‘Sky islands’ in southeastern Arizona

The Coronado National Forest spans sixteen scattered mountain ranges or “sky islands” rising dramatically from the desert floor, supporting plant communities as biologically diverse as those encountered on a trip from Mexico to Canada.

Experience all four seasons during a single day’s journey. Enjoy spectacular views from the mountains, wander through the desert among the giant saguaro cactus and colorful wildflowers in the morning, linger over lunch beside a mountain stream or lake, and play in the snow all before the day’s end.

I recently attended a conference in Oracle, Arizona. Oracle lies on the desert floor at the foot of Mount Lemmon, the highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains, just to the east of Tucson, Arizona.

Oracle is about 3,100 feet higher than Phoenix, where I live, so its climate is different, a little cooler. Snow actually fell in Oracle during the conference, but it started melting by midday. The peak of Mt. Lemmon is another 4,600 feet even higher. The peak of Mt. Lemmon is covered with snow during the winter when I visited. From some views of the mountain from the north, one can literally see a snow line.

I took some pictures along the road from Phoenix to the Oracle area on Arizona State Route 79 (SR 79). These are illustrations of sky islands rising above the Arizona desert.

From the Tom Mix Memorial looking west from the west side of SR79

In this picture, a sky island rises up from the desert floor (background left). I don’t know the name of these mountains.

Three species appear here on the desert floor. What looks like poles in the background are Saguaro Cactuses (SWAH ro). The shrubs in the foreground and scattered elsewhere are Creosote Bushes. They give off the smell of creosote, especially when it rains. Hence their name. Scattered around the landscape are Teddy Bear Cholla (CHOY ah). Farther to the north, along SR 79, the landscape is crowded with Teddy Bear Cholla. They looked like a forest or plantation in the desert. It wasn’t safe for me to pull off the road to take a picture, though.

The memorial to the actor Tom Mix (1880-1940), about 18 miles south of Florence, Arizona, is located along SR 79 where he was killed in a car crash. His car went off the road and landed in a wash (what Wikipedia calls a gully) killing him.

The next two pictures are from a roadside picnic table 23 miles south of the Tom Mix Memorial and not much more than a mile from Oracle Junction and the end of SR 79.

Snowy Mt. Lemmon towering above the desert floor, looking south

Cholla and Prickly Pear cactuses still grow at this elevation. I don’t know the identity of the tree to the left in the mid-ground or the shrub in the lower left foreground. There are no Saguaros or Creosote Bushes here.

A continuation of the panorama

Prickly Pears grow at even higher elevations. Cholla’s range has ended, somewhere between here and Oracle, though.

Farther north along SR 79, around Florence and northward, the roadside looks like a wild roadside in Phoenix. Flowering Lupines (LOO pinz) line the road, and a few Brittlebushes appear along the roadside. The following pictures are not from my trip. It was unsafe to stop to take pictures.

Blossoming Lupines along a sidewalk near my apartment.

A close-up

Brittlebush in the wild

Brittlebushes have been flowering for a little while, since late February. If you drove Interstate 10 between Phoenix to an exit for Oracle at this time of year, you would see flowering Brittlebushes lining the shoulders of the highway and peeking out from under guardrails.

I recently transplanted a wild Brittlebush into a decorative flower pot. The third try is doing well. I used soil that was “seasoned” in my complex’s landscape dump. As common as Brittlebush is, it is still lovely. It has silvery-green leaves. It fills my pot. It’s unlikely to grow much larger than it currently is, though. I doubt that it will ever flower.

One peculiarity of both Lupines and Brittlebushes is that they grow in disturbed soil. Both are native plants, and I’m under the impression that native plants don’t grow in anything but relatively pristine soils. In Northeastern Illinois where I’m from, native seeds rarely germinated in disturbed soil. Once a prairie has been plowed, it doesn’t grow back without massive human intervention.

Dandelions, weed grasses, and invasive Buckthorns colonize disturbed soil in Northeastern Illinois. A succession of some tree seeds takes root. Ashes, Silver Maples, and Honey Locusts are relatively quick to sprout when the soil has begun to heal if the immediate environment is suitable. By heal I mean acquire a range of microbes that native seeds need to germinate and grow. Generally, plants, even native ones, have to be grown in nurseries before they are transplanted into new landscapes.

My parents’ landscapers in the middle 1950s planted inexpensive native shrubs in the backyard as hedges. Two kinds failed to grow, one sooner and one later. The ones that failed were never replaced. The area of one clump was taken over by invasive Buckthorns. I planted invasive Wintercreeper slips as a ground cover where the other clump of shrubs had been. These thrived. As wild native seeds blew in, they germinated and grew to their natural heights. The Wintercreeper had healed the soil. All these plants, including the Wintercreeper, lived well together. I didn’t touch the area other than to cut back and thin the Wintercreeper. Fifty years later, the native shrubs were doing well if a little misshapen. Then in 2004, we siblings sold the house on behalf of Dad.

Historic U.S. Route 80

Sign in Florence, Arizona

Mount Lemmon from the north. Notice remnants of snow in the foreground from the snowstorm 24 hours before. Picture taken from SR 77 between Oracle and Oracle Junction.

At one time, U.S. Route 80 ran across the southern tier of the country from coast to coast. The western terminus was San Diego, California, and the eastern terminus then and now is just east of Savannah, Georgia. The western course of U.S. 80 was decommissioned, so the route now terminates in Dallas, Texas. Portions of the route west of Dallas still exist and in Arizona have been designated as Historic U.S. 80 as the sign above shows.

Recently, I was driving from Phoenix to Oracle, Arizona, for a conference. Somewhat east of Phoenix, signed Historic 80 veers off from U.S. Route 60 to become Historic 80’s northernmost point of the section that I drove down. This interchange is called Florence Junction. The official designation of the road is Arizona State Route 79 (SR 79). Florence, Arizona, is the first town south of Florence Junction, about 14 miles distant. I would like to spend a couple hours in Florence to get a feel for the town.

Historic 80 then continues southward toward Tucson, Arizona, over SR 79 until this numbered road reaches SR 77 and terminates. This location is called Oracle Junction. The original U.S. 80 proceeded from here to Tucson and beyond.

See where SR 79 is on Google maps:

The distance between Florence Junction and Oracle Junction — the length of SR 79 — is about 42 miles. That’s about the same distance as between downtown Phoenix and Florence Junction! Metropolitan Phoenix has spread out along this entire corridor. This is a perfect example of urban sprawl. In contrast, the land south of Florence Junction is undeveloped grazing range land, and I hope that it stays that way.

On this trip, I was interested in reaching Oracle, east of what is aptly called Oracle Junction. The way from Oracle Junction to the town of Oracle, Arizona, is over SR 77 eastward. The most prominent landmark here is towering Mt. Lemmon. Mt. Lemmon is the highest peak in the Santa Catalina mountain range. This mountain range is in the Coronado National Forest which spans southeastern Arizona.

I like this description of this national forest: “The Coronado National Forest spans sixteen scattered mountain ranges or ‘sky islands’ rising dramatically from the desert floor….” (This quote is attributed to the Home page of the Coronado National Forest, but I can’t find it there.) You can see Mt. Lemmon as a sky island in my photo above. The drive from Phoenix to the foot of Mt. Lemmon is entirely a desert floor. As you drive, the elevation gradually rises. Oracle, Arizona, is actually about 3,100 feet higher than Phoenix. It lies northeast of the foot of Mt. Lemmon in a transition zone between the desert floor to the north and the sky island of the national forest. This transition zone is narrow.

All along the trip from Phoenix to Oracle one sees subtle changes in the plant ecology. For example, Saguaro cactuses grow in the lower elevations where there are no freezes during the winter. At some point in the trip, the weather brings freezing temperatures to the desert floor, and Saguaros can’t survive a freeze. One also sees this on a trip north from Phoenix to Flagstaff, Arizona. At first, there are Saguaros everywhere. Then they grow only on the south side of mountains, the warmer side. Then they disappear. The temperature freezes over at night in the depth of winter.

The Arizona Department of Transportation has a web page describing the history of U.S. 80 in Arizona.

Also see the Arizona Daily Star, Photos of U.S. Route 80 through Arizona,

and AARoads, Photos of Historic U.S. 80

‘I got my licks on Route 66’

In 2009, I was driving back to Kansas City from Chicago by way of Interstate 55 between Chicago and St. Louis. This route had once been designated as “US 66.” It stretched from Chicago to Santa Monica, California.

The actual highway number 66 was decommissioned in 1985, though, since the federal interstate highway system had supplanted all the earlier national roads like Route 66. A movement to venerate the highway and what it stood for swelled. Some states renumbered the remaining sections of the “Mother Highway” as state route 66. By now, remaining segments that are used for traffic have been designated across the country as Historic Route US 66, with states adding their name to the signage as you see.

My trip was leisurely. My curiosity prevailed, and I made two stops to visit the old highway. This above sign is from Lincoln, Illinois, where 66 had passed through the town on city streets as it had before it was rebuilt on the outskirts as a 4-lane divided highway that bypassed Lincoln. This rebuilding process in Illinois began after World War II. Segments were taken over for Interstate 55.

This next picture depicts Historic 66 as it passes toward the downtown of Lincoln, Illinois, on an ordinary street. National highways ran point to point from the center of one town or city to the next center.

These two pictures show the old highway’s original pavement as it proceeds out of Odell, Illinois, and wanders through the vast corn fields. The car is my old 2004 Dodge Neon that I acquired used in 2006 and relinquished in 2020 for a new 2018 Kia Rio. The Rio was my first car that didn’t have a previous owner.

Notice the Illinois license plate, if you can. I had been living in Kansas for a year already and hadn’t yet registered it in Kansas. There is a story here but not now.

I took a picture of this display in Interstate 55’s Funks Grove rest area. As you see, it commemorates Illinois’s section of Route 66. You also see the slogan that’s the title of this post “Get Your Licks on Route 66.” However, I’ve always heard the slogan as “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” I was getting my kicks on my side-trips. I don’t know what ‘licks’ means or refers to.

Get Your Kicks on Route 66” is a 1946 song recorded by Nat King Cole.

Nature at my footsteps

August 2021| Surfside, Florida

When I visited my son in Miami during the summer of 2021, I visited my son’s barbecue restaurant in nearby Surfside.

Walking back to where my car was parked, I came across a good size lizard on the sidewalk. It didn’t seem scared of me at all. The lizards — much smaller — that we have near my Phoenix home are very skittish. As I approach them to take a picture, they’re gone. Some have appeared at my front doorstep. Again, “Nature at my doorstep.”

Incidentally, my son’s restaurant is not too far from the collapse of the Champlain Towers in June of 2021. My son gave out free sandwiches to first responders.

Jewish Boot Hill Graveyard

Jewish Boot Hill Graveyard | Jewish Pioneers Memorial | Tombstone, Arizona

Early in 2018, I visited Tombstone, Arizona. There, I visited the legendary and infamous Boot Hill Graveyard. I was especially intrigued by the sign that indicated that it had a Jewish Memorial. I stopped and looked around.

I published a post about a year ago about the Jewish memorial. I’ve just determined the source of most of the pictures. I’m repeating the pictures with proper attribution. The text is new.

I’ve cropped and enhanced most of these pictures using Microsoft Office Picture Manager.

DrStew82, Creative Commons. Cropped by Nesanel Segal.

Tombstone’s Boot Hill Graveyard in Tombstone, Arizona.
Gabriel Millos, Creative Commons. Cropped and enhanced by Nesanel Segal.

“The small, segregated Jewish portion of the historic Boothill Graveyard in Tombstone, Arizona,” Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress

The Jewish custom when visiting a grave is to leave behind one’s own stone marker.

I don’t now know where I found this picture. The meta-data doesn’t indicate that I took the picture. I’ve cropped and enhanced the original.

David Conway, “Jewish Pioneers
.” Find A Grave. Cropped and enhanced by Nesanel Segal.

The Star of David is on one side. The menorah on top reads Shalom — peace. The three rings with figures inside are an Indian symbol — from the past Hohokam culture. It’s not clear to me whether any Indians were actually buried in this cemetery.

“The work on the 100-year-old burial ground was carried out in large part by [Judge C. Lawrence] Huerta, a [full-blooded] Yaqui Indian, who has served as a judge, community college chancellor and member of the state’s industrial commission,” according to The New York Times. “Ceremonial items were sealed into a burnished safe adorned with Jewish and Indian symbols atop the pedestal…. Huerta donated a Yaqui bowl containing items ‘which symbolize the harmony between the Jewish pioneers and the Indians.’”

Said Huerta, “A burial place is sacred to my people, and I wanted this place to be treated with the respect it once had. In honoring my Jewish brothers I feel I am also honoring the lost and forgotten bones of my own people who lay where they fell when the west was being settled” (Southwest Jewish Archives of the University of Arizona).

“When the west was being settled” was uttered by an Indian in 1983 (or so). I would not say such a thing in the third decade of the 21st century in light of what I know. The west was already settled — by Indians — before the Europeans came. I would say, “When the west was being resettled by Europeans.”

AJM, “Jewish Pioneers
.” Find A Grave. Cropped and enhanced by Nesanel Segal.

This picture (above) looks like it was taken before the wrought iron fence was installed and before landscaping.

AJM, “Jewish Pioneers
.” Find A Grave. Cropped and enhanced by Nesanel Segal.

You’ll see how two Chinese were buried segregated off to the side of the main cemetery — the “white” section.

Gravemarker from Boot Hill Graveyard, Tombstone, Arizona. Jan Kronsell,
Public Domain. Cropped and enhanced by Nesanel Segal.

See the Southwest Jewish Archives of the University of Arizona:

The New York Times reported: “An Old West Cemetery for Jews Is Rededicated in Tombstone,” February 29, 1984.

Eileen R. Warshaw, “What became of the Jews of Tombstone?,” Arizona Jewish Life, September 1, 2012. Retrieved April 22, 2021.

So you’re planning to take a trip by plane

You’re vaccinated, and the CDC says that it’s safe for you to travel by plane when wearing a mask.

Vaccinated travelers should still avoid eating and drinking on planes, experts say. Robert M. Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, says that when passengers are allowed to take their masks off for meal services, his comfort with air travel goes away, as reported in The Washington Post.

I’m not comfortable either eating or drinking anywhere indoors. You simply have to take off your mask to eat and drink. But the advice from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is for vaccinated people to continue to wear masks indoors and to physically distance six feet.

I’ve been vaccinated, but no vaccine is fully effective. Experts agree, though, that vaccines also prevent serious cases of COVID in the off chance someone is exposed and succumbs. One reason that I wear a mask is to keep other people’s aerosol droplets out of my respiratory system. I’m insulating myself from such aerosols and doing my best to keep from becoming infected.

So no cup of hot tea with sugar on my next flight.

See: “Vaccinated travelers should still avoid eating and drinking on planes, experts say,” The Washington Post, Natalie B. Compton, April 16, 2021. Retrieved April 18, 2021.

The Jewish cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona

For a short while during the silver rush of the 1880s, Tombstone, Arizona, had a significant Jewish community. Some died and were buried there in the local cemetery — Boot Hill. There was a tendency for men to die with their boots on, they say. Hence the name.

The cemetery is now a tourist attraction. “Come see the plots and new markers of those who were killed in the Fight at the OK Corral.”

Jews, Indians, and Chinese were buried in a separate lot just below the hill.

An historical society was able to mark some of the Gentile graves on the hill and map it out for tourists. They had located enough historical documents for the task.

Not so the Jews. A club in south-central Arizona, though, sponsored a single memorial marker dedicated to:
The Jewish Pioneers and Their Indian Friends / Erected by the Jewish Friendship Club of Green Valley 1984.

Some of the “friends” were also Chinese.

Photos from Atlas Obscura, “Jewish Pioneers Memorial — Tombstone, Arizona,” retreived March 24, 2020. Photos have been retouched.

Green Valley, Arizona, lies on the highway south of Tucson on the way to Nogales.

See “Restoration of a Jewish Cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona,” Southwest Jewish Archives, University of Arizona.

The New York Times reported: “An Old West Cemetery for Jews Is Rededicated in Tombstone,” February 29, 1984.

An Elm Tree in Willcox, AZ

Willcox Elm Tree

This Dutch elm tree is reported to be the largest of its kind in Arizona (according to Willcox city manager “Ted” Soltis).

If it’s not the largest, it looks like it would be. It looks like it could be among the oldest. The city of Willcox, a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad, was founded around 1880. The railway today – now the Union Pacific – passes through Willcox but does not stop anymore.

The original train depot, from 1881, is now a museum and the City Hall.


Photo by Nesanel Segal, 2018

A Mesquite Orchard

Have you ever seen an orchard of mesquite trees?

This scene was photographed at the Amerind Museum, Dragoon, Arizona, in February, during the winter. *

This scene was taken in February, during Arizona’s winter. *

You actually never saw such an orchard of mesquite tree. Instead, mesquite trees on their own create an order that looks like an orchard. Each tree secretes a substance that is poisonous to its own seeds. Seeds that land under or around the tree are poisoned and do not germinate. This condition is called allelopathy.

In addition, each tree spreads roots out under the entire canopy, and these roots suck up the water in the soil. An adjacent tree, needing its own supply of water, grows at a distance from all other trees. As a result, the layout of the trees looks like it was planted in rows by human hands.


* Photos by Nesanel Segal, 2018