Monday, April 9, 2012

Desert Canyon: Ford Canyon Trail White Tank Mountains Part 2

Higher elevation (around 3,000 feet) in the White Tank Mountains west of Phoenix.  Here grasses are a lot more common and cacti, trees and shrubs a lot more rare.
Towards the middle of the canyon eventually a small dam will be reached.  Personally I really wonder why this dam was built.  I can guess that it was built by ranchers to form a water hole for their thirsty cattle.  But really, how in the world would they ever have carried so much cement up into this rugged and remote section of the canyon?  Beyond that, the dam doesn’t hold much water at all.  It is extremely effective at holding sand though and the entire area behind the dam is completely filled with it.  All that work hauling cement up into a rugged and remote canyon to build a dam that doesn’t hold water but rather holds a lot of sand.  Talk about a disappointing work project.  After the dam however, the wash bed becomes a lot less rugged and more sandy, with much of the trail going directly through the wash.  Here the wash becomes much more wash-like and less canyon like.  The banks are lined with mesquites, catclaw acacias, wolfberry bushes, grasses, canyon ragweed, and the invasive tamarisk tree.  All indicators of increased water availability in the wash due to infrequent flash floods.  Fortunately, the tamarisk doesn’t seem to be causing much of a problem here. 

When hiking in the sandy area of the wash above the dam, there is a remarkable increase in the grasses along the hillsides.  Tobosa, three-awn, and big-gallete are the most common grasses.  All of these grasses require the slightly greater amount of precipitation and slightly cooler temperatures present at this elevation of around 3,000 plus feet.  The grasses are most abundant lower on the hillslopes where soil is slightly more developed and holds water better.  After leaving the wash the trail continues through several areas with high amounts of grass cover, which is a nice change from the ubiquitous cactus and shrub studded landscape below this elevation.  Continuing upslope however, the soil becomes increasingly rocky with brittlebush becoming the dominate plant.  Brittlebush has a strong preference for rocky, unstable, and dry soils more typical higher up on mountain or hillsides.  Also, looking closely along the trail you may find some charred stumps.  This is a result of infrequent grass fires at this higher elevation.  At lower elevations it is pretty rare to find charred woody materials due to sparse vegetation that is not able to carry fire far.  The greater amount of grass cover at higher elevations though more easily carries fire.  Fire generally promotes more grasses to grow and kills shrubs, trees, and cacti.  At least partially for this reason cacti and palo verde are far less common at these higher elevations.  Wire lettuce, buckwheat, brittlebush, and globe mallow also are common at these elevations and seem to be able to colonize bare ground quickly after a fire.

After a few miles of hiking through desert grasslands of the upper elevations of the White Tanks
the trail will come to an end at the Mesquite Canyon Trail and Goat Camp Trail.  I currently am 105 miles towards my goal of 150 miles in 2012.  Hopefully I will be able to reach 150 miles in the next two months or so.  Then maybe I'll extend my goal out another 150 miles.  Due to my schedule being quite busy these last few weeks I haven't done much hiking.  And I have definitely missed it.  The health and relaxation benefits become quite clear after missing a few weeks as I become a little more stressed out and feeling a little less in shape.  I am planning a lot of hiking in the near future though.

1 comment:

  1. I know there will be snakes and I hate snakes but having a travel guide on trekking trip it will be great. Nice place.