Along the Mogollon Rim with its many drainages, some of the best berry patches exist for those who enjoy picking wild raspberries and blackberries.
In most years by early July the raspberries are ready to be picked and the blackberries follow a couple of weeks later. This is not the case this season.
With the abundant snowpack of last winter and the much cooler spring, the wild berries appear to be almost a month later in ripening on the vine. There are a few patches that are ripe at 5,000 feet elevation where there is abundant sunshine, but those in the shaded cooler canyons tucked under the Rim are still a week away from harvesting.
Because of the abundant moisture of last winter the vines are healthy with plenty of small green berries, which means it will be a great picking season even though it will start later.
Many of these vines will be producing berries well into September and possibly until the first frost in the higher elevation areas.
There is just something special about harvesting or picking wild berries as compared to buying them at the grocery store. Wild blackberries beneath the Rim are truly organic with no growth hormones or any other additives.
If berry picking is something you would like to try — and it is the perfect family outing — then there are a few precautions one should take before the first adventure.
Make sure you wear the proper attire for the occasion. These bushes have thorns and they leave their mark on any exposed skin. Long pants are a must and the more rugged the fabric the better, with jeans being the best leg protection.
Always wear a long sleeve shirt, which will shield your arms from all the thorns that can scratch the skin and usually draw blood. Even with all this protection it is still likely arms and legs will have some catlike scratches after a trip to the berry patch.
There is also the likelihood that poison ivy or oak will be in the vicinity with the thick foliage, so completely cover your body. I prefer to wear a single glove on my non-picking hand to move the brambles aside and get to those hard to reach ripe berries that always seem to be at a complete outstretched arm reach. If someone is not dressed properly, it can be a miserable experience, which may end any further trips to the outdoors. Be sensitive to the limits of friends and family if you want them to accompany you again.
My bucket is a gallon plastic coffee container with a handle made out of light wire or an old shoestring. Save the lid, for it can be very valuable after the can is filled, to prevent an unplanned spill or fall.
Sometimes the trip back to the road can be an obstacle course with deadfalls and other brush that can cause a tumble. On more than one occasion I have tripped, landed on the ground, and watched the berries go airborne everywhere.
In many places the brambles are so thick that the ground where one steps may not be visible, so always take a walking stick that can be used to aid in balance. It can also be used to move brush aside to see where the next step is. Most blackberry patches I have visited have very little level ground and always seem to have deadfalls that prove to be a real obstacle course.
These cool, moist areas where berries grow also may be a place for coldblooded reptiles to escape the summer heat. Arizona does have rattlesnakes, so always be careful and know where the next step will be.
You want to see a rattlesnake before he sees you. Using a walking stick to move the underbrush away before you step is a great idea. If you hear the telltale rattle, then he is close.
As the berry season progresses and the fragrant aroma of ripe berries permeate the canyons, it is likely an occasional black bear will also wander into a patch. Noise is a good deterrent in scaring away a bruin or some kind of bear spray if it is a close encounter.
This weekend make it a family outing or take a friend and try blackberry picking in the Rim country, God’s creation.