We have previously reported on our adventures in the
Chiricahua National Monument, a wonderland
of rocks on the western flank of the Chiricahua Mountains in far southeastern Arizona.
The Chiricahuas are one of many abrupt mountain ranges - "sky islands" - rising
out of the high desert basins common to this area.
The very remote eastern side of the Chiricahuas features the dramatic rhyolite
cliffs of Cave Creek Canyon which is an entranceway to the unspoiled
Chiricahua Wilderness. The heavily wooded canyon provides summer relief to
Arizonans willing to make the trip. While the west side of the mountains is easily
accessible by paved road from Tucson, the only paved access on the east side comes
from New Mexico. You can also take the exciting and sometimes hair raising dirt
road from outside of Chiricahua National Monument over the top of the range
at Onion Saddle. Trailers and large RVs not recommended!
At right, one of many enormous cave-like alcoves which riddle the volcanic
walls of Cave Creek Canyon.
The South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon is a birder's paradise with one of the richest
lodes of bird life in the United States. Hundreds of species of birds have been
observed here. The Southwest Research Station of the American Museum of Natural History in nearby Portal
maintains a collection which includes 244 species of local birds and
74 local mammals.
We're taking our walk up the South Fork in early November so there are few birds
in evidence, or any other wildlife. Daytime temperatures are in the 50s(°F) but it
is below freezing at night. Our objective this trip is to observe colorful
fall foliage. The lower canyon features deciduous trees (which lose their leaves
in the winter after turning colors in the autumn).
The predominant tree in the lower canyon is the Arizona sycamore. It features
a large five pointed maple-like leaf which turns yellow, then reddish in the fall.
Unfortunately, the sycamores are already past their peak and not really best
for photos. (There are some sycamores in the very first photo, at top.)
There is a place on the map marked "Maple Camp", about three miles
upcanyon. We were hoping to find some great fall colors, and as can be seen by the
photos above and below, we were not disappointed.
Maple Camp turned out to be a small grove of maple trees straddling the banks
of the South Fork which is actually a tiny rock strewn stream here.
Most of the trees here were at their peak color which for maples is bright red.
It was actually a most surreal and beautiful scene. There was a steady patter
of maple leaves falling from the trees into the stream bed in a light breeeze.
The tiny stream was gorgeously covered by the red leaves.
Trails continue from here to the high country of the Chiricahuas which peak out at over
nine thousand feet elevation. The mountains generally feature forests
of juniper and pinyon pine but in the fall you may also spot beautiful
flaming aspens at the highest elevations.