Hiking Madera Canyon – and Nature Journal Writing

Alligator Juniper

Alligator Juniper ©2011 Bo Mackison

Another report from one of Southeastern Arizona’s Sky Islands. I hiked the nature trail in Madera Canyon. It’s a well known area for birders from throughout the United States, but I was there in the middle of the day when there were only a few hummers and lesser yellow finches flying from tree to tree. Madera Canyon is in the Santa Rita Mountains and part of the Coronado National Forest, located about 20 miles south of Tucson.

I hiked a trail that was at an elevation of 5ooo feet, in an area called Middle Madera Canyon. A creek runs along the trail, but there was only a bit of water trickling through the creek bed. Mostly there were dried leaves and rocks in the creek, and a few pools of water, inches deep. It’s been an exceptionally dry winter and spring. I’d be curious to know what this creek looks like during a typical spring.

This is a riparian area. It has deciduous trees–mostly the Arizona sycamore and cottonwoods. There are fir trees at this elevation, mostly alligator junipers, and several varieties of oaks. The river runs quite strong most years to support the number of large trees near its banks.

Green Lichen

Green Lichen © 2011 Bo Mackison

Another entry from my thirty minutes of “quiet time” and journaling exercise:

Many rocks, some covered with a light green lichen. There are several large pieces of dark gray slate. Dotted pink/gray granite. Another rock is pink/burnt orange and it has a sand-papery texture.

Sitting along side the creek. Moving water wriggles through the rocks, disappearing under last year’s dried leaves and fallen tree limbs. Moving water shimmers and shakes as it reflects sunlight, light rays bounce from mossy rock to mossy rock.

Still water is a mirror, showing the pool’s depth; it reflects my hand when I reach over the pool.

Two weathered limbs from the sycamore tree, each at least five feet long, are crossed to form a wishbone. Can I make a wish on a tree limb?  I wish . . .  to come back to Arizona next winter.

The sycamore tree’s bark looks like peeling paint flaking off an unpainted Wisconsin barn. Or does the barn look like bark from a mature sycamore tree? Arizona sycamores are different from the sycamores that grew in my neighbors’ yard in western Illinois. This sycamore is much smaller which makes sense as it grows with less moisture. The Arizona tree has smaller pieces of bark–looks like alligator hide.

The bark I remember from my childhood sloughed off the hundred foot tall tree in large pieces, rough and sand-papery, cream with silver gray blotches. As a child I wrote little stories for my grandpa on pieces of bark. My children did the same when they were young, writing “I love you” messages on the bark and offering them to me–gifts from the heart.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is living in Tucson for two months, exhibiting her photography in art shows, taking photographs, and blogging about photography, art fairs, and living life “solo.” She loves the sky islands and plans to visit several more before she returns to the Midwest.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Joanne Keevers says:

    I’m sure the peeling paint on the barns in Wisconsin looks like the bark of the sycamore tree, Bo; that way, each time you see the peeling paint when you return home you will be reminded of this amazing adventure you are on. 🙂

    Stories written on bark ~ how beautiful. Wouldn’t it be lovely to write each of your family members a message on a piece of Arizona bark, to give to them on your return? Just a thought…

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I love the idea of seeing peeling paint on barns in the Midwest. and remembering the trees in Arizona.

  2. What a wonderful day you had. Thanks for sharing your work.

  3. Wendy B Burton says:

    Thank you so much for all of the sharing. I feel blessed to know someone allowing herself the time and self love you are gifting to yourself.
    Angels be with you Bo.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Yes, this gift of time is one of the most wondrous gifts I ave ever received. I am grateful beyond words.

  4. What a wonderful, reflective moment. Joanne has a wonderful idea–when you see peeling paint in Wisconsin, you will think of these sycamore moments . . .

  5. I’m enjoying your sojurns to the Sky Islands. Keep up the fascinating work.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I am so fascinated by these sky islands. I have a lot of ideas for working with the material I am gathering.

  6. The alligator juniper is well named, isn’t it?

    I love reading your “quiet time” journaling exercises. I may have to adopt a similar practice, or at least start carrying a journal with me when I go out on my walks.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      The nature journaling has really added a new level to my observation skills. And slowed me down a bit, which is a good thing.

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