White Tank Mountains Conservancy

WTMC Newsletter
May 2016

Skyline Regional Park Desert Plant Hike

by Alice Neal

It was a beautiful day April 28 as a group of nature lovers meandered the gentle parking lot connector trail at Skyline Regional Park to learn about Sonoran Desert plants.

Nature Desert Plant Hike at Skyline Regional Park

Rodger Wilson, self-taught White Tank Mountain Conservancy nature guide, led the group of about 15 on the first hike of this type in Skyline.

In addition to identifying and describing the use and function of several desert plants, Wilson presented the nature hikers with the term of the day “ nurse plant” early in the hike and asked participants to unravel the mystery of its meaning at the end. Plants in the desert often are protected and nurtured by another plant which enables the dependent plant to proliferate.

The City of Buckeye recently appointed Adam Melle program director for Skyline, and Melle commented, “We are excited about the addition of this experience for our park visitors and appreciate the skills Rodger is bringing to Skyline programming!”

Dates for future nature hikes can be found on the Skyline Regional Park website.

Have You Seen Us?

by Jane Fricke, Volunteer Coordinator

We began volunteering for the White Tank Mountains Conservancy when we were asked to direct traffic at an Experience Matters on October 27, 2015 at the JW Marriott Resort in Scottsdale. We were in the parking lot of the Camelback Resort in our hiking wear and walking sticks. We were quite a sight!

WTMC volunteers at Experience Matters

Skyline Regional Park had a ground breaking ceremony in October, which we represented the Conservancy. We also served as Ambassadors when we spoke at the communities of Marley Park and Tartesso.

Skyline Regional Park - WTMC Volunteers with Mayor Meck

In November, we traveled to Mesa to an Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club meeting to give a 60 minute presentation. We participated in National Take a Hike day when we had a display at the Waterfall Trailhead at White Tank Mountain Regional Park. We visited the communities of Cortessa and Surprise Farms as Ambassadors.

A display table was set up near the Library at White Tank Mountain Park for their Outdoor Adventure Day in January. We also had a display table at the Grand Opening in Skyline Regional Park two weeks later.

Verrado Hiking Club invited us to an event in February. We were represented at the Friends of White Tank Park’s annual Arts and Crafts Fair. This month, we began training out on the trails with Pathfinder and Citizen Patrol Training and the Budding Botanist training. Since then, you will see us out on the trails researching the flora and fauna of the beautiful Sonoran desert mountain.

Verrado Leadership invited us to an event they were holding in March. April followed with us at March of the Fallen in Verrado. April was archaeology month, so one of our stewards helped the Park Ranger with a display at the Waterfall Trailhead.

Teaching opportunities were requested of us at several locations. We attended the Sun City Grand Learning and in May, we were at the Rio Salado Community Learning Center on two different dates. In June we had a display at the Peoria Library for their “Explore the Library” event.

In both parks, you may have seen us as Pathfinders or hiking the trails as Citizen Patrol. We are having a lot of fun, and we invite you to join us. See you on the trails!

Stewards In Training

by Robert and Mary Doster,

Skyline Park at 7:15 am is already a busy place. Young moms with their kids, an occasional couple, and many with their pets are out hiking Skyline trails this morning.

There are 25 cars already in the parking lot when Mary Lou and I arrive, but others followed in a steady progression all anxious to get out on the trails before the sun gets too high.

The saguaros are starting to bloom and there are poppies, lupine and other spring flowers hanging on to their blossoms.

We would not be here this morning if we had not volunteered to be WTM stewards in training. What better place to go for an early morning walk.

One Day as a Budding Botanist

by Chris Reed

Larrea tridentate. . . Mirabilis. . . Argythamnia lanceolata. . . Simmondsia chinensis. . .

Abutilon. . . Phorademdron californicum

These are some of the flowering plants a crew of Budding Botanists found in the White Tank Mountains on a pretty April day.

I volunteer at the White tanks as a Pathfinder. I walk the Waterfall and Black Rock trails and interact with the visitors. While in the Nature Center, I saw a flyer from the Conservancy seeking volunteers for Budding Botanists. Reading it, the role of the volunteers would be to research all areas of the mountain for flora and fauna. There would be extensive training. The work would be on and off trail. It would a multi session activity. I read the flyer and thought I can do that. It would increase my knowledge of natural resources of the park. And it would be fun.

There was a day long classroom training at Desert Botanic Gardens with their botanists. We learned botanical terminology and plant anatomy, dissected flowers from different families, and viewed portions of the flower using high power microscopes. The next day was outdoors at Skyline Regional Park for field work and how to collect process specimens. As we started out on the Mountain Wash trail, one of the leaders made a comment: “This is not a fitness hike; this is a botany hike. We may only go a few hundred yards in an hour”. She emphasized that note taking is important. The location UTM and elevation, is noted. The details of the area (e.g. sandy soil, disturbed area) are distinguished. For each plant collected, the botanical name is used. This is the Latin or scientific name, instead of the regional common name. All plants in the immediate area are listed.

There are two groups collecting flowering plants in the White Tanks, one on Tuesdays and the other on Saturdays. Cass would lead a group to explore the north end of the park around Ford Canyon. Dawn would start in the southern end on the South Trail and Goat Camp Trail and then will explore the canyon up.

I came out the first Tuesday and worked with Dawn, Cindy, Nancy, and Bruce. The five of us started up the South trail. We went on and off trail searching for all the different plants with flowers. This involved hiking an easy going trail, getting off trail, climbing over rocks, stepping through sandy soil, dodging the under growth of branches of large trees and bushes, and evading the sharp spines and thorns of desert plants. For each distinct flowering plant, we collected it by clipping a sample of branch with flowers or digging out the entire plant including root and flower with a screwdriver or shovel. We clipped a Larrea tridentata (Creosote). We dug a Mirabilis (Desert Wishbone) under a nurse bush. Someone shouted “look at this”: Argythamnia lanceolata (Narrowleaf Silverbush). Another yelled “make sure you get both the male and female”: Simmondsia chinensis (Jojoba). Then “this is so small and cute”: Abutilon (Indian Mallow). In a quiet voice “should we collect that” Phoradendron californicum (Mesquite Mistletoe). We found many plants in a dried-up situation that we would not collect.

After collecting several plants, we processed them to bring them back to the lab. We used a plant press made from cardboard, folded newsprint paper, and straps to tie everything together. Each plant is inserted in a separate layer of paper. The paper is labeled with the date, site number, sample number, and name. For each plant, Dawn gave us the botanical name as best she could. For many of the collected plants, only a portion of the name may be known or not at all. The full name (genus and species) will be determined in the lab. The only way to correctly identify the plant is through inspection and viewing under a microscope. The same information is collected in the note taking. Nancy was taking the notes. Afterwards Dawn commented to Nancy, “You'll be surprised to know that between you and me, we got most of the Latin spelling correct. That is no small feat!” One needs to take special care that the plant is pressed correctly to maintain the integrity of that species of plant. Some were easy to do. The bulky plants with spines were tricky. With the number of plants we collected that day and the size of some, it was amazing on how a large volume of plants can be compressed into a light easy to carry press.

That day we made 38 collections and completed the South Trail. The trail is .9 miles and it only took us 3 hours. It will take more hours to properly process and identify these plants back in the lab. And there will be many more days in the field.

I have started to look at plants in a different way. Now while walking outdoors, I am looking at the ground for new buds of colors; seeing the shapes of leaves; searching for plants growing underneath larger plants; sniffing the air for the aroma of the oils of the plants. I have become more aware of the plants surrounding me.

Mysterious White Tank Mountaintop Lights Generate Stir in 1920s

By Karen Krause

Evidence was found of ritualistic signal lights on the White Tank Mountains in June of 1922. The brilliant lights were seen for several evenings high on the mountain tops.

A curious party left Buckeye one evening, driving to the eastern slope of the mountains to investigate the mystery. At first they thought the lights were distress signals. As the evening wore on, the lights seemed to appear and disappear suddenly as they formed geometric patterns of square, circle, and diamond shapes. The symmetrical shapes the observers witnessed led the group to conclude the lights were the result of unknown scientists or surveyors performing some strange experiment on the mountain.

Another local resident said he knew the real reason for the strange lights. He told a local newspaper reporter that a mysterious secret order was in the habit of performing elaborate ceremonies on mountain peaks around the Salt River Valley. This secret organization used the brilliant fires as part of fantastic ritual and had held similar ceremonies on other mountains in the valley.

All of the flurry of excitement probably caused a good laugh for the ranchers familiar with the area. Earlier that same week, cowboys from the Dysart, Myers and Lane Cattle Company reported a brush fire in the White Tank Mountains. The fire was visible at night from Phoenix and Buckeye as it burned its way over the top of the mountains heading west. Despite reports from the cowboys, the lights generated stories of mysterious and fantastic explanations.

Strange lights, mysterious signal fires, ritual ceremonies of secret orders—or could it have been just a brush fire? Only the mountain knows for sure, and she’s not talking!

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Photo Credits: Beth Haddox and Bob Hopper

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