El Tigre Expediton

Sunday, 11 April 2010 21:16

Click here for the El Tigre Expedition slideshow

I recently traveled to Mexico on behalf of the Overland Society to assist a team of scientists and volunteers with the El Tigre Expedition in northern Sonora, Mexico. The expedition was part of the MABA program (Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assesment) headed by the Sky Island Alliance based in Tucson, Arizona. The project is a tri-national effort involving people from the U.S., Mexico, and France with a goal of studying and documenting a 70,000 square mile region of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico containing the “sky island” mountain ranges that are home to rich and diverse eco-systems unique in the world.

Tom Van Devender's improvised field office
Tom and Ana Lilia's improvised field office in the Pilares de Teras ruins

The Sierra El Tigre is one such sky island in northern Sonora associated with the western flanks of the massive Sierra Madre mountain ranges where tropical and temperate climates intersect. They don’t call it the “El Tigre” for nothing; this is the land of the jaguar, ocelot, and mountain lion. Aside from a large mining operation in the early part of the 20th century, the range is mostly unpopulated and remote. Only a couple of previous scientific expeditions have been undertaken in these mountains, and as a result, they are largely understudied. The data collected for the MABA program will be used by several agencies (including those among the Mexican government) to inventory and manage the resources involved.

El Tigre Mine ruins
Ruins at the El Tigre Mine

I met with my friends and fellow Overland Society volunteers, Dale and Shirley Durham, and we assisted the group by providing 4WD transport for gear and people, extra fuel and water, technical support for 4WD logistics including trail repairs and guidance through technical road sections, photographic documentation, navigation and computer mapping support, and general assistance where needed.

Bavispe river crossing
Crossing the Rio Bavispe

The MABA group included several staff from Sky Island Alliance, CONANP (Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas - Mexico’s agency for national parks and preserves) along with volunteers from the University of Sonora and the University of Arizona, and two photojournalists from Sonora Es magazine.

The trip was a great success with many mammal, bird, insect (and even a few reptilian) specimens noted, and over 700 plant species observations and 500 plant collection specimens. According to Tom Van Devender, the project manager, this was the first major plant inventory in the Sierra El Tigre since the University of Michigan expedition led by Stephen S. White in 1938-41.

Sonoran moth species
One of two boxes of moth specimens collected by John Palting




Four Peaks Pickup 2010

Sunday, 11 April 2010 14:20

Tim and Danica asked if I would photograph the event this year, which I was more than happy to oblige. The full gallery of images can be seen here: Four Peaks Pickup 2010 photo gallery

The 2010 Four Peaks Pickup has come and gone, and once again the Sonoran desert is a little better for it. Tim Huber and Danica Moore spearheaded the event and tackled the enormous task with Everest-sized spirit. They brought together the talents and hard work of numerous individuals, families, clubs, groups, friends, and businesses for a big day of transformation. Just under 500 people turned out to clean up almost 25 tons (yes, that’s fifty thousand pounds) of trash from this otherwise beautiful area that stretches west of the mighty Four Peaks, just northeast of Phoenix, Arizona.

Why is there so much trash? Great question. Some will say it’s ignorance, some will say laziness, many will say “because they just don’t care” and obviously it’s because the area is so convenient to a sprawling metropolis of over four million people, but I continue to be perplexed and insist that no reason is good enough to explain it. Human behavior, logic, whatever, I just can’t relate. It won’t compute in my head.

Why would someone seek out a place like this. . .

to do this. . .

Again, I can’t comprehend. It doesn’t compute.

The Four Peaks area and the Mazatzal mountains were once home to the Tonto Apache people. Not far north of the peaks lies the site of old Camp Reno, a short-lived military outpost positioned in the region along with others in an effort to daisy-chain the U.S. military efforts along this Arizona portion of Apachería in the late 1800s. There are tales of lost gold mines somewhere around the base of the peaks and accounts of Apaches who continually brought in ample amounts of the metal to obtain goods and supplies. An amethyst mine that is thought to have been originally worked by the Spanish is located on the southernmost of the four peaks and is the only mine in the U.S.A. that produces world-class specimens of this highly valuable gemstone.

The area of the cleanup is a watershed of the Mazatzal mountains, and contains numerous canyons and springs that flow westward to the Verde River. Spectacular buff-colored granite boulders and imposing rock formations dominate the topography and along with classic Sonoran desert flora and fauna create a magical atmosphere that is unique among the world’s landscapes.

The good news is that I see an improvement. When I visited an area along Cottonwood creek that my wife Sharon and I worked on last year, it was in much better shape. Overall, I think there was less trash, and perhaps future efforts and awareness will make a lasting change.

Before-and-after comparison of one of the cleanup sites


Overland Journal sponsored the event with boxes of magazines and raffle prizes that included subscriptions, hats, and decals.


Overland Journal’s Director of Advertising, Brian McVickers, with his children, Max and Charlie

L to R: Chris Marzonie with Tim Huber and Danica Moore (Four Peaks Pickup masterminds) Thank you, Heidi, for the photo

More links:
Four Peaks Pickup website (more info, photos, and videos)
Tim Huber’s blog, SOAZ “Exploring the Southwest one paycheck at a time” (it’s a good one!)

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