Ecology of the Gila
Ok, I just have to point this out…. I do not live in the desert. Just because I’m in New Mexico, one part of the American Southwest, does not make my home the desert. Don’t get me wrong, I love the desert, in fact I go out of my way to visit the nearby deserts. I just don’t live there. Now, up North a bit, towards Taos, we have what’s called high desert and I don’t know too much about that, but it’s very pretty. I think they have a lot of Sagebrush and Juniper…
Some textbooks define a desert as an area that gets ten or fewer inches of rain annually. We (the Gila bioregion, including the Blue Wilderness Area) get at least twice that, appr. twenty one inches of rain annually. To be more specific, I believe the Gila qualifies as semi-arid woodland for the most part, especially at the middle elevations. This is a very diverse area, as my readers have probably noted from my extensive descriptions of local flora. We really have more in common with the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Madres than the nearby deserts.
For example, some of the most common flora of the canyon include Skullcap, Wild Rose, Potentilla, Wild Mint, Western Mugwort, American Pennyroyal, Mountain Mahogany, Gooseberry, White Mulberry, Mountain Lover, Alum Root, Wild Geranium, Speedwell, Monkeyflower, Ponderosa Pine, Utah Juniper, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Piñon Pine, Chokecherry, Elder, Watercress, Cottonwood, Willow, Alder, Serviceberry (the world’s single best berry), Usnea, Puffball mushrooms, Bolete mushrooms, Earthstars, Redroot, Western Virgin’s Bower, Woodbine, Wild Grape, Catnip, Silk Tassel, Wild Honeysuckle, Motherwort, Prickly Pear, Lupine, Yarrow and Beebalm. And that’s just in my backyard, if you walk a bit further you can even find a few Aspen.
If you were to visit me with two field guides, one made for a “Southwestern” or “desert” bioregion and another for the Rocky Mountain, you’d be much better off with the latter, and downright frustrated with the former. But drive two hours towards Lordsburg and you’ll find yourself some Creosote Bush and Mormon Tea, now there’s a desert! If you decide to instead drive for forty five minutes up into the mountains in any direction though you’ll find high mountain, sub alpine and alpine ecologies instead. These are more defined by Fir, Spruce, more Yarrow, more Wild Roses, Chiming Bells, False Solomon’s Seal, Baneberry, maybe some Osha, lots of Elderberries, Black Hawthorn, Spikenard, a little bit of Pulsatilla in some places if you look hard enough and carpets of Violets and Wild Strawberries. The Southwest is a diverse place, and the Gila bioregion is arguably the most diverse area therein.
Yeah, it gets damn hot and dry here come June. And the intensity of dry season forest fires can be scary. But come on, we spend three to six months out of every year not being able to drive in and out of the canyon due to floods, mud and other rain/snow caused miscellanea. I’d post pictures of our jeep sunk in the river from earlier this winter, but it’s not very pretty, so I’ll settle for the loveliness of the above monsoon season rain picture. You can judge for yourself.