Miller Canyon

On its way up the canyon bottom this trail quickly transitions from the juniper foothills to a riparian woodland type that is rare for southern Arizona.  The forest type on the mountain slopes also jumps quickly from Alligator Juniper and Mexican Pinyon to Douglas-fir without going through much of the typical Ponderosa or Chihuahua Pine transition.

May 23, 2009

Looking up canyon from just a short way in from the trailhead to Miller Peak on the right.  The slopes on the left change abruptly from juniper scrub to Douglas-fir which seems to be a result of an old high intensity forest fire.  The major vegetation surrounding the trail in the foreground is typical for this region, altitude, and south-facing slope; Arizona Madrone at left, then Mexican Pinyon, Alligator Juniper and Pointleaf Manzanita.


The trail stays set back from the creek for a while as an old dirt road and then crosses to the other side where it continues to ascend alongside under an increasing canopy of oaks, pine, Bigtooth Maple and Arizona Walnut.  Farther downstream along the creek bed there are groves of large sycamores, but the trail keeps its distance from these in order to make it's way around the large bed and breakfast property at the trailhead.  At the time I was hiking there was a nonstop chorus of turkey calls coming out of that area.

 
Eventually the forest canopy gets big enough to cover the trail which continues to stay on the slopes above the creek.  The first photo is looking down the steep slope to the creek and up into the tall bright green canopy of Bigtooth Maples arching over from the left and an Arizona Walnut slanting and rising up on the right.  The vertical trunk is either a Douglas-fir or White Fir.  The other photo is of a large split trunk White Fir at a very low altitude for southern Arizona, at least I think that's what it is. 

 
Looking directly up slope to Miller Peak from the right fork of the creek which the trail ascends  This narrow drainage is interesting in that the trail looks out onto the lush north-facing slope and bottom.  The trail itself traverses a much drier south-facing slope with Ponderosa, as seen on the right of the second photo, and Pinyon Pine.

 
The trail climbs out of the creek bottom and onto the upper slopes of the canyon where lots of burn damage is present, mostly from a fire in '77.  The first photo is looking up at Carr Peak across drier slopes that I think are covered mostly with Ceanothus, otherwise called Buckbrush, and the bright green is a small Gambel Oak.  It will be a long time before pine forest can be supported here again. The second photo is looking across at more moist slopes that are recovering more quickly with Gambel Oak, Douglas-fir and White Fir.  Some of the trees that survived the fire can be seen on the crest at right.


The trail contours just below the crest through the burned out forest making its way towards Miller Peak at center.  The bright green patch at right is a dense forest of young aspen that has taken a strong hold after the fire.  In the distance is the San Pedro Valley south of Sierra Vista.  The bushy light green trees in the foreground are young Gambel Oak.


Some of the White Fir, like this one growing in after the fire, were especially icy blue, as were some of the Douglas-fir.  This is looking back on Carr Peak with some of the surviving forest on the lower right.


Looking back over the patch of aspen after the trail crosses through it.  Some Douglas-fir fire survivors project above the aspen which themselves were several times higher than head height.  Mount Wrightson in the Santa Ritas forms the horizon to the northwest, and a patchwork of fire scars can be seen on the right that were a result of crown fires burning up to the ridge crest.


Nearing the summit looking back again from the west to the northwest across the San Rafael Valley to the Patagonia Mountains which continue into Mexico at left.  This valley is the headwaters of the Santa Cruz River which flows south into Mexico and then hooks to the west before flowing north back into the US near Nogales.  The Atascosa and Baboquivari Mountains can be seen farther back on the center horizon and the Santa Ritas are on the right.  The Douglas-fir forest shortens up quite a bit and the Southwestern White Pine look more like Limber Pine along the crest, probably due to harsh windy winter conditions and dryness at the top. 


Summit view to the northeast across the San Pedro Valley towards the southern tip of the Dragoons and beyond to the Dos Cabezas Mountains which run south and connect to the Chiricahuas on thfe right horizon. 


View north over a gnarly windswept Southwestern White Pine to Carr Peak which forms the north wall of Miller Canyon.  Barely visible over a dip in the ridge is Ramsey Peak and beyond is the more prominent Huachuca Peak, which is the northernmost highpoint on the crest.  Rising up from the grassy plains on the right are the Whetstones and barely visible beyond them is the low dome-like profile of Mica Mountain in the Rincons, and even more barely visible to its left are the Catalinas.

 
Looking to the southeast at the pointy profile of San Jose Peak just across the border in Mexico and beyond to the succession of other basin and range mountains that lead to the Sierra Madre.  The border and fence can be seen running diagonally from left to center where it goes out of view and cuts across the southern foot of the Huachucas.  The San Pedro River flows directly north out of Mexico through the border.  The second photo looks southwest into Mexico across the San Rafael Valley with the bright white area being mine tailings from the large Cananea Mine.


A look at some young White Firs of various shades and shapes that are growing at the edge of the aspen forest.  The pointy profile of the left tree looks almost like a Subalpine Fir but I'm pretty sure it isn't.  The tall trunks belong to Douglas-firs, some killed by the fire but still standing and others that survived and continue to do well.  


This snake was moving quickly downslope across the trail when I saw it and was difficult to get a photo of because of the steep loose slopes.  The best identification match seems to be a Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake though its patterning seems fairly mottled even for that species.  It was heading under the trunk of a maple so I couldn't get a shot of its head.



This is the GPS file for this hike that can be opened in Google Earth. You may have to explicitly specify the gpx extension when saving, miller.gpx.