Along the Mogollon Rim with its many drainages, some of the best berry patches exist for those who enjoy picking wild raspberries and blackberries. The wild raspberries have come and gone, being a bit early this year. But the blackberries are at their peak under the Rim, with many becoming overripe and drying up on the vine.
With the abundant moisture of last winter, a banner crop of blackberries has already ripened, but there is a second crop that is ripening right now. With the four-week forest closure on the Tonto many of the lower elevation picking areas which ripened first were not harvested except by a few hungry black bears.
The higher elevation patches tucked under the Mogollon Rim will produce into early September for those folks wanting to pick after Labor Day. Target those shaded areas with abundant moisture that produce the late season berries.
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 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. Introducing a child to the outdoors and getting them away from all the technology gadgets can produce some lifelong memories a family will share. Don’t be concerned about an empty bucket with the evidence all over their faces. There always seems to be enough berries for a pie and jam without their bucket being full.
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.
I even use a pair of gators that give me extra protection from the knee to my ankles. Always wear a long sleeve shirt which will shield your arms from all the thorns that can scratch the skin. 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’s 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 shoe string. A plastic gallon milk container also works well with the opening made larger with a knife or scissors. If you use a coffee can save the lid for it can be very valuable after the container is filled, to prevent an unplanned spill from a fall.
Sometimes the trip back to the road can be an obstacle course with dead falls 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. That is disheartening. An extra precaution to keep the berries fresh and firm is to have a cooler with ice to place the buckets in for the trip home.
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 to be.
Most blackberry patches I have visited have very little level ground and always seem to have dead falls that prove to be a real obstacle course.
These cool, moist areas where berries grow also may be a place for cold-blooded reptiles to escape the summer heat. Arizona has rattlesnakes, so always be careful and know where the next step will be. Seeing a rattlesnake before he sees you is a healthy precautionary measure which can be remedied with a walking stick that moves the underbrush away before stepping. If you hear the telltale rattle, then he is close.
As the berry season progresses and the fragrant aroma of ripe berries permeates the canyons, it is likely an occasional black bear will also wander into a patch. A telltale sign a bear has been there is when the leaves have been turned upside down and faint trails meander through the patch. Making noise is a good deterrent in scaring away a bruin or bear spray if it is a close encounter. That is seldom the case, but preparation for the unexpected is wise planning.
This weekend, make it a family outing or take a friend and try blackberry picking in the Rim Country, God’s creation.