A saguaro with exposed damage that resembles Medusa in George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scotttsdale, Arizona on October 16, 2022. Originals: _ZFC2899.NEF to _ZFC2919.NEF

While watching woodpeckers I noticed the saguaro beside the trail had exposed damage resembling Medusa’s head, covered in swirling snakes. That saguaros have a thin gorgon layer between their green skin and the spongy material beneath would explain why I sometimes stand transfixed before them, unable to avert my gaze.


A great horned owl perches on a granite boulder covered in bird droppings in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 30, 2022. Original: _CAM6414.ARW

While walking Bear I noticed a large mural painted across a boulder in the desert and wondered who the artist was. While I don’t usually bring the telephoto zoom on dog walks, I had it on this occasion and there’s a nice spot on the trail here to stop for a snack break. As Bear lapped up his water I trained the lens on the rocks and was shocked to see the artist-in-residence was in residence! Bear isn’t much of a birder, especially not when they’re this far off, he’s more fond of mammals. There are lots of jackrabbits here, when he sees one his eyes light up as if to say “Giant rabbit!”, which isn’t quite true but I’m not going to split hares with the pup.

Lost Worlds

Heavy clouds obscure the McDowell Mountains and Tom's Thumb in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 30, 2022. Original: _Z722417.NEF

My week off from work brought heavy clouds and gentle rains, reminding me of lost worlds. Looking out to the obscured mountain peaks, of ancient times when land emerged from the sea. Walking Bear in the mist and rain, of walking Ellie in the damp Portland winters, toweling her off when we got home. The rain caught Bear and I but once on our long walks, I stayed dry since I still have all my rain gear, and Bear, like Ellie before him, was as happy in the wet as the dry.

Morning Ablutions

A canyon towhee pauses while preening at sunrise on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on September 18, 2022. Original: _CAM5336.ARW

Another in my series exploring light as it arrives or departs the desert. If it looks like the towhee puffed out its feathers to protect against the cold, it hadn’t, this was mid-September when cool hasn’t yet entered the desert’s vocabulary, much less cold. I was watching it preen before sunrise and luckily it was still at it as the light peeked over the mountains, the hills behind it still in shadow.

A Bear in the Desert

Our dog Bear stands beside the trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 26, 2022. Original: _Z722100.NEF

There are lots of mammals in our desert but you actually had a chance of seeing a Bear on the trails the past few days as I’ve been taking the pup into the section of the preserve closest to our house. I want to get him more exposure to hikers and especially cyclists than we typically get in the neighborhood so this is a good opportunity as there aren’t nearly as many people as the other parts of the park. His on-leash behavior still needs some work but he is miles better than he was when we adopted him, I would have never attempted this back then both because of his behavior and because he was overweight and not used to long walks.

His weight is looking good these days and he’s a champ on the trails, so naturally leading me down the path that I think the mix part of this black lab mix must have made for a good sled dog. I found the collapsible water bowl we got for Ellie so we take frequent water breaks as though it isn’t hot, it certainly is dry.

Today when I had him step off trail and stay beside me to let a cyclist go past, I stayed for a moment as I could hear another cyclist coming. As he passed and saw how still Bear was, he said “What a great dog!” and while I didn’t look at the pup, I felt some serious side-eye as I’ve only ever said he’s a good boy.

I haven’t been out for any photography this week but what a joy it is to spend time with him in this beautiful place.

The Road Closed, A Path Opens

A digger sits on a dirt road that is closed off in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 9, 2022. Original: _ZFC4265.NEF

I’ve been taking advantage of the cooler weather and Bear’s improving on-leash behavior to take the pup on longer walks, and as with Ellie in Portland I bring a camera along so I can take snapshots of the neighborhood when the mood strikes. I took this picture of Arizona’s favorite pastime, digging up the desert, on a road we hadn’t been down before, near where we turn around and start heading home.

It isn’t meant to be a depressing picture, after all our neighborhood would have been pristine desert several decades ago, and when we moved here I assumed all private land would turn into subdivisions in short order. The hopeful part lies in those mountains to the north, the eastern end of the massive northern section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve that is my favorite and which played a big part in my wanting to move here (I hike most in the middle). Behind me a ways is my other favorite part of the park, linking them is a narrow strip where I haven’t done much hiking.

A few days ago while walking Bear down this road I noticed a trail at the end leading into the desert, grabbing my hiking app sure enough it was a neighborhood trail into that little strip of the preserve, so Bear and I have started exploring this little area while I’m off for a week at the end of the year.

A Simple Portrait

A cactus wren perches on an ocotillo branch on the Latigo Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 30, 2022. Original: _CAM6223.ARW

I’ve been in the mood for environmental portraits the past couple of years but I still love a simple portrait, in this case a cactus wren perched on an old ocotillo. The ocotillo is sometimes mistaken for a cactus as the spiraling arms are often covered in spines, but unlike a cactus they grow out of the stem rather than an areole. The cactus wren is our state bird and I was going to say our noisiest bird but the Gila woodpeckers might have a word or two to say about that …