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Irish Christmas in America Returns December 10, 2023!

Sense of Place: Sugar Loaf Peak

The desert landscape
Beauty often overlooked
Can be hot or cold


  Sugar Loaf Peak, with its surrounding rugged mountains and valley washes of varying heights, colors and sizes, is a desert environment that holds many memories for me. Some of those memories are mixed with bubbly, sugar coated childhood ideals. Then there are also those that leave my mouth devoid of moisture with a slight reminiscent thought of old hiking adventures. My connection to the American West runs a tad deeper than most, with five years of my childhood spent on a 700 acre claim in the Arizona Laguna Mountain range.

In the Arizona Laguna Mountain range

  My parents decided when I was in the third grade to relocate the family. We moved out to the claims where my father liked to do his amateur gold mining on the odd weekends. Now, when I say relocate, what my father actually did was build two large rooms out of two by fours, plywood, and screen, on a plateau next to the highest peak in that range. Against these lovely, symmetrical wood rooms with a 360 degree view of the sparsely vegetated desert landscape, was parked a fifth wheel mobile home. The fifth wheel was the heart of the home, the only room that had a semblance of plumbing and electricity. Unfortunately, we never had enough power for air conditioning; that’s right folks, five years in the Sonoran Desert without AC! The lack of cool air had my siblings and I begging for a swimming trip when the temperature would reach over 110 degrees. It would be so hot that the air would shimmer like waves on a lake, the desert heat bringing a mocking mirage to moisture deprived eyes.

Sugar Loaf Peak was a favorite of mine to hike for several reasons. One of the reasons being, once to the top of the old extinct volcano cone, you would be blessed with a view of the winding canal and inlets feed from Mittry Lake; which was not far from the base of Sugar Loaf. The canal and inlets were the ones we would frolic in for hours, if we were successful in our pleading for a rescuing swim from the summer heat.

The view from the top of Sugar Loaf offered conflicting views of the desert valley below. Sugar Loaf helped to create this landscape, millions of years ago, through volcanic eruptions.

The eruptions allowed for natural water catches to develop in the folds, and waves, of old lava flows that cascaded down Sugars valleys; providing rich material for soil where the desert wildlife seems to flourish in the shadow of the cone. The views of the desert water ways, surrounded by Salt cedars and cattails on the one side of Sugar, differ from the other side. The other view is more of a stark, less densely vegetated, desert beauty.

What I call the “deeper desert”, away from the rugged jutting, burnt brown sugar colored peaks of Sugar loaf, dwells a side of the desert that I have always viewed as beautiful. Unlike the desert that most people see from the side of a roadway, with struggling desert sage and a spattering of small desert plants; this desert, my childhood playground, holds a cornucopia of desert life, plant and animal.

If one takes the time to stop, smell, be still, and look around at the collage of plant and animal life, they would never be able to associate the words bleak, uninhabitable, colorless and ugly again with the desert. Palo Verde and Ironwood trees, with their different shades of green leaves and needles, are scattered over the desert hills and valleys. They offer shade and covering to the multitude of creatures that reside in their welcoming branches. Amongst these trees, one can find Desert Mocking birds chattering and chasing away other birds of muted brown tones, and any other beings they consider to be trespassers. Desert chipmunks race to and fro between creosols and desert sage bushes, sometimes playing among the spiny branches of the Ocotillo. If the desert spirits are in a truly sharing mood, one is allowed a fleeting glimpse of a doe and her fawns, braving an afternoon siesta in the enveloping shade of an ancient Mesquite tree.

The desert life I have mentioned is only the very tip of the mountain peak of life that survives and thrives in the desert I know and love. It is a place of grave beauty and danger. I was taught never to take it for granted, or abuse. Sugar Loaf is a place of beauty and serenity, where I still venture and hike her desert countryside; to let the inner child that still feels home in her plateaus, washes, plays and rests, in old childhood clay forts.

Biography: Amy Bir
I came to the Yuma valley in what was true, old west fashioned reasons, gold lust. At the age of three, my family moved to the Yuma area to lay claim to around 700 acres of mineral rights, for gold mining purposes. My family no longer holds the claims, which I am both grateful for, and at the same time, a little saddened by. I am currently a Medical Assistant, pursuing my RN degree, full time at AWC. My future education goals, involve receiving my Bachelors in Nursing from NAU of Yuma. I am a single mother of two, wonderful little boys. I find that when I start to lose my drive to continue my education, my boys can quickly revive my motivation to succeed in my dream to become an RN.