Sometimes It’s Good To Be Wrong

A Harris's hawk perches on a large rock and looks down over the desert with the mountains in the background from the Gooseneck Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2019

I had always imagined the desert here was a vast expanse of sand and an occasional cactus. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong as beauty abounds in the Sonoran Desert in forms large and small. Early on a sunny July morning this Harris’s hawk and I surveyed our desert home from the Gooseneck Trail.

The House at the Top of the World

A bird's nest sits near the top of a teddy bear cholla atop the debris field along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2018

I was a bit surprised to see birds building nests in cacti when we moved here as it didn’t seem to be the most comfortable place to raise your children but I can see how it might keep ground predators at bay. This nest in a teddy bear cholla looked out over the desert from atop the debris field along the Marcus Landslide Trail. The nest was no longer in use as I took this at sunrise on Christmas Eve, I’m glad I didn’t wait as over the winter the nest slowly disintegrated.

A View of the Wash

A frontal view of a dilapidated chair sitting in the middle of a desert wash beside the Gooseneck Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2019

In Oregon we got occasional heavy downpours but mostly the summers were bone dry while the winter had frequent drizzly showers that kept everything damp and preposterously green. In Arizona we get some rain in the winter but it’s summer that brings the monsoons. Rain may be rare but when it arrives it often pours down in buckets, perhaps accompanied by high winds and thunder and lightning (I can count on one hand the number of lightning storms I saw in two decades in Oregon). I haven’t seen much rain this year, when it has rained I’ve either been at work or it’s been dark, so I still haven’t seen a wash run. Our neighborhood is on a hill so there are washes running through (one beside our house), some more natural looking than others, so one day it will happen. This chair would have an excellent view of a running wash, sitting in the middle of a desert wash along the Gooseneck Trail, and by the looks of it has probably seen its fair share of summer storms.

Could You Point Me Towards the Latigo Trail?

A soaptree yucca, its flower stalk laden with fruit and leaning over, points towards a saguaro down the connector trail from the Brown's Ranch Trailhead to the Latigo Trail, taken at dawn in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Ah, thanks, much obliged!

(Taken before sunrise near the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead where I start many of my hikes, to give you a flavor of how I start my mornings on the trails, the desert feels magical to me in these moments. The helpful plant is a soaptree yucca with its flower stalk, now laden with fruit, leaning over. The trail winds through the saguaros beyond and is a great place for birdwatching, further down is where I’ve photographed mule deer, javelina, white-winged doves, one of the Harris’s hawk families, one set of Gila woodpecker parents, and lots of other wildlife.)