A Quiet Morning

Orange clouds hover above the Four Peaks before sunrise, taken from the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2020

Exhausted, I turned off my alarm before bed yet I woke early filled with existential dread for the state of the world. I got up and waited to see if I would get sleepy again, but since I didn’t I decided to surround myself with beauty and went out for a hike. Not up for a long drive I initially decided to hit a favorite trail at Brown’s Ranch but went to the Marcus Landslide instead when I saw clouds in the east. My reward as I started down the trail was this view of the Four Peaks before sunrise. Saw plenty of birds, got some good exercise, then came home where a freshly made breakfast sandwich was waiting courtesy of my wife. I shared the last bit of bacon with Boo before the two of us curled up for a long nap.

Weather Patterns

Ice and muddy water fill depressions in the Rock Knob Trail made by bike tires after heavy rains in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

A week’s worth of weather in one picture. Rain turned the soft parts of the trail to mud that deformed under bike tires. More rain filled the depressions with water. Yesterday dawned cold and the water turned to ice, which either took on the color of the muddy water below or reflected the blue skies above.

In Between the Raindrops

Sunrise lights the bottom of clouds above Weaver's Needle, taken on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

After two decades in Oregon Christmas week has felt familiar as it has rained most days. This morning we got a little sunshine in with the clouds so I changed my plans and made my way over to the Marcus Landslide as I break in some new camera gear. Mostly I photographed birds (big surprise!) but I couldn’t resist a quick shot of Weaver’s Needle at sunrise. A little later I stopped in my tracks as a coyote pack sang out from across the valley, without tall trees to block the sound their voices rang clear even at a distance. I had to laugh wondering how many homeowners in that area woke to their dogs joining in the morning chorus.

Home

A juvenile Harris's hawk calls out while an adult is perched higher in the tree, set against the backdrop of a variety of plants of the Sonoran Desert with saguaros rising up behind, taken on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

One of my favorite pictures this year, taken early in the morning in October looking west from a frequently-hiked trail near our house. It speaks to the misconceptions I used to have about this area and how surprised I was to learn there is so much diverse life here. There are the twisting trees, the yuccas with their flower stalks reaching towards the sky, the green-barked palo verdes, the yearning ocotillos, and above all the saguaros. Topping it off are two members of the Harris’s hawk family that so charmed me this year, an adult perched in the bare branches of the tree in the upper left and a juvenile down below, calling out to the rest of the family who must have been on the other side of the hill. The adult eventually flew off in that direction and the juvenile took its spot high in the tree before following the adult out of sight. How lucky I am to be in their, and my, home.

Feeling at Home

A view of the crested saguaro I call Witch Hazel with Brown's Mountain in the background, taken from the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

When we arrived in Arizona the desert was both exciting and bewildering, like I had been plunked down into a new earth that only hinted at the shapes and forms I had known all my life. Brown’s Ranch helped orient me in two ways, both on display in this view of the crested saguaro on the Vaquero Trail. First were the saguaros themselves, they tower above the desert floor and while initially most seemed similar there were some with features so memorable that just by seeing them I could orient myself without consulting the map. But towering even above the saguaros are the hills, such as Brown’s Mountain in the background, and the three I saw readily from the trail each had a distinctive shape that made them easy to distinguish from one another. The trails are well-marked (and maps readily available at the trailhead) so I wasn’t in danger of getting lost, rather it was a way for me to relax by developing an instinctive feel for where I was, and where I was going.