By Dan Gronseth, Park Manager
South Mountain Park Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department
I grew up in Wisconsin, and spent entire days out in the fields and small wooded areas around home. Many of those are now developed neighborhoods, so I consider myself fortunate for that opportunity and experience. I watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, drew birds from a coffee table book (actually two books), “Birds of Colorado,” which my father had somehow obtained, and I have always appreciated any visit to natural history museums. We spent many family vacations camping in Wisconsin state parks.
I hadn’t left the mid-west until after college, when I embarked on a two-year bicycle tour of the lower 48 states (10 months of total riding time and about 17,000 miles). I could not believe the amazing beauty and open spaces of this great country. I spent my winter during that trip here in Phoenix doing landscaping, and learning quite a bit about the plants out here. When I finished my trip, I moved down to Phoenix and never looked back.
I totally lucked out getting a Park Ranger position at South Mountain Park. The trails, the variety of plants and animals, the amazing insects, the subtlety and in-your-face aspects of the weather, the beautiful sunsets (and sunrises), the petroglyphs, the history all held an appeal to me, and I chose to learn what I could about everything. So, when people ask me what is my favorite nature thing, I don’t have a single, simple answer that I can give. I love it all, and I continue to learn, photograph, and sometimes draw it. My hope is that upon retirement, I can learn to paint it.
If I had to choose ONE thing, though, it might be flowers. Cacti have an interesting array of shapes and sizes, and so do their flowers. Many small plants have big flowers in the desert, as pollination and reproduction are key to their survival. Probably the most surprising thing to me was having my eyes opened to the fact that there are tons of tiny flowers out there. You can walk right by hundreds or thousands of tiny flowers and hardly notice them. Then there are the flowers which blend into the plant making them easy to miss. The array of colors is also impressive. In order to attract the perfect pollinator, you need the perfect shape, smell, or color.
My favorite flower? It is probably the tiny Desert Snow, Lynanthus demissus.
Plus flowers attract insects of all kinds, which is another fascinating thing about the desert.