The Valley is a diverse place with multitudes of its population hailing from locales other than Arizona. And with that comes a lot of unknown in regards to all Arizona has to offer, especially as it concerns the very wild and rugged environments outside of its big city life. Here we are on our third month of extreme heat in the Valley of the Sun. At this point in the summer months, you would be thought crazy if you had not seriously considered getting out of town to some cooler retreats. Whether it be by plane or by car, in state or out of state, you are more than warranted in your desires for escapades into more fair weather. In the month of August, I would seriously suggest remaining in state for at least one particular adventure.
Did you know an hour north of Phoenix lies some equally magnificent wild country teeming with forest, several natural, freshwater lakes, streams, and mountain peaks with snow on them year round? And you do know what comes along with forests, don’t you? A whole lot of berry plants of course! No lie here. Get yourself on a drive an hour and a half north onto the Mogollon Rim, find yourself a few different spots along some streams, and start your foraging. The Mogollon Rim country is filled with berry plants–primarily blackberries– with some patches of strawberries as well if you go another hour or two east into the White Mountains circa Show Low.
The blackberries, however, are by far the most numerous. And for anyone who has experience here in Arizona foraging for these wild and pure treasures—well, it definitely is a matter of timing more than anything else. Being as dry as it is throughout the state, blackberries here grow and make their bloom in a span of only five weeks at the maximum—typically from the very end of July to the very beginning of September. So some planning and time management is certainly necessary. As well, keep in mind, that while by no means do all of Arizona’s six million residents retain this wild berry trove of knowledge, enough people do know about them to see them dwindle towards the end of August. So the sooner you get out there, the better. Conversely, every single bear and all his animal buddies lower on the food chain know about this season. Bears will not likely be of any concern, but the berries that they ate which could have ended up in your pie, could be a bother.
Thus, to avoid running into groves of blackberry bushes that have already been stripped, it may very well require several attempts at different locations to allow you to hoard enough for a few pies or crumbles. Essentially, along any stream or river north and east of Payson will lend you results—just make sure you’ve mounted the Mogollon Rim because like any other plant they have a particular elevation where they flourish. And be prepared for a few miles of hiking. If you’re willing to do that along some of the more remote stream areas, you will be well rewarded. Like anything else in the wilderness, it is best to accompany yourself with another human or two, or three, or more. And be aware that blackberry bushes themselves are unforgivingly thorny. Historically, they have been planted as borders to keep animals and people out of where you don’t want them, and very effectively at that. So wear long sleeves, pants, gloves, and a pair of glasses can never hurt either. I don’t have to tell you to bring water, but at the same time a lot of those creeks in the area are perfectly safe to drink from, no filter required—truly refreshing. A bucket, a camera, some headgear, a good pair of shoes, willingness to get a bit wet, and an all-around adventurous spirit are fairly requisite as well. Rarely does anything worth having come with total ease. But who am I kidding, we have cars to drive us a hundred miles away for a few bucks to an entirely foreign ecosystem from the arid and truly unforgiving desert climate. Get out there with some gratitude and be blessed with a wild, pesticide/insecticide/GMO-free, fresh blackberry creation—and use the seeds to cultivate some of your own at home! Enjoy.