Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Up Armstrong Canyon at Natural Bridges

Owachomo Bridge, in Armstrong Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument
A fine May afternoon, and I decided to hike down to Owachomo Bridge in Armstrong Canyon at Natural Bridges. A slight chance of rain, but the clouds would accent the blue sky. Nicely, I hoped.

Down the easy trail to Owachomo Bridge.
I hiked underneath the stone bridge, oldest of the the three in the park, talking with visitors along the way. But most of them only go down to the bridge for pictures, then return to the parking lot, since it's only 0.2 miles away. A nice experience for those that don't want more.

The mouth of Tuwa Canyon, at Armstrong Canyon.
I hung a right and kept on going, over to the mouth of Tuwa Canyon where it enters Armstrong, a short distance upstream of the bridge. From there you can get some nice alternate shots of the area. 

Looking up Armstrong Canyon from a bench above.
I climbed up onto a bench above the stream, looking for ancient ruins and artwork. Suffice it to say that they are all over this area -- Cedar Mesa -- and half of the fun is looking without the aid of guidebooks or Internet secrets that have been given away, even pinpointed with GPS coordinates. 

Cattail pool, upper Armstrong Canyon.
Then I descended from the bench and continued upstream, with pretty easy walking most of the way, following the stream course. One pool even had cattails growing along the bank. Cattails are one of my favorite marsh plants. I was surprised to see them there, since this is an intermittent high desert canyon stream, prone to flash floods. The cottonwood and willow trees are much better adapted to rip roaring floods. But cattails? Hmm. There must not have been a really bad rip roaring flash flood here for quite some time.

The springtime bright green flush of deciduous trees and shrubs in the high desert.
There was plenty of other streamside greenery: Fremont Cottonwood, Coyote Willow, rabbitbrush. Grasses and forbs.

Let's not forget the wildflowers. It's still springtime here at 6,000 feet, and the season has been nicely cool and wet. The hot weather will come soon enough, after all. Let the spring flowers feel comfortable taking their time.

Whipple's Fishhook Cactus blossoms.
First on the wildflower agenda, photographically, as far as this hike went: Whipple's Fishhook Cactus. Several had their first yellow-green blossoms out atop their needle-spine protected barrels of green. 

The Colorado Bladderpod have been blooming in the park for several weeks now. But they continue to eye-catch with their little bright yellow blossoms at the top of their flower stalks, each spreading out from the basal leaves in different directions, as if to cover various points of the compass. 

Colorado Bladderpod in bloom.
Meanwhile, up on the stream bank, it was impossible to miss another colony of Claretcup cactus in achingly red bloom. Like I don't have enough photos of this species, but it's hard to resist. 

Just another Claretcup cactus in bloom photo.
Finally I decided it was time to turn around and go home. But as I headed back downstream, I found some pure white Evening Primrose, wide open for business for the coming night (they are pollinated by nocturnal insects). 

Evening Primrose blossoms by the water's edge.
I climbed up a ledge on the north side of the stream bank, again looking for Ancestral Puebloan ruins. Didn't find any. But more red flowers caught my eye on the slope just above. I wondered: more Claretcups, or Paintbrush?

A clump of Paintbrush complemented by a green clump of something else.
It turned out to be both. One of the best clumps of Common Paintbrush (the much taller Wyoming Paintbrush appear later in the season) I've seen. I'm sure they hate being called "common". But they have no say in the matter, so I'm voicing it for them.

The so-called "Common" Paintbrush, closeup. Uncommonly eye-catching.
And just a few feet downslope, another small but photogenic colony of Claretcup cactus blossoms. I got close and personal this time, to show off the lovely structure of the blossoms.

Claretcup Cactus blossoms get their closeup portrait.
As I continued hiking, the rain started. Just sprinkles for a while. Then as I crossed back underneath Owachomo Bridge and ascended the trail, the rain became fat drops. But I was only a couple of minutes from my vehicle. Great timing.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, southeast Utah.

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