1842

A petroglyph at Inpsiration Viewpoint in McDowell Sonoran Preserve is dated 1842

As I hiked up to Inspiration Viewpoint I was surprised to find this petroglyph carved into a rock. I don’t know if it is genuinely from 1842 but it’s certainly carved with a lot more attention than the ham-fisted scratches around it by more modern visitors. There are petroglyphs in Arizona far older, by comparison this one is rather recent, but 1842 was still 70 years before Arizona would become a state, the last of the contiguous 48 states. The territory was still six years from being ceded to the US from Mexico after the Mexican-American War, with the southern part following in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase.

It was 106 years before the native people here would be allowed to vote, despite a federal law giving them the right in 1924, and even then it took a decision of the Supreme Court. Today all three branches of our government, including that Supreme Court, gleefully strip away voting rights from those who don’t look like themselves, don’t think like themselves.

I wish 1842 seemed like a long time ago.

Yellowstone was still 30 years away from being America’s first national park, the recognition as a country that some sacred places needed to be saved. We carved the faces of our Presidents into others. Today we know the consequences of climate change but have buried our heads in the sand. There is profit to be made, by a select few.

In the past few days we’ve had an attempted mass assassination of the leaders of a political party. We’ve had an an attempted mass shooting at a black church in Kentucky, with locked doors turning away an angry man who shot black pedestrians instead. And this morning we had a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. All angry men emboldened by the hateful rhetoric of the radical right, a hatred winked at and encouraged by the mainstream.

The history of this country is written in blood more than stone. We build monuments to those who conquer more than those who love but I hope it will not always be so. May we love the world we live in. May we love the animals we share it with. May we love the people we share it with too.

Heroes

A saguaro has broken apart and fallen over along the Watershed Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears.
Zechariah 7:9-11

Let us not delight in the suffering of others, nor celebrate lies and cruelty. We know why assault victims don’t come forward, it is because we are monsters. Enough. We need not be. To those who suffer in silence. To those who suffer in public. To Anita Hill. To Christine Blasey Ford. To those who stood tall, to those knocked down, to those who suffered for us, you are heroes, still.

He’s Making a List …

A look at the three notebooks I've used as hiking journals

A quick look at the notebooks I’ve used to keep track of my hikes (sorry about the mixed lighting), the flip notebook at the bottom I started with in 2000 before switching to the composition notebook on the right in 2003. After filling it up in 2011, I moved to the red Moleskine on the left which is what I’m using currently. I wish I had started doing this earlier! I’ve long debated about switching to keeping my notes on the computer, both so they’d be easy to backup and easy to search, but so far I’ve resisted as this is the last area of my personal life where I still write by hand and there is a romance to the feel of pen and paper.

Early on I mostly just listed what animals I saw but I got better over the years about describing the hike as I enjoy looking back and reading through past adventures. Then I started adding if it was my first sighting of an animal, the times I started and ended, the weather conditions, and lately the distance. Perhaps most importantly was switching to gel ink pens a while back as I used to use cheap pens and some of those old notes are fading, although most are still fine as I keep them out of the light. I prefer the 0.38mm pens (uni-ball Signo RT or Pilot G2), the ink is dark so the notes are easily legible but not so heavy that they show through too much to the other side of the paper. They write smoothly, they’re comfortable, the ink lasts, and they aren’t expensive. Their only downside if that if you have a Boo he greatly enjoys knocking them to the floor.

If I have any young readers who like hiking (or parents of such), start now! The composition notebook cost about $2, the Moleskine $12, the pens about $1 each. The real investment is the time it takes to write, but I think it’s worth it.

A close-up view of two of the three notebooks I've used as hiking journals

Summer Upgrades

Apple macbook pro update True Tone Technology 07122018

There was a time when we were preparing to move where I didn’t want to have to make one more decision, major or minor. After arriving in Arizona there were plenty more decisions to be made, even for fun things like choosing new hiking gear for the desert climate. But as things slowed down I’ve taken the time to make some upgrades, some of which should have occurred a while ago but I didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with them.

My laptop will be 5 years old in a few months and all is not well under its lovely exterior, a problem since I use it as my main computer. I was torn between a new laptop or a new desktop but neither was quite what I wanted until Thursday morning when I woke to news that Apple updated the 15″ MacBook Pro to my liking. After walking Ellie I ordered one before leaving for work, it should be here by the end of the week. As you’d expect given the age difference there are many improvements in the new laptop, the benefit I’m most looking forward to is 32 GB of RAM, four times what I have now and 50% faster too. The processor is much faster and with two more cores. The SSD is faster but more importantly will store twice as much at 2 TB. It has a dedicated video card (which I don’t think I care about one way or the other) but it has 4 GB of RAM itself which will be nice.

All of which should making editing images a more enjoyable process. When I started shooting with the Sony A6500, its 24 megapixels compared to the 20 of my Canon 7D II seemed trivial but something crossed a threshold as editing those images became more painful, especially when trying to do quick back-to-back comparisons. I’ve also been holding off processing the 4K video I’ve started playing around with, that in particular the new laptop will be much better suited for, so I’m going to purchase Final Cut Pro and learn to edit video.

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I’ve been thinking about replacing my tripod head for quite some time now, it doesn’t hold the telephoto lens well when at an angle and the quick-release hasn’t worked well in years, so I purchased the Really Right Stuff BH-40 ball head. It went on my old Gitzo tripod and has been doing well with my 100-400mm lens. Here the pair are attached to the bottom of my Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack with my camera bag (an old Tamrac I’ve used since the 90’s when I got into photography) and Black Diamond trekking poles alongside, my setup after I put my camera away when the light gets too bright.

I’ve had the poles a while but hadn’t used them too much until we arrived in the desert but I am loving them, they fold up so they go in the backpack until I’m ready for them, then I can get a good speed going with the poles and they are fantastic when the granite pebbles make the footing a bit dicey. They’re carbon fiber so they weigh next to nothing so I don’t regret bringing them on the rare day I end up not using them.

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I’ve always loved the 100-400mm lens for hiking, I got the original Canon version in 2001 and the updated version as soon as it came out in 2014. But here in Arizona I’ve found I prefer to use it with a 1.4X teleconverter and the Canon camera doesn’t work well with it, so I purchased Sony’s 100-400mm and teleconverter and the combination has been an absolute joy. I wasn’t expecting to use Sony for my wildlife work but I probably should have bought this lens when it came out, it’s fantastic (as is the Canon lens, my complaint is with the camera not the lens). This was my setup at Cathedral Rock when I spent the morning photographing desert spiny lizards, got a number of great pictures thanks to the new gear.

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You might have noticed from the previous picture that there’s a new camera bag, it’s the Think Tank Photo Retrospective 20 (Sandstone). I used the old Tamrac on every hike for over 20 years, can’t believe how long it’s lasted! Most of it is still in fine shape but two of the three buckles that secure the top are down to one prong holding the clasp together, along with some other less severe problems. I’ve been meaning to replace it for years but it’s been such a great bag I was hesitant to do so, but with the new Sony gear the Retrospective 20 had a feature which pushed me over the edge: I can put the Sony 100-400mm with the teleconverter and camera attached into the bag, then easily retrieve it if I see something to shoot. It’s worked out great so far, here it is next to my backpack beside my favorite saguaro.

The long and short of it is, I’m happier hiking and getting better pictures and soon enough I’ll be happier editing them too.

Before I go let me express my gratitude for Things by Cultured Code, I’ve used it as my task manager for a while now but the improvements they made in the last year or so really proved their worth from when I started looking for work to when we arrived in Arizona, I use it every day but on those days when so much had to be done in such a tight timeframe it kept me sane as well as on task. It syncs flawlessly between my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro (I use it regularly on all three devices) and it’s a great balance of simplicity and sophistication.

Closed

Our elderly black lab Ellie stands in the hallway of our house in Portland, Oregon

We are homeowners no more.

Our house in Portland closed today, I will always love that old house but I’m glad the selling process is over. Here’s hoping its new family will love it as we did, and that when we are ready to buy a house here in Arizona we will be as happy. I took this picture of Ellie in the hallway outside my office back in February as I walked the path that would lead us from Oregon, with one job offer in hand and less than two days away from flying to interview in Arizona and getting the offer that brought us here.

One downside to the old house for our old pup was that to the right of her are stairs leading up to our bedroom. She couldn’t navigate the stairs very well in her elderly years (she could go up just fine but coming down could be a challenge), so we had to block off the stairs to keep her from following us upstairs to bed. She couldn’t go downstairs to the basement where my wife’s office was, so she spent her days with me on the main floor and her nights asleep in one of her beds, waiting for us to be reunited.

We have a lovely rental home here and Ellie is delighted that it is only one story. She can follow us to bed and follow us to our offices. And follow she does, follow, follow, follow, a black shadow follows you everywhere you go. She’s laying beside my couch now, she’ll follow me to bed when it’s time. I wish everyone could know the love of such a sweet dog, to be looked at as lovingly every day when they get up in the morning and when they come home at night. Thankfully she is still doing well for her age, I pray it continues as every day with our dear Ellie is a blessing, no matter the location.

It Begins

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This is why my alarm went off at 3:51 am this morning, summer arrives early in the desert. I was off the trails at 8:15 am and it was already in the high 80’s. Will I get my first taste of a summer monsoon on Saturday? Time will tell, we could use the rain, curious to see what the desert looks like after a storm. Don’t want to be out in it if there will be lightning, but if it’s only rain let’s just say I have some nice rain gear that doesn’t get much use anymore.

The Guide’s Pack

A tall saguaro leans over and appears to be asking for a hug from another saguaro, as my Tom Bihn Guide's Pack sits underneath

I bought my backpack, the Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack, four years ago and put it to use right away on a trip to Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park in Washington. We spent our first years together hiking around the Pacific Northwest, not only Rainier and the Olympics but the Columbia River Gorge, the redwoods in California, the Oregon coast, and of course at Ridgefield. Designed and manufactured in nearby Seattle, it was right at home in its home.

Then we moved to the desert.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack at Sunrise Peak in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

My first thought after moving here, unsure how I would handle hiking in the hotter weather, was to take a lighter pack on some short hikes, so for the first couple of hikes I took an old REI daypack I’ve had for over twenty years. I quickly switched to the Guide’s Pack as I realized it was better suited to carry the water I’d need on longer hikes courtesy of its internal frame and hip belt.

Since some of the trails are narrow my first thought was to take off the two removable pockets on the sides and store them in the bag. One of the pockets has an organizer for little things but the other is open, and it turns out it is perfectly sized to carry two 27oz Klean Kanteen water bottles. I carry one 27oz bottle attached to my camera bag, two in the side pocket, and a spare in the bottom of the backpack. But I quickly realized my mistake once I started putting my telephoto lens and camera into the bag when the light started getting harsh, as to get to the water bottles I had to pull out the camera and lens. You have to constantly drink water while hiking here, so easy access to water is critical. I put the pockets back on the sides where they have stayed ever since, and after looking in the mirror I realized they weren’t sticking out as I had imagined anyway.

A dusty Tom Bihn Guide's pack at Brown's Ranch in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The bag is getting more and more dusty and that’s a good thing because it means I’ve been hiking more and more. I’ve been out almost 20 times in the two months we’ve been here and can’t wait for the next hike. One of the things I’ve loved about this pack is its looks, the navy parapack material is both durable and gorgeous and is well-matched against the coyote brown bottom and straps. It’s a rucksack design, the top compartment is where I keep my snacks, you can open the zipper and get inside without opening up the pack. Pull back the top and there’s a cavernous compartment inside where I store my hiking poles, my fourth water bottle, a first aid kit, and extra clothing (if needed), and various other things. There are some o-rings inside for attaching stuff sacks, adding some nice organizational capability to the large space.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack next to one of the many rock formations in Brown's Ranch in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

My last adaptation in the desert was to start putting the big lens and camera away when the sunlight starts to get harsh, swapping the lens for trekking poles which make hiking in the desert more enjoyable. How I wish I had four arms so I could carry my tripod and trekking poles too! The tripod I cinch under the bag with some lash straps, that has worked a treat. This is the configuration in the picture below, with the backpack and attached tripod holding up Balanced Rock.

There are lots of nice touches in the bag, such as the loop handle that makes it easier to load the bag into the car or move it about the house. There’s a nice mesh on the back – your back does get sweaty in the desert, for summer hiking I might look for a back with a gap between your back and the backpack. Or maybe a lightweight pack if it proves too hot in the summer for any hike over an hour or two.

I absolutely adore the Guide’s Pack. I love that its beautiful, I love that its well-made and made well, and I love that it’s a great backpack too. It broke my heart to leave the Northwest but getting to know the Sonoran Desert has been an absolute joy. My thanks to the folks at Tom Bihn for making the backpack that let me explore my home in the Northwest, and my new home in the Southwest.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack sits underneath Balanced Rock in McDowell Sonoran Preserve