An abundance of monsoon moisture in the Catalina Mountains has left parts of the range impersonating a rain forest this month.
Lush stands of wildflowers, gardens of emerald-green ferns, tranquil pools of water in verdant canyons and frequent afternoon showers might make mountain visitors think they had somehow been transported to the Pacific Northwest. But this soothing summer beauty is tantalizingly nearby: a mere 60-minute drive and a vertical mile above the deserts of Tucson.
It’s “a wonderful display of wildflowers this year,” said Frank Rose, author of “Mountain Wildflowers of Southern Arizona: A Field Guide to the Santa Catalina Mountains and Other Nearby Ranges.”
“As many as 60 species are in bloom, some of them in great profusion” in upper reaches of the Catalinas, Rose said. “On a recent hike, we counted almost that many on the first mile of the Box Camp Trail, including the rare and beautiful blue lobelia.”
Lynn Hassler, a naturalist who leads wildflower outings for several organizations, also is finding lots of blooms — including 46 species she observed flowering recently along trails near the top of Mount Lemmon, which unofficially has received about 5 inches of rain since early July.
Not only is this a very good wildflower season so far, but it’s “likely to become even more spectacular well into September,” Rose said.
Among the superstar flowers this summer are golden columbines — forming what might be called “floral flash mobs” along some trails in the Catalinas.
A wealth of ferns
If wildflowers are perhaps the most showy summer sights in the Catalinas, other factors also contribute to the rain-forest atmosphere.
Bracken ferns — sometimes growing in lawn-sized clumps — and groves of trees with vibrant green leaves suggest that the desert must be far, far away even though it’s not.
Mountain streams fed by monsoon rains leave behind pleasing pools of clear water, often reflecting towering trees growing nearby.
A light shower or a full-on downpour on summer afternoons can bring either cooling relief — or perhaps a wet reminder that you’re happy not to be living in Seattle.