This Too Is Arizona

My rain-soaked Tom Bihn The Guide's Pack sits beside the back wheel of my 2013 Subaru Crosstrek at Cave Creek Regional Park in December 2019

My rain-soaked Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack waits to be loaded into my Subaru Crosstrek after hiking in the rain for a few hours in late December, a scene that seems more apropos to my former home in Oregon than my current home in Arizona. I may seek out a rain cover at some point but for now I still pack it the way I did in Oregon, everything inside that needs to be protected from the wet gets stored in plastic bags, as the pack shucks off lighter rains without issue and I like easy access to water and food and clothes. I have rain gear from my time in the Northwest so funnily enough I was drier after this hike than many others (apart from my hands, my gloves aren’t waterproof) since I wasn’t sweating in the cool weather.

Pleasant Dreams

A gray wolf with black fur watches me from a atop a ridge as dusk falls at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in October 2006

It had been a fun day in Yellowstone in the fall of 2006, after a long hike during the day in which I saw little wildlife I spent the evening near the road with a crowd watching black bears, later on my own watching a coyote near Mount Washburn. On the long drive back to the hotel, the light fading and night approaching, a dark form moved across the road and disappeared from view. I stopped the car and readied the camera, just in case, and was dumbstruck when the curious creature popped up atop the ridge and watched me for the briefest of seconds. My one and only wolf sighting.

Perhaps because I recently edited that picture to bring an old blog post back online, Friday night I’d finally see them again, if only in a dream, as I hiked in the mountains and saw them at a distance. They came down closer but as they played in the snowy landscape I realized I didn’t have my telephoto lens with me. But I soon forgot about not just cameras but even wolves when I looked to my right and saw Ellie bounding towards me. “How are you walking?” I asked, skipping right past the more obvious question. I didn’t wait for an answer and was thankful for one more romp in the snow with the pup. I wouldn’t have so much trouble sleeping if all my dreams were so sweet!

The Teacher

Our dog Ellie looks up while laying on her homemade dog bed covered in a lizard pattern in October 2014

Been missing her a lot lately. It was not lost on me that an extreme introvert ended up with such an outgoing dog who introduced me to so many neighbors I would have otherwise never met. She’s still doing it in a way, when I was down at the creek in the previous picture, waiting for the sun to clear a hill and shine on a tree, an extended family came down to near where I was standing. They unleashed their chocolate lab to play in the water but instead he came bounding over to meet me. After getting some love he went back to his family. Since I was still waiting for the light I overcame my reticence and went over to say hello. As we made small talk the mother whispered “He’s in heaven”, the joy writ large across the face of the aptly named Cocoa since I knew all the right places to scratch. I had a good teacher.

Baby Steps

A look down at one of my Merrell waterproof hiking shoes as I stand next to the water of Cave Creek on the Spur Cross Trail at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek, Arizona in January 2020

For a while now I haven’t ventured out to parks I haven’t visited a number of times, partly because I like getting to know an area over time but also because I was trying to limit the number of new things in my life after a couple of years of significant change. I took a few days off at Christmas and decided to take some baby steps with my free time, finally visiting a couple of county parks I hadn’t been to yet and getting an annual pass. One park was the babiest of steps as I accessed it from a trail I hike all the time. I was back at work the next week but had New Year’s Day off, planning to sleep in and be well rested for the remainder of the work week. However as has happened multiple times recently, I woke up early and couldn’t get to sleep so I headed up to visit a third county park near here, Spur Cross Ranch.

I could hardly believe my eyes but for the first time since I left Oregon I saw running water on the trails! I first crossed Cottonwood Creek, which was such a trickle I hopped over it, but Cave Creek was flowing like an honest-to-goodness creek. I decided to commemorate the occasion with a picture of my hiking shoe next to the water, a rather poignant moment for me as I bought these waterproof shoes right before my team got laid off a couple of years ago and thus never had a chance to use them in the wet of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve worn them on occasion here but they have been in regular use this winter and did great on a couple of recent hikes where it poured rain.

Some reminders of my former home in my new home, I’ve been beyond blessed to be able to live in such beautiful places.

Class Picture Day

A cactus wren perches on a dead tree branch recently vacated by a house finch beside the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2020

Shortly after the house finch left his perch a cactus wren flew in and posed in the same spot. Was it class picture day? Would a canyon towhee fly in, a little oatmeal spilled on its shirt? A black-throated sparrow with an unruly cowlick? A white-crowned sparrow with a bright smile and a mouthful of braces? Sadly no, the mixed flock of birds continued to move across the desert so I continued up the trail.