed blackbirds. In the evenings they swarm around in huge flocks, alighting on trees for a few minutes then taking off all at once; it's spectacular!

We'd never seen yellow headed blackbirds before...they sure are striking!

We put a feeder out and they went crazy for it!

They really are too large for the feeder and when several try to feed
they tip seed all over the ground for those waiting below.

When we open the RV door they take off en masse!

On Saturday we decided to check out some of the riparian areas that are scattered around this valley. First we attempted to hike along Ash Creek from Pima, AZ. Despite the nice description, we discovered the lower elevation trail head is not really a is a very rough jeep road, very exposed as you head up to the mountains, not really a riparian habitat. The creek was pretty, but the "trail" just wasn't what we were looking for.

Pretty Ash Creek

Next we decided to explore the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area. One of only two riparian national conservation areas in the country, Gila Box is an oasis in the desert with four year-round waterways.  We headed for the Bonita Creek Wildlife Viewing Area. We didn't have much luck in the middle of the day, but wildlife lovers and birders should find this site interesting in the early morning and evening hours. There are two primitive campgrounds in the Conservation Area. Access to this area is via a long dirt road with many steep sections...big rigs not advised!

A view of the Gila River riparian area.
You can tube a section of the Gila through the Conservation Area, this is the take-out spot.
The water was very brown!
Photo taken from a viewing platform overlooking Bonita Creek, near where it meets the Gila River.
Notice the cliff walls in the center of the photo, they have been cut away by the Gila.

On Sunday we headed up into the mountains. The Pinaleno Mountains tower over the valley we are staying in. The high point is Mt Graham at 10,720 feet. We ended up hiking Heliograph Peak, the little sister at 10,028 feet.

The Pinaleno Mountains as seen from Roper Lake. Our campground is in the foreground, our rig on the left.
Mt Heliograph is the peak on the left, Mt Graham the highest in the center.

We knew the road might be closed for the season (opens April 15) but figured we'd go as far as we could. The road starts out at about 3,000 feet and we curved our way up to just over 9,000 feet before we reached the closure.

Notice the lack of snow...this was a South facing road.
Immediately to the right we walked into deep snow!
Luckily the road closure happened at a good place for us to take a hike. We parked and walked in to the Shannon Campground, hoping to take a trail up to the top of Heliograph Peak.

It's only been two weeks since the last snowfall and Shannon campground is on the North side of the mountain!
That's site #1. This looks like an awesome place to camp with a tent or small (under 16') rig.
We found the trail and headed out, hoping we wouldn't have to go back and take the road up the peak due to snow.

The trail was gorgeous!

Soon the hillside became almost vertical, the snow no longer showed a trace of the trail, and it became too dangerous to continue. We retraced our steps back to the campground entrance and headed up the road to the peak.

Okay, this is a little safer! We had a mix of snow patches and dirt patches all the way to the top.
Heliograph Peak got its name in the 1800's when soldiers manned stations atop several peaks in SE Arizona and SW New Mexico using mirrors (heliographs) to flash messages during a campaign against the Apache.

Today the mountain top holds a fire lookout station as well as several telecommunications towers.

This 90 ft tall fire lookout is still in use during fire season.
Can you imagine climbing those stairs to go to work?!?!?

Views at the top were pretty darn nice, though a little hazy.
This view is East, to the valley where we are staying.
This view is South West. 
I really like the snow!

Tomorrow we head into New Mexico!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I have not seen a Yellow headed blackbird before and that many! This will definitely be on our list the next time around. Thanks for the beautiful pictures and you do look happy being an angel on the snow.