Hallelujah Arms

A battered old saguaro on the Morning Vista Trail has fruit atop its many remaining arms, while some of the other arms have been snapped in half or broken off altogether, taken in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

The rising sun illuminates a battered old saguaro, some of its arms shattered in half and some broken off altogether. But it still has a host of hallelujah arms raised towards heaven, all now fruiting and not just hopefully starting new life from its seeds but sustaining the lives of others with its fruit, a prized treat for many birds. In the picture below, taken just before the sun rose, a curve-billed thrasher feeds atop one of the taller arms.

A curve-billed thrasher feeds on fruit atop a battered old saguaro on the Morning Vista Trail, taken in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

My Stomping Grounds

An environmental portrait of a cactus wren singing from the flower stalk of a soaptree yucca with mountains in the background in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

As the first light of day spills across the desert, a cactus wren sings from the flower stalk of a soaptree yucca as it makes the rounds of the high places. In between this patch of McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the mountains on the horizon are a host of subdivisions, including ours, I see the mountains on the left from the back porch. There are 5 (!) preserve trailheads near us and this is where I do most of my hiking, either in the massive northern area like this or down by the mountains. The preserve continues quite a ways to the south, those trails are great fun too (our second favorite house was at the southern end) but the northern part is my favorite.

Defenders of the Landslide

A rock formation I call the Guariand and an old saguaro stand above the Marcus Landslide Trail at sunrise in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

Two of the giant protectors of the Marcus Landslide Trail watch over me at sunrise, in the distance on the hill on the left the rock I call The Guardian, closer to me on the right an old if less ancient saguaro. I love this trail but haven’t been in a while, while I’d like to rectify that I’ve been too tired for any early hikes the past couple of weeks.

Double Perched

A pair of American kestrels perch on the tallest saguaro in the area while a Harris's antelope squirrel sits atop the rocks below, taken on the Latigo Trail in the Brown's Ranch area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

A male and female kestrel share a perch high atop the tallest saguaro on a cold winter’s morning in the Sonoran Desert. I was able to watch kestrels in the Pacific Northwest, on rare occasion at very close distances, but there they tended to hover in place above the meadow while looking for prey below, while here the old giants give them a similar viewpoint from a sitting position. On the rocks below them is a Harris’s antelope squirrel, keeping an eye on the neighborhood. It wasn’t bothered by the kestrels, I suppose it’s too big to be carried off by the little falcons. Scattered around are smaller saguaros of various ages and sizes, with a barrel cactus in the middle.

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.