Two Favorites

An environmental portrait of a common side-blotched lizard perched on a granite boulder in front of a tall saguaro, taken on an offshoot of the Latigo Trail in the Brown's Ranch area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 4, 2021. Original: _RAC6033.arw

I’ve been in the mood for environmental portraits so I was delighted to take one of two of my favorite desert inhabitants, the saguaro and the common side-blotched lizard, one of the largest residents and one of the smallest (at least one of the smallest on four legs). As much grief as I give my pattern-matching self for spotting marmots in the rocky hills when he knows there are no marmots here (he’s mostly stopped with the occasional relapse) and for spotting lizards that turn out to be protuberances in the rocks, he nailed this one from afar. The little fellow was a ways off and wasn’t worried about me so I had time to find a spot on the trail both where I could see the saguaro behind him and place him in a gap between the giant arms so he’d be easy to see against the blue sky.

I quietly wondered if he’d be willing to stick around for an hour-and-a-half for the last light of day but I knew he wouldn’t stay that long and neither would I, I wanted to get some hiking in and I had only just begun. In any event I finished the day further east, taking environmental portraits of another favorite resident, but no spoilers …

A Quiet Morning in December

A view of Granite Mountain from the Fraesfield area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in the early light on December 29, 2020. Original: _CAM8536.arw

A quiet morning in December, looking north to Granite Mountain. The large depression was created decades ago when the giant lizard who had been resting beneath the mountain finally woke, shaking off its slumber and heading west to California and the Pacific Ocean. It was seen swimming in the direction of Tokyo but I don’t know what happened to it after that, hope it had a good life.

Three Saguaros

The shadow of a saguaro climbs a hill between two other sagauros on the Apache Wash Loop Trail in Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona on January 2, 2021. Original: _CAM9105.arw

When we first moved to Arizona and I started taking pictures in sunlight I struggled with what to do about my shadow. At first I’d try to compose the picture so my shadow didn’t fall in the image, and sometimes still do, but sometimes now I lean into it and deliberately put my shadow into the frame as a reminder that I’m documenting my life in the desert. On this occasion though as I photographed the damage in the saguaro on the left, as the sun sank low a giant behind me threw its shadow all the way up the hill, allowing me to sidle down the trail and hide within it. That’s not just me throwing up my arms pretending to be a saguaro, though I can’t say the thought has never crossed my mind.

Tosche Station

The moon sets over a building near the 114th Street entrance to McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 30, 2020. Original: _CAM8649.arw

The moon sets over Tosche Station, I was supposed to meet my friend Luke here to pick up some power converters but he had a couple of new droids to take care of. I forget what this building actually is, I think it’s a utility building of some sort, but it reminds me of Star Wars and thus makes me smile. It sits at one of the neighborhood entrances to the preserve, closest to my favorite saguaro, there’s no parking here but we live close enough that my wife can drop me off when she’s available. That saves me some time hiking over from Brown’s Ranch, while I love that section of the trail it lowers the probability of me getting seduced by woodpeckers.

I’ve been meaning to photograph it for a while, I almost did the other morning when the entire scene was bathed in red but I wanted to get out to the saguaro (which was bathed in pink when I arrived). I couldn’t resist a quick shot a few days later as the moon set, I only took the one as I wanted to see if I could include the moon in a scene with the saguaro and since the moon wasn’t standing still, neither could I.

A Quiet Beginning

Granite Mountain framed by saguaros in the soft light before sunrise on the interpretative trail at Fraesfield in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 31, 2020. Original: _CAM8703.arw

Granite Mountain to the north in the soft light as New Year’s Eve dawned, even as clouds in the east and west began to catch fire. I have a fondness for the subtlety of this first shot of the day, the year ending meant my vacation soon would too, along with the daily hikes it afforded. These quiet moments never last long, the day always rushes in behind.

Quick Sketches

A tall leaning cactus sits in front of pink clouds at sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 13, 2020. Original: _CAM7581.arw

After taking the previous woodpecker picture I looked at the skies and thought I might be able to frame one of my favorite saguaros against the pink clouds of sunset. The problem was the saguaro was on the opposite side of the hill and to get to it I had to drop back down past the basketball courts and go up the other side of the trail. A part of me wanted to call it a night as the light was not likely to last that long but a part of me decided to try it, and that part won out and had me arriving just as the pink skies began to fade. I took a quick shot of the fading beauty, of the battered old giant with broken arms that sheltered so many birds during its long life, of the day fading into night.

Orange clouds above the city and mountains at sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 13, 2020. Original: _CAM7580.arw

On the way over I took a quick shot in a different direction of the orange clouds above the city and mountains of Scottsdale. I wanted to include more of the city, and could have if I climbed the hill, but I couldn’t do that and get to the saguaro, choices had to be made. And that’s just fine, the purpose of these sketches is to remind me in years to come of how fortunate we were that when the time came to leave the home we didn’t want to leave, we ended up in another land of wonders. And maybe to become actual sketches as I’d like to learn to draw (and maybe paint), but for now the camera will do.

My 2020 Lexus UX 250h hatchback just past sunset in the parking lot of George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 13, 2020. Original: _CAM7584.arw

With the light truly gone I made the short trip back to the parking lot where my hatchback awaited for the short drive home. It’s been everything I hoped for, a lovely little commuter car that is also easy to drive to the local trailheads and which has made the intense summers so much more tolerable (dare I say enjoyable? A part of me misses the summer).

A Little and a Lot

A Gila woodpecker is bathed in intense red light at sunset as it perches on a saguaro at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 13, 2020. Original: _RAC0844.arw

Only a little sliver of red atop this Gila woodpecker’s head is visible but the whole scene is bathed in intense red light as the sun begins to dip below the mountains behind me. Even as I took it I wasn’t sure how it would turn out as I think in isolation the red is a bit too overwhelming, at least until the light softened shortly thereafter (but after the woodpecker left) when the sun was more obscured by the hills. I had been shooting with my other camera but the patient fellow hung around until I went back and got the telephoto one.

After he left I lowered the camera and set the tripod aside as I went back to my camera bag for a drink and to get my other camera. With the woodpecker image still displaying on the back of the telephoto camera I realized I could use my shadow to mimic the saguaros to my right and take a bit of a self-portrait as a reminder of the little trail in the little park a little ways from my home.

My Sony A6600 and tripod are bathed in the red light of sunset in front of the hill at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 13, 2020. Original: _CAM7485.arw

Two Dancers

Two (or one?) trees appear to be dancing on Powerline Road No. 2 in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 2, 2020. Original: _CAM4158.arw

Two dancers in the morning light, not yet ready to yield the night. A high thin band of smoke from wildfires in California blanketed the sky and the light had an unusual look to it, in person I preferred the trees when directly lit but in pictures I have a slight preference to this subtler version when the light dimmed. If they were closer to one of the trailheads I’d have photographed these trees (tree? trees? not sure) dozens of times by now but to get to them I have to walk past my favorite saguaro and a phalanx of woodpeckers, hawks, wrens, thrashers, and flycatchers. To solve this problem I’m thinking of getting a big catapult to chuck me directly into the middle of the preserve, I haven’t worked out how to survive the landing but no plan is perfect.

Fleeting

An environmental portrait of a phainopepla perched in a tree at sunset on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 26, 2020. Original: _RAC8869.arw

Since we moved to Arizona I’ve been fascinated by the moment when light first sweeps across the desert or, as in this case, the light suddenly falls away. There was a particular cactus I wanted to photograph at last light but I was delayed watching a sparrow and a family of hawks. I had to laugh as I hurried down the wide trail, seeing something I wanted to photograph and the light disappearing before I could get the camera to my eye. I was able to get this environmental portrait of a phainopepla before the light disappeared from all but the mountains, a shot that pokes gentle fun at my misunderstanding of what the desert here was like, thinking it was just sand and an occasional cactus. But also a show of gratitude that I researched the area when an opportunity appeared here at the last minute, and for a park dense with vegetation and wildlife that drew me in and didn’t let go.