Out to see the Ironwoods in Bloom

2017 May

We drove out to the Ironwood National Monument to see the blooms. The ironwood tree has a stunning flowering each year in May. When they flourish they can put the cherry blossoms of Washington DC to shame.

The trees themselves can be many hundreds of years old. There are just two intact ironwood ecosystems left on the planet. A third one is just west of my home, but was bladed to become a golf course with houses beginning in the late 1990’s. It was hard to see trees several hundred years old and venerable saguaros being bulldozed into a mass graves.

Ironwood are commonly found throughout the southwest. They can be found solitary in washes, surrounded by an ocean of creosote, where nothing else can live. Young ironwood is rare to see. They grow extremely slowly in harsh environments. This monument is thick with ironwood, a desert forest. Saguaro, mesquite and palo verde share this place with an amazing diversity of life.

A Saguaro is about to Tap Me on the Shoulder

The Ironwood Monument also preserves a group of Bighorn sheep.

A cooperative democratic plan was drawn up between the ranchers, mining interest and all other parties concerned with the area over years of process to create the monument. Bill Clinton signed it into law at the end of his term. The monument is now being considered to go onto the chopping block by the current administration. Please, write, particularly congress, to continue its existence.

This has been a relatively dry year in Arizona, something that has never particularly diminished the ironwood blooms, but rains in the previous months do show an evident influence on the timing of the event. We started a yearly Ironwood Celebration a couple of decades ago. Timing a celebration to the blossoms was always a problem.

DF Walks in Desert Next to a Modest Ironwood

Before the bloom, the dark green leaves fall off over a couple of weeks and then masses of buds appear. When the buds erupt, the gorgeous mass inspires awe. The hums of working bees fill the serene silence of the desert.

The ironwood trees in my neck of the desert have been blooming, but when we arrive to grasp the moment, the week or two of color, little is to be found at the National Monument! Where carpets of flowers usually stand there has been less. The floor of the desert is barren where the dried remains of spring flowering should be.

Even in drought the place is beautiful. It has contrast from the rich colors of the soil and the turquoise blue sky. The greens of palo verde and the other trees and cacti provide colorful flora, but the feel of the rich abundance is diminished.

I find the old jeep trail that used to lead up into the foot of Ragged Top, the rugged monument of granite that distinguishes itself on the horizon for miles. It is now blocked off and signed.

Anger Shown Toward Signs

The quads and other traffic destroy this delicate ecosystem and create erosion.

This place needs protection to flourish.

Saguaro Blossoms Begin

It takes me a while to find my bearings and stay on course because so many of the familiar marks, or cues for my memory are missing. I finally find remnants of the old jeep trail.

We find a place where the fence marking our route and keeping cattle out has been flattened and trampled by cattle.

The monument was created, but politics have kept it from being adequately funded all of these years. It is preserved, but has cost little to maintain, poorly.

Why it would be on the chopping block dumbfounds me.

Cheap ineffective Ironwood Burl Fence Post

That would be a cruel and blind act, an attack by an ideology of monetary profit and a permanent loss for generations. Please, write supporting protection.

Best Shade Around Today

I use this fence as a landmark. At last, I see something familiar. Although, greatly changed, I find the loop where the old road used to end. I had camped here a couple of decades before. I find some stones that I had placed there at that time, still laying on the ground.

I tell stories to DF of that day, pointing to where the occurrences happened. I once again tell of the key lockout that left my girlfriend and me naked but for shoes and forty miles from home.


These were the rocks that I had in hand when I proposed to use them to break the window and get into her van.

Crossing the fence once again, we follow its course.

A Saguaro arm falls and it’s heavy weight slices it on the fence.

There are many palo verde trees filled with their yellow flowers. The pastel pinks and lavender of the ironwoods usually contrast wonderfully with these equal masses of yellow. They are affected by drought and this year the flowering is sparse.

Sparse Palo Verde and Ironwood Blooms

Back in forested areas that have harsh winters the trees become dormant. The landscape looks parched, barren, the grass dries. This is a desert’s wintertime.

Everything dries, going to seed, shedding their leaves and waiting for the coming monsoon season. The next month will be of the highest temperatures and commonly with no rain. It is a cycle. We walk upon the rocks whenever possible. The soils are delicate now, and I know that they are filled with tiny seeds, the next generation of life. We don’t want to crush them.

Plants Grasp onto Eroded Soil

There are one set of seeds for the coming monsoon and one set for the spring rains. Some things come out and bloom with the winter rains. In the winter, the rich protected soils under trees like ironwoods nurture a smorgasbord of bright green plants to feed the animals who also shelter there.


There have been floods. The wash that we are to walk through has had a tumultuous flow. There are piles of rock, uncovered and piled up. It is much wider in places. Foliage, even trees are gone, washed away with their roots. Many are piled up.


The soil must be preserved, or it washes with rain, wind and heavy animals with bigger feet that the indigenous varieties.

Ants Busily Leave a Trail

DF stops to inspect an old survivor. The Ironwood has lost branches from cattle banging, torrential rains and howling winds. It has shed them, allowing them break off in drought. It has regrown itself many times over in hundreds of years.

This Ironwood has had a Long Hard Life

It has perhaps been a mothering host to saguaro cacti, which have grown a hundred and fifty years, died and turned to dust under its watch.

Still, its hard wood and burl remain, as new growth appears.

Still, its hard wood and burl remain, as new growth appears.

One of the reasons that this is here to preserve is that it is remote. We reach a higher point and turn to take in the vista.

There is no one out here on this hot weekday but us.

The Hews will Vary from Tree to Tree

There is not another car anywhere. We could walk anywhere for miles naked without a care.

As the day progresses, the heat has joined us. Up on this higher ridge there are no shade trees to be found.

Looking Up toward this Ridge Destination

We have become tired and hungry. DF jokingly attempts to stand sideways in the shade of a tall saguaro.

We find one of the giant cactus that is just slightly wider. This is the only convenient spot. Placing our dab of clothing on the ground, we manage to sit just so in some shade, keeping the burning sun from directly coating our skin. We are in tandem, like sitting on a motorcycle. There is a light breeze, which makes a significant difference in comfort. We mention how fortunate we are to have our skin exposed all over to be cooled and to appreciate the breeze. It is a blessing. We have a snack, some fruit and grapes. I have made dehydrated crackers from carrot pulp, chia seeds and tamari sauce. We laugh at our tiny accommodations sitting as if on a toboggan, as we imbibe the wide vista and listen to the quiet. A turtle dove slides by on air and we hear the patter beat of wings passing over, a bird calls out from a bush, one of us shifts a naked limb….







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