Each Spring I take precious time out to journey into the high mountains of either New Mexico or Arizona in search of a some of the more elusive high elevation herbs I work with. While many people tend to think of the Southwest as strictly desert, this region is actually incredibly diverse and includes everything from arid desert to lush wetlands to treeless alpine vistas. Every ecosystem and region has its own unique personality that makes it worth exploring an getting to know.
As an herbalist, I’m afraid my favorite places are probably rather obvious — they’re the ones with the most plants! The areas I often frequent are usually middle mountain riparian and Ponderosa/Gambel Oak forest (like much of the canyon itself) and sub-alpine Aspen/Spruce forest and meadow because they are so rich in botanical diversity.
This time around I headed towards one of the Gila’s highest peaks to spend time in a remote area that is lush with Wild Roses, Elderberries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Violets, Cinquefoil and many other important edible and medicinal herbs. This favorite mountain is a veritable fairy tale forest and has that enchanted feel that only old trees and well established plant communities can give. Towering Spruce and white-skinned Aspens form the bulk of the upper story of the forest broken up by intermittent meadows filled with wildflowers and berry bushes.
I’ve visited this same spot several times in the past, but every time I am amazed anew by species I previously missed. And the long, slow trip up the twenty mile long winding, washboard dirt road provides ample opportunity to admire and exclaim over the changing habitat as we ascend from 6,000 feet to 10,000 feet. This year I made the journey with both Loba and Rhiannon, and we brought along a picnic lunch to celebrate the glory of Spring in the mountains. Rhiannon had never been to this particular spot and was shocked and amazed by Strawberry flowers and Aspen bark, and by the amazing view from the mountainside out over the rolling terrain of the Gila.
An incredible array of delicate blooms peeked from the forest floor and I think I could have spent the entire day on my belly getting to know each one. Soft Yarrow leaves and intricate Violet blossoms carpeted much of the area with a smattering of Dandelions and Potentilla to brighten up the day. False Solomon’s Seal and Western Coshosh (also known as Baneberry) peeked out from underneath Elder trees and Gooseberry bushes.
Not long after our arrival, black clouds began to move in, the wind picked up and thunder rumbled just above us. After exploring and gathering as much as possible in the remaining sunshine, we headed back down the mountain to eat our midday feast next to the creek that flows down from the peaks above. Amidst raindrops and wind, Loba gathered watercress from a grassy bank that was also filled with Buttercups and Speedwell while we prepared a simple meal of Beebalm/Sweet Clover pesto, meats and cheeses, skillet bread, red sweet pepper, deviled eggs and greens. We huddled together in the shelter of the jeep and watched the storm blow in around us as we thoroughly savored our food.
I treasure these much needed adventures into the bioregion I love so well.… and the hours of nearly wordless exploration and interaction with the wild, inspirited world give me the inspiration and fuel for the vital work that I am a part of here at Animá Center. Each sip of wild water and barefoot stroll through a sunlit meadow reminds of the how and why of my mission, and provides me with the vision and knowledge to ensure its growth.
All photos (c)2009 Kiva Rose