I am often asked by chefs and mushroom foraging enthusiasts what our seasons are like here. I usually laugh, then explain that I have very little idea. Yes, there are some patterns. Winter is cold. Spring is windy. Summer starts out hot and dry, and we look to the monsoon season for precipitation and relief, usually beginning sometime in early to mid July. One thing is for sure — without moisture, life struggles. And until rains fall, mushrooms exist only in our minds. The Mycelia laying in wait of sufficient precipitation to produce their fruiting bodies.
As many of our local friends know, monsoon activity has been quite disappointing in the high country this year. We had a promising start when spotty thunderstorms brought good, but inconsistent moisture to the region. In the patches where rain fell, some mushrooms were found but the relentless sun and high mountain winds quickly brought us back to the harsh, arid reality of Arizona. With all the usual spots on the San Francisco Peaks not producing, I knew that I would have to monitor and follow any rains that fell in the state in order to find mushrooms.
That is why I found myself heading out of Flagstaff last week to join Mike Dechter, President of the Arizona Mushroom Society, in the White Mountains for some foraging.
What a beautiful drive it was, dropping out of the Ponderosa pine forest and heading east through rugged desert, then creeping up in elevation to meet up again not only with the Ponderosa but more beautiful mixed conifers and an abundance of GREEN! It was all my eyes could see as I wound up switchbacks on my way to 9,000’ elevation. Once my vision adjusted to the vibrant verdant, I spotted wild raspberries, currants, and lupines with a color purple so brilliant it looked like they were dancing in the sunlight. I exhaled the mountain air, which though thin from the elevation felt fuller then at home in Flagstaff — thanks to the touch of moisture left by the recent monsoon.