The Desert in Bloom

California poppies and Coulter's lupines bloom at sunrise in the Sonoran Desert in front of granite formations along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

First light falls on the California poppies and Coulter’s lupines blooming in front of the rock formation I call the Guardian. Haven’t had much time and/or energy for hiking the past few weeks but thankful I was able to get out for a few hours last week to see the desert in bloom. This was my first time seeing the Sonoran Desert bloom like this. The picture below is from a few minutes earlier in a slightly different position, clouds in the east mostly blocked the sunrise light but a little bit of red light fell upon the landscape before coming on strong for a few minutes as shown above. I like them both.

We arrived in Arizona a year ago today, how thankful I am we ended up in this wonderful place.

California poppies and Coulter's lupines bloom just before sunrise in the Sonoran Desert in front of granite formations along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Early to Rise

Chain fruit cholla bathed in blue light before sunrise along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

In December I arrived when the Tom’s Thumb trailhead opened so I could hoof it out as quickly as possible to photograph this bank of chain fruit cholla before sunrise, with my beloved Guardian looking out over the desert in the background. At that time of year I can hike as fast as I can without worrying about surprising a rattlesnake as they are still hibernating. My favorite shot turned out to be the first one of the desert bathed in the soft blue light before the sun rose above the mountains behind me, but I also like the one below of the same scene bathed in the red light of sunrise.

Chain fruit cholla bathed in the red light of sunrise along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

The Other Side of the Guardian

A rock formation sits before orange clouds at sunrise along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I didn’t want to get up this morning but with high clouds forecast I thought it might make for an interesting sunrise. I headed to the Marcus Landslide Trail to photograph the rock formation I call The Guardian but as I started down the trail I realized the best light was going to be in the opposite direction than I had planned. I stopped and switched lenses and took this shot before continuing down the trail. It was only the start of what turned out to be a wonderful morning.

Survivors

A xenolith embedded in a granite mushroom along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Walking in the desert humbles you. To see life survive and even thrive in such a seemingly inhospitable place is inspiring. Then there are the xenoliths (from the Greek for strange or foreign rock), pieces of ancient rock that survived as magma flowed and solidified around them. This xenolith is in a granite mushroom along the Marcus Landslide Trail, bathed in the reddish light of sunrise. It saddens me to think of what climate change will do to the desert but for now it is a land of wonders, of survivors.

A Lovely Beginning at the End

The sun begins to fall on a foothill palo verde tree in front of Brown's Mountain on Brown's Ranch Road in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

The forecast for New Year’s Eve called for clouds in the morning and rain in the afternoon. The night before I debated about where I wanted to go in case there was a colorful sunrise, trying to choose between one location at Brown’s Ranch and another at Marcus Landslide, waiting until morning to make my choice. I fell in love with Brown’s Ranch on my first visit after we moved here and have wanted to photograph this palo verde in front of Brown’s Mountain for some time, so that was where I decided to end the year.

I arrived in plenty of time to hike to the tree before sunrise and as I waited in the cold I saw the most amazing sunrise taking place behind me, high clouds in the eastern sky lit the most intense pink. I wasn’t in a place to photograph the sunrise itself so I drank in the moment and hoped for the best for the scene I had in mind. I have long enjoyed photographing morning arriving at my favorite locations and like to leave part of the scene still in shadow, for this picture I hoped to catch the mountains and palo verde in the early light with the surrounding desert scrub still in shadow.

Low clouds soon began blocking the rising sun as it started to illuminate different parts of the park, one minute there’d be dynamic light and the next none at all, my hopes rising and falling with the light. Dark clouds rolled in behind the mountain, not the clouds that would soon bring much needed rain to the desert but perhaps a portent of what was to come. Suddenly the light broke through, for a moment, and I had my picture before clouds blocked the sun once more, the dark clouds before me moved past, and I continued on my way. Up to the Vaquero Trail, to scope out another scene for another morning.

A lovely start to the end of the year. I was sick in the afternoon and decided not to risk going out this morning despite being up early, so the new year begins more quietly with my loved ones at home, before I head back to work tomorrow.