Like many people who savor gardening as a hobby, we fancy the bright colors and upbeat feeling a sunflower brings! So, how many varieties of sunflowers are there?
First, SUNFLOWERS belong to the genus Helianthus, which contains over 70 species. Most varieties are annuals; but, Helianthus incorporates 38 species that are perennial (grow back every year on their own). With so many cultivars out there one can get overwhelmed quickly! We’ve identified several Sunflower favorites to make it easier.
The variety called “Holiday Sunflower” has uneven heights and multiple blooms.
Sunflowers track the sun throughout the day, but when they are fully grown the mature flower-heads face towards the east and no longer move. To grow the best sunflowers they will need full sun!
The variety called Ring of Fire is another dwarf sunflower species that is very uniform and under 3 feet in height.
Dwarf sunflowers are a perfect choice if you want to grow sunflowers in a pot or window container. After choosing the size of the container, add a layer of small rocks to help the soil drain. To grow sunflowers you will need fertile moist soil with heavy mulch.
The variety called Big Smile Sunflower is under 2 feet in height, has multiple blooms and is a Dwarf Sunflower Plant.
The sunflower stem is rough and hairy with a circular head of flowers. The head has hundreds of individual flowers which mature into seeds.
The sunflower species called Autumn Beauty branches out with a variety of yellow, red and orange colors.
In the 16th century, sunflower seeds from the Americas were brought to Europe along with sunflower oil and they became a popular cooking ingredient.
Tohokujhae Sunflowers are bright yellow with multiple blooms. This variety has big double flowers 6-7 inches across. The height of Tohokujhae sunflowers is 3-6 feet.
The leaves of the sunflower can be used as cattle feed and the fiber in the stems can be used in the production of paper.
Some say Sonja Sunflowers are a weaker variety. The height is uneven and ranges from 3-5 feet. This sunflower has a dark center with big yellow petals.
The sunflower has a tall, thick stem crowned by what seems like a single giant flower. Interestingly, this flower is no flower at all; but a constellation made up of hundreds of small flowers called the sunflower head.
Although the sunflower head resembles a huge flower with yellow petals and a brown center, it is actually the brown that is the constellation of flowers, with the yellow leaves acting more as a protectant to the sunflowers during the flowering and seed development phases.
The sunflower’s cheery facade plus its sheer height make it a wonderful plant that everybody will enjoy, either in the vegetable garden or at the back of a flower bed.
A sunflower can grow to become well over 10 feet (3 meters) tall and the head can become quite wide. Once open, the sunflower head will start to follow the sun while it is moving across the sky.
The flowers in the center of the sunflower will then start to grow fruits, sunflower seeds, and after a while these seeds will loosen and scatter across the ground.
Once that is done, the life cycle is complete and it will eventually wilt and die so that the new seeds can grow to become sunflowers in the next growing season.
When growing sunflowers it is important to consider where you want to plant them because they will need full sun to mature successfully. Many people grow sunflowers close to walls since the sunflower can be quite sensitive to the wind; but, planting close to a wall will unfortunately come at a loss.
Sunflowers are sensitive to the amount of sunlight they obtain, and how much water required to optimize their growth. Too much water may result in the soil loosening and becoming far too unstable to support the weight of the sunflower head as it sways in the wind.
Planting a larger grouping of sunflowers has the benefit of helping to stabilize the immediate area of soil and helps to create some barrier to wind damage. I put stakes into the ground close to the sunflower stem making sure it stands strong and stable on its own. Next, you can tie small pieces of thick string, florist ties or velcro around the stake and the sunflower, thus helping them to support each other.
Currently we have several sunflowers growing in large pots. Sunflowers do not do well if they sit in water so it is important that your pot or garden container drains well. You can use a layer of sand or rocks in your container. The garden soil you choose needs to be full of nutrients.
When placing your sunflower seeds in a pot, do not put them close together. Depending on the size of your container, space them at the minimum of 3 inches apart.
To enjoy the seeds of your sunflowers here are simple harvesting tips:
When the backside of the sunflower head turns yellow be sure to protect them from birds, squirrels and other animals that eat sunflower seeds!
Once the back of the sunflower head is brown it means time to harvest! Cut the head off about 12 inches down the stem
Then rub the head using your hand and the sunflower seeds will fall off
extra tidbit: If pressed, sunflower seeds will give you sunflower oil. This oil can be used for many purposes and ongoing research is mapping new and improved uses every day. First of all, sunflower oil is great in cooking and will give food a very mild but distinct taste, similar to mild olive oils. Sunflower oil can also be transformed into lubricants for engine parts and can even work as a fuel for engines.
Arizona’s well-known desert bird of paradise shrubs burgeon with vivid red flowers or delightful yellow blooms. The red bird of paradise, Caesalpinia Pulcherrima, is our favorite and we have several constituting a border.
This Red Bird of Paradise is a drought and heat tolerant shrub that relishes full sun with its lively red- orange flowers cultivating out of long, thin stalks.
All the Desert Bird of Paradise bushes are Perennial (only plant them once). Pruning and trimming is standard since these desert plants are easy growers; reaching over 10 feet tall. PRUNING your Desert Bird of Paradise
Peat Pots are great and make growing and transplanting your Desert Bird of Paradise seedlings easy. Start your seeds indoors and when you are ready to plant simply put the entire pot in the ground. Roots will penetrate the peat pot and the pot disintegrates enriching the soil.
To germinate Bird of Paradise seeds, soak the seeds from the bean pods (pods need to be brown) in water for 48-72 hours. Next plant them in peat pots, barely cover the seeds. You may prefer to use the paper towel method to germinate your seeds; if so, when a white shoot (root) appears, plant it with the white rootDOWN. Cover the seeds lightly with damp soil.
Bird of Paradise seeds need at least 8 hours of sun, but not direct sun; it will be too hot! You can start to give them a little more direct sun after the first leaves appear.
These resilient desert bushes THRIVE in intense heat and look stunning with cactus, succulents, Lantana, even Bougainvillea!
Honey and Velvet Mesquite Trees can take the extreme heat and the cold! This tree grows fast. What is the most common tree of the Desert Southwest? It is the Mesquite! Like many members of the Legume Family, mesquite trees restore nitrogen to the soil.
There are 3 common species of NATIVE mesquite trees: Screwbean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescens ), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina).
These native trees are extremely drought tolerant. Honey Mesquites are more rounded with big, floppy, drooping branches. The foliage is feathery and straight – paired with sharp spines on twigs.
This tree normally reaches 20–30 ft, but can reach as tall as 50 ft (15 m). The growth rate is medium. Honey mesquite coppices (it will make new growth from a root or stump if it is cut down), making permanent removal extremely hard. If a single trunk is cut down the Honey Mesquite will replace it with a multiple trunk version.
The Honey Mesquite has pale, yellow, elongated spikes and bears straight, yellow seed bean pods. In this picture you can see how long and strong this mesquite’s spikes are. I’ve learned NOT to wear flip-flops when walking around our Honey Mesquite!
Caring for mesquite trees is a simple process after the tree has fully matured. Mesquite trees need a full day’s worth of direct sun light to grow. Make sure to plant your mesquite tree in a place where it will always have a lot of quality sun.
Good staking is crucial to the mesquite tree, especially in areas with severe summer storms, monsoon season, or high winds.
The shade from these native Arizona trees create a 10-15 degree cooler temperature!
The shortcoming of a Chilean or Honey Mesquite tree is wind damage. Proper staking and proper watering can help you avoid wind damage with your mesquite trees.
Make your Mesquite trees “seek out” water and nutrients by careful arrangement of your irrigation emitters and scheduled DEEP irrigation. This will develop a more dispersed root system and reduces the risk of wind throw.
Pruning will keep your tree from becoming messy, while stimulating new growth on those branches that you pruned. The dead, diseased, broken or weak branches, drain the Mesquite tree’s energy.
Mesquite bean pods are rich in carbohydrates and have very low moisture content, making them an excellent source for harvesting, processing, and storage. A variety of animals eat the seeds such as quail, dear, javelina, coyotes, squirrels and rats.
Historic records have indicated that almost every part of the mesquite tree has a use. The Pima Indians of southern Arizona referred to the mesquite as the TREE OF LIFE.
During the inevitable droughts and deprivations of desert frontier days, the mesquite trees served up the primary food source for caravans and settlers. Mesquite beans becamemanna from heaven.
Medical studies of mesquite trees and other desert foods, said that despite its sweetness, mesquite flour (made by grinding whole pods) is extremely effective in controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Mesquite trees have lateral roots that extend far beyond the canopies of the plants and tap-roots that penetrate well below the surface of the soil. Some mesquites may live for more than two centuries; according to U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.
(Prosopis Velutina) Velvet Mesquite is the most common of the North American varieties, it ranges from southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and most common to the Chihuahua and Sonorandeserts of Mexico.
Velvet Mesquite Trees are a deciduous plant that benefits by being able to retain moisture during the winter or exceptionally dry seasons better because water does not escape through the leaves. These Mesquite trees have elongated bean pods that are sweet to taste when ripe ( reddish-yellow color). This native tree has thorns with varying lengths even on the same branch.
For the first year, deeply water your mesquite tree every week or so until it has properly matured. Once your velvet mesquite tree has matured, it can survive with a little supplemental water in addition to natural rain. In case of droughts, do water your mesquite trees more often.
Velvet Mesquites hold the record for deepest root (160′); these tap-roots can tap into deep, underground water supplies that aren’t available to the average plant.
The seeds of mesquite trees need to be scarified (abraded in flash flood or digestive tract) to germinate. Coyotes, and other desert animals eat the bean pods regularly.
Quick facts: Yucca is a category of trees and shrubs that are members of the Asparagaceae family. It is an evergreen plant which does not annually shed its leaves. The long, narrow and pointed leaves of the Yucca grow in a cluster along the stem. Agave and Yucca are similarand belong to the same subfamily, Agavoideae.
From the center of this leaf cluster grows a cluster of bell shaped flowers. The edges of the leaves tend to be razor sharp, and the flowers are whitish-green, white or cream colored. In the evening some yucca blossoms open and emit a strong fragrance.
Yuccas come from the deserts and plains of southern North and Central America and with their stiff, leathery leaves and panicles of creamy white flowers, they make great architectural plants.
The yucca plant produces a fleshy or dry fruit. It is a large fruit that contains numerous small, flat, ebony colored seeds. The Native Americans ate the yucca’s fruit during the winter months, after first preserving it by drying. The Native Americans also made fermented beverages from the yucca fruit. The appearance of the yucca fruit varies by the type of yucca plant. Some resemble a green egg plant, and others look like wrinkled bell peppers.
Yucca plants grow in parts of the Caribbean, in the southern and southwestern parts of the United States and in Mexico’s desert highlands and plateaus. While most of the plants are shrubs, there are some tree varieties, such as the Joshua tree. A large collection of yucca plants grow at the Joshua Tree National Park in the Southern California desert. The Joshua Tree National Park includes over 800,000 acres, and is under the National Park’s authority.
Native Americans found many uses for the yucca plant. From the leaf fibers they made baskets, sandals, ropes and mats. They utilized the fruit as food and to make drinks. They even ate the flowers from the yucca, which were either boiled or eaten raw. From the stems and roots of the yucca they made soap. Today yucca plants are used as decorative yard foliage and as bordering plants.
Yucca trees are known for being quite tall, although they can be grown indoors if you trim them back often.
If you are growing a yucca tree indoors, repot your yucca cane when it becomes top heavy or its roots stick out of the drainage hole at the bottom of its container.
These Yucca trees are quite strong as well, so you don’t need to worry about damaging them when pruning and trimming. Pruning yucca trees is a simple and straightforward process. Because the yucca tree is a cane plant, pruning is synonymous with cutting the trunk.
Like most plants, the best time for pruning a yucca is right before it goes into its growth period. This will be in early spring. While early spring is the ideal time, a yucca can be pruned anytime. Just make sure the yucca plant gets plenty of light while it is recovering. Like all things about yucca plants, care and pruning is very easy. It may seem drastic, but I assure you that your yucca plant considers this to be a very normal thing.
Wear gloves as you trim and shape your Yucca, otherwise you will get many cuts on your hands. The pruning will be much easier if you have extra sharp garden shears.
The yucca plant in the above picture was so large we could not walk to the front door. Pruning your Yucca is a bit time consuming but is well worth it. As I look above at our Yucca I think it needs a little more trimmed off the top!
Red, Salvia darcyi, survived well through the desert winter months that hit in the mid 30’s and does superb in the high heat as long as it is watered everyday! It is a thirsty plant during these temperatures of 100 degrees or more. I recommend larger pots than the ones I used.
This is by far the MOST hardy, successful flower in my Arizona Garden! This perennial Salvia will generally grow from between eighteen inches and thirty-six inches, yet there are some that are much smaller. Mine is averaging about 20 -22 inches. The red salvia in the picture is a young plant that actually started from a fallen seed. The photo above is just after I pruned the finished red flowers. From having Salvia (red and blue) for over 2 years now I have learned it is best to trim them quite far down the stem to gain a thicker shrub. Best of all this flowering plant is critter proof. Last year the desert rats, squirrels, and rabbits ate most of our flowers except the Salvia. Since then, we are determined to have a rat-proof, squirrel-proof, rabbit-proof thriving Garden. Quick note:Hummingbirds love the flowers and will visit your garden often!
To keep your Salvia looking vibrant and encourage better flowering, deadhead the plant. You can do this by pinching or cutting off the flower spikes with spent blooms, I like to use small pruning shears.
Red salvia flowers can form a striking border when massed together. It is a good choice for a bedding plant. Some people call this perfect Arizona plant, Scarlet Sage.
Propagating cacti is very easy. First gather the cactus cuttings from the parent plants. Make sure your knife is clean and sharp before cutting your cactus. For paddle cacti a single pad makes a good cutting.
For branching cacti, be sure the cutting is taken from a joint on the mother plant. Cutting on a diagonal angle is beneficial to the mother cactus so water doesn’t pool on the healed cut. Never handle a cactus with your hands.
To grow a successful cactus you MUST let the fresh cutting callus over and heal. Place them in a dry, warm place for up to 2 weeks. The larger the cut surface is, the longer it needs to dry. This may sound extreme but remember cactus are drought tolerant. If you choose to use a rooting hormone make sure it is powder! Do not let your cactus cuttings get moist or wet.
It is easiest for your cactus cuttings to root during warm weather. According to the University of Arizona, the best time to propagate your cacti is during August & September when the soil temperatures are warm and conducive to rooting. Some shade is best for rooting and will prevent your cactus cuttings from sunburn.
Pick a good container with drainage holes for your callused cactus cutting.
When planting your cactus use a well drained soil mixture designed specifically for cacti. Plant the cutting about 2 inches deep and pack the soil around the cactus. I also use small rocks to help keep the cuttings from falling over. Wait about 2 weeks to water; then soak the cactus well and let it dry out another 2 weeks. The biggest problem for growing cactus is over-watering. Too much water causes the roots to rot.
The photo above is a prickly pear cutting that I planted in well draining soil in southern Arizona. I’m starting a cacti garden on a rocky hill using different species of cactus cuttings.
Cactus are dormant during winter. Do not water a cactus during cold weather unless it looks shriveled.
Honeysuckles love the Arizona heat and the hummingbirds love the honeysuckle. Now that is a desert garden delight!
As long as I water this thirsty honeysuckle shrub it will produce abundant blooms most of the year. The narrow, orange, tubular flowers give enthusiasm to the garden with their bright colors.
Our orange honeysuckles are fast growing perennial plants that are low maintenance. Care for your honeysuckle with regular watering and pruning to keep the growth under control. With 180 species of honeysuckles, genus Lonicera, you can pick from pink, yellow, white, orange, red, etc., flowers. Honeysuckles belong to the Caprifoliacea family which includes all types of woody shrubs and fragrant vines.
When choosing a honeysuckle to grow, be sure to check the label as some varieties are hardier than others and can cope with frost. Also, there exists a few species of honeysuckle that are considered invasive such as Japanese honeysuckle.
Pruning tips for honeysuckle vines: Prune your plant in later winter when it is dormant. With pruning shears, remove dead blooms from your honeysuckle as soon as you see them.
Tree, fence, trellis or wall; honeysuckle vines will climb on anything to seek out the sun.
Our garden has become a very busy place. It is October in the Arizona desert and our honeysuckles are still blooming. What a joy to sit quietly and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds feast on the bright tubular flowers.
These heat tolerant honeysuckle plants did well even in full desert sun as long as they received their daily water.
In the photo above is Lonicera arizonica which is a native Arizona Honeysuckle. It is a perennial vine or shrub that you find in the open at elevations of 6,000 – 9,000 feet. According to Northern Arizona University, this native honeysuckle was used by Native Americans to cleanse the bowels. Navajo tribes used the leaves of the Lonicera arizonica to induce vomiting. Can I eat the red berries from the Arizona honeysuckle? Yes you can eat the berries but it will have a purgative effect.
It is spring and the male mourning dove labors hard to set up his territory. When this male bird is ready to mate, he circles in a courtship flight and chases other doves from the area he desires to nest.
To attract a female mourning dove, this determined handsome bird perches in an open area and sings a “passionate” coo sound that is louder than his usual call.
The Coooo bird call is mostly voiced by the male mourning dove and not the female. Once he has charmed a mate, the doves pair for life.
To hear the dove’s coooOOO sound, click on the short YouTube video below:
Doves mate primarily from spring to fall but are able to mate year round and produce several clutches of young. These love birds are tranquil and elegant.
**Unfortunately, the Mourning Dove Nest can hardly be called a “nest” – generally these beautiful birds just throw a few twigs somewhere and begin setting up their flimsy nest.
The nest is constructed over the course of 2-4 days with the male and female mourning doves working together.
With a hanging basket on our porch, it didn’t take long before a couple of mourning doves took up residence. AKA Turtle Doves have been known to reuse the same nest over and over. Commonly raising 2 – 3 broods per season. Researchers found that the basics for constructing the bird nest are mainly instinctive, but birds can improve their skills with experience.
So, you spotted a dove’s nest with two milky white eggs. When will the dove eggs hatch? The incubation period for Mourning Dove eggs is 14-15 days. Then another 2 weeks for the squabs to leave the nest.
One white egg is laid in the evening, and the female dove lays the second egg in the morning.
The day shift is handled by the male dove and the female incubate during the night shift. If you do not see the doves change shifts, it can seem that the same dove has been on the nest the entire time.
***In our experience, we have seen the male and female doves change places around sunrise and sunset.
The dove chick, “hatchling”, squab pictured below is one day old. Both eyes on the newborn bird are closed.
Males and female doves work together to feed their newborns crop milk or “pigeon milk” for the first few days of their life. The dove’s Crop Milk is rich in fat and protein. Adult mourning doves secrete the milk and regurgitate it to their little ones.
The dove parent opens its mouth wide permitting the nestling to stick its head inside to feed on the nutritious food.
How do you tell if the male or female dove is in the nest?
With a trained eye you will be able to tell the difference. Male Mourning Doves have a bluish crown and nape, and a rose wash to the throat and breast. The crown and nape of the female dove is grayish brown, and the throat and breast has a brown or tan wash.
Mourning Dove Nestlings will fledge in about 12-14 days. The bird parents continue to care for the dove fledglings for about another 16-20 days.
**Please NOTE: Doves are more flighty than other birds and may abandon the eggs or nest if you bother them too much.
Funnel web spiders are known for their “tunnel looking“, funnel shaped webs. There are over 500 species of funnel web spiders belonging to the Agelenidae family. This esoteric arachnid is very common in the United States and Canada. These spiders are medium size with the females being larger than the males which is called sexual dimorphism. Only the body length is measured when determining the size of a spider.
This distinctive tunnel shaped web is constructed close to the ground in the grass or low vegetation. The web is not sticky; instead the strands slow down prey that walk on it and catches their feet as they fall through. The spider can walk on top of it and sprint out of her funnel to grab and bite. Fun fact: These arachnids are shy and come out at night to do repairs and work on their webs.
Funnel web spiders hide in their funnel. The web is open at both ends, so this spider can run away if attacked. We have several species of aloe plants which the funnel web spiders seem to keep occupied. It is a fact that these arachnids prefer moist environments. Once sexually mature, the males spend the rest of their life wandering in search of a mate. Shortly after mating a few times, the male often dies.
These female spiders build their tunnel shaped web and stay with it their entire life. She spends most of her time capturing and eating prey; while building up her strength to mate and lay eggs. This female arachnid does not search for mates, but rather, waits for the males to wander by and find her.
Spiderlings that hatch out of eggs look like tiny adults. They have to shed their skin (molt) in order to grow. Spiders have exoskeletons on the outside of their body.
The broad funnel shaped web, looks like a tunnel ( see photo above ) and is made by the spider to connect to their burrow. When an insect enters the web the spider feels the vibrations and rushes out from the narrow end to bite its prey and inject it with venom.
Cooper’s Hawks are magnificent and ominous as they perch in a hidden location and watch for prey. Occasionally, we see this raptor’s thick legs with large yellow talons clasped to a branch or fence. The Cooper’s Hawk belongs to the genus Accipiter and is about the same size as a crow.
In 1828, this hawk species was named after William Cooper, a New York scientist. The scientific name for hawks is Falconidae. All hawks are classified as birds of prey and commonly called raptors. The term raptor means to take by force or to seize.
First year juvenile Cooper’s Hawks have yellow eyes anduniformly brown backs and brown vertical stripes on their breasts as pictured above. These determined raptors are medium sized birds of prey that hunt by sudden dashes from a concealed perch.
Note the tail of the Cooper’s Hawk; a rounded, long tail crossed by several dark lines with a distinct white band on the tip.
The above photo shows a juvenile Cooper’s mantling. What is mantling? Mantling is when birds of prey hunch their shoulders and spread their wings over a kill to keep it hidden from other predators.
Check out those claws, talons! There are four, sharp talons on each of the hawk’s feet. How strong are Cooper’s Hawks talons? The PSI (pounds per square inch) is 150-200 pounds. An average healthy man has a PSI of 110. According to the University of Michigan, the larger the bird the stronger the talons. Raptor’s talons puncture their prey hard; usually stabbing a vital organ causing the animal’s rapid death.
The talons are opened by leg muscles and will automatically close when the hawk impacts an object; example…. animal or perch. It is a reflex!
This hawk eats mostly birds, but will also capture mammals including squirrels and rabbits. The beak of a raptor bird is sharp and resembles the action of scissors.
The older adult Cooper’s Hawks have tan barring on the breast, dark red-orange eyes and a dark cap on the head, like a flat top.
These raptors have excellent vision that contain 5 times the sensory cells per millimeter of the retina than us humans. How do these birds see? Hawks refract certain wavelengths of light with the colored oils in their eyes.
Certain colors are intensified for the hawk at the expense of others. The light filtration of the hawk’s eyes make the browns and grays of typical prey items stand out against the filtered greens.
Cooper’s Hawks build their nest in trees that average 25-50 feet high. Southern Arizona contains several mountain ranges that host large areas of undisturbed forest which these raptors prefer.
TOMBSTONE, AZ is famous for the gun fight at the OK Corral in 1881; but, did you know it is also famous for the World’s Largest Rose Bush?
In the Guinness Book of World Records you will see the largest living rose bush is a white Lady Banksia that is located in Tombstone, Arizona.
The romantic story starts with a young bride, Mary Gee, from Scotland who came to Tombstone in 1885 with her husband Henry. Because she was so homesick, her family sent cuttings of the White Lady Banksia Rose from their Scotland rose garden.
It kept growing and growing… Now, 129 years later, the cuttings that grew into a rose bush have grown into a 10-foot-tall rose tree that covers over 8,000 square feet and fills one square block!
The rose bush has a massive, gnarled trunk that looks more like an oak tree. Beams support the high branches on this trellised roof of small white roses that grow in clusters. The Tombstone “townsfolk” stated the rose garden blooms in April and the fragrance smells amazing!
When you travel to this famous Arizona mining camp be sure to take the trolley tour. We learned so many facts about Tombstone that we didn’t know and that is how we came across this tenacious shrub.The Rose Tree Museum tells the history of the “rose bush too tough to die.” Contact the museum if you want to be one of the many couples that have taken their vows under the World’s Largest Rose Bush.
Catch the Biggest Rose Garden in bloom during the month of April.
Visiting Tombstone before the hot summer months can make a more enjoyable experience. Of course our favorite month is April because the Lady Banksia rose bush smells so gooood!
The MOGOLLON RIM (pronounced “muggy-own”) marks the southern limit of the Colorado Plateau and is one of Arizona’s most striking features. Rim visitors can stand 2,000 feet above the hot desert below and enjoy endless panoramic views from Mogollon’s rocky escarpment across mountainous abuttals. Arizona’s Grand Canyon is among the top geological wonders of the world; but the Mogollon Rim is Arizona’s most staunch geological feature.
The Rim’s average elevation is about 7,000 feet and it stretches across the Coconino National Forest. Daily visitors arrive to see the expansive vistas above thousands of acres of the largest continuous stand of Ponderosa Pines in the world. On a clear day you can see all the way to Mount Lemmon.
What formed the Mogollon Rim? Geologists say this rock monster formed by catastrophic upturns and volcanism; followed by flooding and erosion during the Mesozoic Era. This time period would be approximately 65 to 250 million years ago. Important to note, Mesozoic Era started near the time of earth’s, well documented, mass extinction aka (the Great Dying) of non avian dinosaurs, most marine, insect and plant life.
Along the rim, evidence of volcanic activity is prolific and commands the landscape. Geographers have measured Mogollon’s volcanic, sedimentary rock bastion and found it to be over 200 miles long, reaching across Arizona’s Coconino National Forest. The uppermost sandstone layer of the rim is called Coconino Sandstone and it forms breathtaking white cliffs. This stratum of sandstone formed during the Permian Period, over 200 million years ago and is one of the thickest sandstones on earth.
The existence of the Mogollon Rim explains various weather events, drainage and runoff patterns, alluvial soil types, Arizona floods, water recreation and irrigation. When the warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico reaches the Mogollon Rim it rises up to meet the cold, drier Rim air where it condenses and falls. Prehistoric cultures thrived and expanded due to the dependable water from the Mogollon Rim.
A popular scenic drive is along Forest Road 300, aka “Rim Road”. It is labeled FR 300 on the Mogollon Rim map above and can be accessed from the east, near Show Low, or from the west, just north of Pine and Strawberry. According to the National Forest Website, all forest roads are gravelled and suitable for passenger vehicles; but are closed in the winter.
View Points and Vista Stops along Mogollon Rim
Forest Road 300 takes you along the rim’s edge with stops near historical cabins and trails, then winding turns through forest and highly populated wildlife areas. Some travelers stand on Mogollon’s vistas and try to absorb its majesty; while others spend a few days visiting local museums, learning the history and exploring the trails. Either way, add the Mogollon Rim to your list of places to visit, it will leave you breathless!
What is Monsoon? The word monsoon is derived from the Arabic word mausim, which means season. Traders fishing the waters off the Arabian and Indian coasts noted that dry northeast winds in the winter suddenly turn southwest during the summer, and bring heavy rains to Asia.
We now know that these MONSOON, large wind shifts from dry desert areas to moist tropical areas, occur in other parts of the world including Arizona. Strong yearly variations of temperature over land masses is a primary cause of MONSOON.
The monsoon weather in Arizona is not as intense as Monsoon season in Asia and India mainly because the Mexican Pleateau is not as high or as large as the Tibetan Plateau in Asia. In Arizona, the monsoon process starts with the hot and dry weather of May and June.
Most of Arizona’s humid air comes from the Sea of Cortez and the Gulf of Mexico. Our hot desert sun heats the moist air causing the familiar thunderstorm cumulonimbus clouds.
Cumulus clouds are a type of cloud with noticeable vertical development and clearly defined edges. Cumulus means “heap” or “pile” in Latin. These clouds typically form when warm air rises and reaches a level of cool air, where the moisture in the air condenses.
If the top of the cumulus cloud reaches above the altitude where the temperature is at or below the freezing level, then precipitation from the cloud is possible.
Usually by May or June, our strong Arizona heat causes temperatures to soar over these desert land areas. The intense heat causes surface air pressure to fall, forming an area of low pressure known as a thermal low.
Eventually, the cooler and much more humid air over the ocean is drawn toward the hot, dry air over land. This moist air moving onto the hot land eventually becomes unstable and develops into thunderstorms.
Once this occurs and rain begins to fall, humidity levels increase over land, which only triggers more thunderstorms, now you have the Arizona Monsoon Season.
This cycle will continue until land areas begin to cool in the early fall and the monsoon gradually ends.
Until the late 1970s, there was serious debate about whether a monsoon truly existed in North America. However, considerable research, which culminated in the Southwest Arizona Monsoon Project (SWAMP) in 1990 and 1993, established the fact that a bonafide monsoon, characterized by large-scale wind and rainfall shifts in the summer, develops over much of Mexico and the intermountain region of the U.S.
Rainfall during the monsoon varies with distinct “burst” periods of heavy rain and “break” periods with little or no rain. Monsoon precipitation accounts for a substantial portion of annual precipitation in northwest Mexico and the Southwest U.S.
As the Monsoon storm ends the clouds change with red and orange shades on the horizon.