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Picacho Peak


For travelers between Tucson and Phoenix the distinctive, jagged summit of Picacho Peak is both a beacon and a lure. As a beacon its visibility for the duration of the trip offers a rough estimate of the distance traveled. Then it lures our spirit to adventure; to climb and to take a measure of risk in reaching our goals. Lucky are those who can recall having actually scaled the trails and cables to stand at the top! Although beginners should get some hiking and climbing experience ahead of attempting this one, those with experience will find the trek exhilarating and quite doable without special equipment. Those with an adventurous spirit minus the athletic build should stop anyway and admire the mountain up close, especially in the spring when wildflowers paint this mountain and the surrounding desert with vivid color. Picacho Peak State Park preserves this important landmark and provides picnicking and camping facilities as well as a network of trails for all capabilities.

Exit I-10 at #219 and turn west from the expressway following the signs to Picacho Peak State Parks. Just a few short miles will bring you to the entrance gate. Fee for vehicle and passengers was $6. and for tent campers $12. The main drawback is that the highway is too close ... you will be hearing sounds of traffic throughout your stay. The Picacho Mountains are on the northeast side of I-10 about 10 miles away. The communications towers on top should allow you excellent cell phone networking while at Picacho Peak.

View Larger Map. Picacho Peak Park is indicated by table icon. Nearby areas of interest to the naturalist include Santa Cruz Flats (green tack) and a small lake at Arizona City (blue balloon).

Arizona State Parks Website: Picacho Peak State Park

Park is Scheduled to Close June 3, 2010!

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View of Picacho Peak from the northwest. The dark green shrub at far left is Creosote Bush. The silver-gray shrub at center below the gate is Brittlebush and the small tree just across the road is a Foothills Palo Verde. There are also plenty of Saguaro Cactus on the bajadas.


In general order of Abundance.
Seasonal occurrence: (S)ummer, (F)all, (W)inter, (Sp)ring

  1. Rock Wren -- S,F,W,Sp
  2. Verdin -- S,F,W,Sp
  3. House Finch -- S,F,W,Sp
  4. Black-throated Sparrow -- S,F,W,Sp
  5. Cactus Wren -- S,F,W,Sp
  6. Gila Woodpecker -- Melanerpes uropygialis -- S,F,W,Sp
  7. Red-tailed Hawk -- F,W
  8. Mourning Dove -- S,F,W,Sp
  9. Phainopepla -- Sp,S
  10. Gambel's Quail -- S,F,W,Sp
  11. Curve-billed Thrasher -- S,F,W,Sp
  12. Bendire's Thrasher -- S,F,W,Sp
  13. Turkey Vulture -- S,F,Sp
  14. Gilded Flicker -- S,F,W,Sp
  15. Ladder-backed Woodpecker-- S,F,W,Sp
  16. Lesser Goldfinch -- S,F,W,Sp
  17. Sharp-shinned Hawk -- S,F,W,Sp
  18. Canyon Wren -- W,Sp

Photo © by Michael Plagens

This Rock Wren was photographed in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, Maricopa Co., Arizona.

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  1. Round-tailed Ground Squirrel -- on the bajadas
  2. Harris Ground Squirrel -- on the creosote flats
  3. Audubon's Cottontail
  4. Collared Pecary

Photo © by Michael Plagens

Snakes and predators become scarce near picnic and campgrounds much to the benefit of rabbits like this Audubon's Cottontail.


In general order of Abundance:
  1. Saguaro Cactus (Cereus giganteus) -- On Oct. 13, 2006 there seemed to be an inordinate number of dead and dying saguaros.
  2. Englemann Prickly Pear (Opuntia phaecantha) -- noticeably more common than on similar slopes nearer to Phoenix.
  3. Chain-fruit Cholla (Opuntia fulgida) --
  4. Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii) -- Significant patches here and there ... what your step because loose joint with very sharp spines often litter the ground along the trails. Might be confused with the O. fulgida but lacks the chain fruits.
  5. Fishhook Pincushion (Mammalaria grahamii)
  6. Buckhorn Cholla (Opuntia acanthocarpa) --
  7. Compass Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus acanthodes) -- Spines tinged with red and yellow.
  8. Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) --
  9. Fishhook Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus wizlensii) --

Photo © by Michael Plagens

The teddybear Cholla begs to be hugged.

Shrubs and Trees

Mostly in order of Abundance:

  1. Triangle-leaf Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea)
  2. Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata)
  3. Foothills Palo Verde (Cercidium microphyllum) -
  4. White Bursage (Ambrosia dumosa) -
  5. Desert Senna (Senna covesii) - mostly adjacent to roads and parking areas
  6. Burro Weed (Isocoma tenuisectus) - these shrubs do also well adjacent to roads and parking lots because of the additional run off. Google Images
  7. Anderson Thornbush;Wolfberry -- Lycium andersonii - prob. more than one species.
  8. Brittle Bush (Encelia farinosa)
  9. Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides) - look for this plant along washes and roadsides.
  10. Range Ratany; Little-leaf Ratany -- Krameria erecta
  11. Sweet Bush (Bebbia juncea) along washes and roadsides
  12. Wire Lettuce (Stephanomeria pauciflora)
  13. Desert Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcia ambigua)
  14. Desert Wishbone Bush -- Mirabilis laevis - pretty common usu. in partial shade of bigger shrubs.
  15. Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) -
  16. Lance-leaf Ditaxis (Argythamnia lanceolata) -
  17. Janusia Vine (Janusia gracilis)
  18. Twin Berry (Menodora scabra)
  19. Shrubby Bedstraw -- Galium stellatum - rocky hillsides.
  20. Desert Hackberry (Celtis pallida)
  21. Bricklebush (Brickellia coulteri) - mostly in the shade wash bank trees
  22. Catclaw (Acacia greggii)
  23. Chuparosa (Justicia californica) - look for bright red flowers along washes
  24. Ragged Rock Flower (Crossosoma bigelovii)
  25. Mormon Tea (Ephedra sp.) -

Watercolor Illustration © by Michael Plagens

Look for the distinctive twin berries and lemon-yellow flowers on Menodora scabra.

View of Picacho Peak from the southwest. At front left is a Buckhorn Cholla while the two larger cacti at left and right center are Teddy Bear Cholla (aka Jumping Cholla).


October 14, 2006

A good monsoon season brought out an assortment of fall wildflowers.

  1. Aristida californica Three-Awn
  2. Isocoma tenuisectus Burro Weed
  3. Larrea tridentata Creosote Bush
  4. Senna covesii Desert Senna
  5. Baccharis sarothroides Desert Broom
  6. Encelia farinosa Brittle Bush
  7. Adenophyllum porophylloides Foetid Marigold
  8. Stephanomeria pauciflora Wire Lettuce aka Desert Straw
  9. Tribulus terestris Caltrop Vine
  10. Baileya radiata Desert Marigold
  11. Argythamnia lanceolata Lance-leaved Ditaxis
  12. Bebbia juncea Sweet Bush
  13. Brickellia coulteri Brickle Bush
  14. Janusia gracilis Janusia Vine
  15. Tidestromia lanuginosa Wooly Tidestromia
  16. Marina parryi Parry Dalea
  17. Chamaesyce micromera Desert Spurge
  18. Pectis paposa Dogweed
  19. Physalis crassifolia Thick-leaved Ground Cherry
  20. Justicia californica Chuparosa
  21. Galium stellatum Shrubby Bedstraw
Creosote Bush Desert Senna Desert Broom

Brittlebush Desert Straw;Wire Lettuce Desert Marigold

Lance-leaf Ditaxis Woolly Tidestromia Chuparosa


Copyright Michael J. Plagens, 1999-2010