Nature’s Way: The Ranch—A Place for All Seasons

Gerry Tietje

One of the wonderful qualities of life at SaddleBrooke Ranch is that we can experience different seasons of the year. We are presently in the “throes” of winter, but it’s really quite pleasant. We expect a few nights below freezing and a couple of light snowfalls, but nothing like in many other parts of the country. When the snow does cover the ground, bushes, and cacti with a glistening coat of white, we pull out our phones to show our friends on Facebook that it really does snow in southeastern Arizona. We may even drive to nearby Park Link Drive to see snow on the giant saguaros, but we need to hurry because the snow usually melts by early afternoon. Winter attracts several bird species to our pond, especially American wigeons, and many others to our Nature Trail.

Winter rains bringing spring flowers is always a joy to behold. Some, like the yellow Mexican poppies, bloom before spring officially begins, covering the ground in places like Picacho Peak State Park when winter rains have been sufficient. Later, arroyo lupines line the edges of the highways with their tall bluish-purple spikes. As temperatures moderate, male birds trumpet melodious mating calls to attract females, and nesting materials are gathered. Some, like cactus wrens, prefer to nest in cholla cacti, whereas others, like Gila woodpeckers, prefer holes in saguaro cacti. Hooded orioles and barn swallows return to the pool area to greet swimmers after their winter break.

By summer the snowbirds have left before the hot weather returns to our area. For those of us who stay, it is a more peaceful time, with less traffic and a slower pace of life. It is also the monsoon season, a special time when fluffy clouds come up over the Santa Catalina Mountains in the afternoon, combining as they rise high above the mountains and form anvil heads, a precursor to black skies and monsoon rains that water the parched desert. The rainfall produces a second wildflower season, with Texas rangers, summer poppies, and fishhook barrel cacti blossoming. Gambel’s quail wander the Ranch with their broods of chicks in tow. Lizards abound, and so do their mortal enemies, hawks, and roadrunners.

After a hot summer, most of us look forward to fall as temperatures again moderate and we can again enjoy more strenuous outdoor activities. Fall migration brings new birds our way, seeking to escape colder weather to winter here. It also brings the snowbirds back to renew acquaintances with those of us who summer here. To see fall color, we travel the Catalina Highway up Mount Lemmon or to the Mogollon Rim, eager to see bigtooth maples that have turned to shades of beige and mauve, and quaking aspen leaves that have turned bright yellow. Clear skies produce starry nights to view the moon, planets, and even meteor showers.

SaddleBrooke Ranch is a place for all seasons. Happy New Year to all of you nature lovers!