A Trip through Lower Tanque Verde Falls, Tucson, Arizona.

Craig Bellmann shot this photo of me at the entrance to the Lower Tanque Verde Falls. We went there on an expedition to climb up the falls and swim in the pools that form there during the monsoon season. Flash floods from the sudden thunderstorms are a constant threat during the monsoon season.

Craig, my guide for the day, is an expert on the flora of the desert Southwest. We spent considerable time examining specimens of unusual local plants that survive in the fragile desert canyon environment because of the flow of water through the canyon after rainfall. Many of the plant and animal species are very rare and only survive briefly after rainfall and uniquely in this region. (Left) A seed pod of the Proboscidea altheaefolia or “Devil’s Claw”. (Right) The Arizona Desert Cotton or Gossypium thurberi after blooming.

The “Teddy Bear” or “Jumping Cholla Cactus”, Cylindropuntia fulgida, is an annoying and dangerous plant. If you touch it the miniature barbs embed in your skin making removal difficult. Serious injuries for mountain bike riders falling on jumping cholla and hikers being impaled are common in the Southwest. Needles can be painfully lodged in the skin for weeks before they are expelled. These were imbedded in my shoe and had to be removed using two sticks.

Lush green desert grass grows quickly during the monsoon and disappears just as fast when the water dries up. Few environments on earth transform as quickly as these desert canyons, entirely dependent on the fleeting monsoon rainfall.

This was the seventh consecutive day of high temperatures above 105 degrees in the Tucson, Arizona area so our primary objective was exploring the cool canyon pools that fill after rainfall in the upper canyon. We discovered these pools were teeming with life including unusual transparent fish species.

A small frog or toad species joined us at a rest break. Some of the species in the region use a biological process called “cryptobiosis” whereby they lie entirely dormant until the water arrives, then spring to life until the drought of the desert returns.

Cooling off in the canyon pools fed by the numerous waterfalls. I wore RailRiders’ VersaTac-light pants made of lightweight, durable 3-ounce Duralite Nylon fabric with Railtex reinforced knees and seat. These pants dry within minutes of leaving the water making them a perfect choice for adventures where you are in and out of the water.

Canyoneering is the sport of descending the flooded canyons using climbing equipment, then swimming across the descending pools from waterfall to waterfall. Here a canyoneer rappels down a dwindling waterfall.

Once he has rappelled down the dwindling waterfall the canyoneer uses his inflated dry bag for bouyancy as he swims across the deep canyon pool.

The canyoneer uses an unusual mix of equipment and skills from rock climbing, mountaineering, spelunking and even white water rafting.

Craig Bellmann is a local expert on the flora, fauna, history, weather and topography of the Desert Southwest. His keen sense for the rapidly changing desert weather, especially in the monsoon, are important in avoiding the deadly flash floods that claim victims every year.

RailRiders’ VersaTac-light reinforced, quick drying pants and their classic Eco-Mesh shirt are perfectly suited for adventures where I’m in and out of water and need protection from the sun in extreme heat. I’ve worn this same RailRiders Eco Mesh Shirt on all seven continents and in the Marathon des Sables, a 152-mile running race across the Sahara in Morocco and in the Jordan Telecom Desert Cup, a 105 mile running race near the Jordanian/Iraqi border.

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