Upper Bear Creek

Upper Bear is what I'm calling the portion of the creek that's upstream of the first intersection with the highway.  This is where forest is first encountered along the highway, which at first is composed of Arizona Cypress and then changes to Chihuahua and Arizona Pine before the road climbs out of the canyon.  There's no trail here so this is just a hike along the creek bed which is accessible from the adjacent road.  This is one of the best places that I know of to see Arizona Cypress.  These trees are found in scattered groves throughout the southwest usually in wet canyon bottoms.  Unfortunately this hike travels through a fragile environment that is easily accessible, so hopefully people will respect it and be careful to avoid damaging it if they visiting.  I'll just add that unless you're specifically interested in the vegetation it's really not worth the trouble of dropping down from the road.


November 13, 2009
I dropped into Bear Creek at the lower end of the cypress grove then hiked up to the prominent rock spires and walked the road back to get a different perspective.  I used the first parking pullout past the highway crossing of the creek.

 
This is looking at the forest in the creek bottom near where I dropped in.  The grasses and willows were turning bright yellow at the time.  There are a few cypress in this area along with ash, oak, walnut, and sycamore.  Upstream the forest quickly becomes almost solely composed of cypress.  The second photo is a detail of the cypress bark which looks like it should be soft and fiberous but is very dense and hard with a bit of a silvery sheen.  Farther north in Arizona another variety of the species has smoother flaking bark that is reddish.

 
Some detail of foliage and cones that haven't opened yet but have a few seeds squeezing out between the scales.  Many identification guides describe the twigs being red both for the smooth and rough bark varieties, but all the trees that I saw had mostly gray twigs with only small bits approaching red. 

   
This was the first big tree that I noticed which had an exaggerated base due to its twisted form.  The last photo is looking up at the tree and the slope it sits at the foot of, with the road somewhere up behind it.


A tight cluster of trees on the other side of the creek with trunks that are relatively clear of branches, probably because of shading by neighbors.


Looking upstream with a row of Arizona Alders on the left and lots of grass and willow along the creek.  I was surprised by the amount of water still flowing in the creek since it hadn't rained for a while, which means it's probably spring fed.  This may explain why the cypress are so prolific in this area since upstream the cypress disappeared at about the same place that the water did.

 
Another large cypress trunk, this time with a split top.  The second photo is from the road and is the same tree I think.  The left tree appears to either be more mature or in decline compared with the split tree on the right.


Another large trunk base with roots particularly exposed as they spead over the boulders in the creek.


A large burned out cypress trunk with some sapplings starting up in the clearing.  The foliage of these sapplings is especially blue, as most of the sapplings seemed to be. 


This was a cluster of trees that seemed to be some of the tallest in the canyon though the trunks weren't particularly large.


A view up the creek at the rock pinnacles that mark the end of the cypress grove.  At that point the cypress end abruptly, especially after being so continuously dense, and the canyon bottom instead becomes forested in pine.

 
This cypress had by far the largest trunk and was located near the end of the grove, I stepped into the frame to provide scale, I'm about 6'.  It may be the largest Arizona Cypress recorded in the US, which is located somewhere in Bear Canyon.  It didn't seem to be very tall but the national tree registery uses a scoring system that is biased towards circumference.

 
View from the road into the center of a cypress to show the odd branching pattern.  The second photo looks over the forest in general which spreads up out of the canyon a little way onto the north facing slope.  The trees on the slope are relatively small and seem to persist there only because they are replenished by the main stand below.  The slope in the background was burned by the Aspen Fire and shows how susceptible the trees are to fire without plentiful water.


This is in the area of the tall tree group which is in the background on the left.  The tree at center seemed pretty tall too, the creek bed is just out of view at the bottom.  It's interesting to note the variety of canopy colors and forms.