Bringing Balance to the Universe

Balanced Rock with Brown's Mountain on the left and Cholla Mountain on the right, taken on the Balanced Rock Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Balanced Rock with Brown’s Mountain on the left and Cholla Mountain on the right. Brown’s Mountain and Cone Mountain (out-of-frame to the left) have a nice cone shape, while Cholla Mountain and Granite Mountain (behind me) look like someone piled up a bunch of granite boulders on top of each other. Balanced Rock sits between, a reminder of the strength and beauty in diversity.

Don’t Drink the Water

The fallen arm of a saguaro shows the spongy tissue inside the skeleton where water is stored, taken on the Balanced Rock Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

As a child when I learned a saguaro stores water in its body I assumed water flowed through pipe-like structures and was stored in reservoirs. But as you can see from this arm that had fallen off, inside the skeleton is a spongy tissue that holds the water. And because of the way the saguaro processes carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, the liquid is acidic and not safe for human consumption.

The One-eyed Towhee

A canyon towhee is missing one of its eyes at Balanced Rock in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

In May I arrived at Balanced Rock on my first visit to this lovely rock formation in the Granite Mountain section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve. After taking some pictures of Balanced Rock itself, I sat down on a large granite slab for some water and cereal bars before heading back. I put my camera away but brought it back out when a pair of canyon towhees flew in. I could tell something was wrong with one of the eyes of one of the pair but couldn’t tell what as it flitted about until I looked at the pictures: one of its eyes was missing. To me it looks like a congenital defect, as though the eye and the surrounding feathers never formed.

I felt a great deal of sympathy for the little bird as life in the desert is hard enough. But even more I felt admiration as it flew about the rocks and perched in trees with all the grace and alacrity typical of birds despite the limited depth perception. Obviously it had survived into adulthood and apparently found a mate (canyon towhees are typically monogamous and often mate for life). I couldn’t say if its mate helps it find food, or if it supplements its diet with crumbs left behind by hikers like me who stop to eat, or if it feeds just fine on its own, but it seemed healthy.

May you have a long happy life, little one.

A side view of a canyon towhee at Balanced Rock in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The Guide’s Pack

A tall saguaro leans over and appears to be asking for a hug from another saguaro, as my Tom Bihn Guide's Pack sits underneath

I bought my backpack, the Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack, four years ago and put it to use right away on a trip to Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park in Washington. We spent our first years together hiking around the Pacific Northwest, not only Rainier and the Olympics but the Columbia River Gorge, the redwoods in California, the Oregon coast, and of course at Ridgefield. Designed and manufactured in nearby Seattle, it was right at home in its home.

Then we moved to the desert.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack at Sunrise Peak in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

My first thought after moving here, unsure how I would handle hiking in the hotter weather, was to take a lighter pack on some short hikes, so for the first couple of hikes I took an old REI daypack I’ve had for over twenty years. I quickly switched to the Guide’s Pack as I realized it was better suited to carry the water I’d need on longer hikes courtesy of its internal frame and hip belt.

Since some of the trails are narrow my first thought was to take off the two removable pockets on the sides and store them in the bag. One of the pockets has an organizer for little things but the other is open, and it turns out it is perfectly sized to carry two 27oz Klean Kanteen water bottles. I carry one 27oz bottle attached to my camera bag, two in the side pocket, and a spare in the bottom of the backpack. But I quickly realized my mistake once I started putting my telephoto lens and camera into the bag when the light started getting harsh, as to get to the water bottles I had to pull out the camera and lens. You have to constantly drink water while hiking here, so easy access to water is critical. I put the pockets back on the sides where they have stayed ever since, and after looking in the mirror I realized they weren’t sticking out as I had imagined anyway.

A dusty Tom Bihn Guide's pack at Brown's Ranch in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The bag is getting more and more dusty and that’s a good thing because it means I’ve been hiking more and more. I’ve been out almost 20 times in the two months we’ve been here and can’t wait for the next hike. One of the things I’ve loved about this pack is its looks, the navy parapack material is both durable and gorgeous and is well-matched against the coyote brown bottom and straps. It’s a rucksack design, the top compartment is where I keep my snacks, you can open the zipper and get inside without opening up the pack. Pull back the top and there’s a cavernous compartment inside where I store my hiking poles, my fourth water bottle, a first aid kit, and extra clothing (if needed), and various other things. There are some o-rings inside for attaching stuff sacks, adding some nice organizational capability to the large space.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack next to one of the many rock formations in Brown's Ranch in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

My last adaptation in the desert was to start putting the big lens and camera away when the sunlight starts to get harsh, swapping the lens for trekking poles which make hiking in the desert more enjoyable. How I wish I had four arms so I could carry my tripod and trekking poles too! The tripod I cinch under the bag with some lash straps, that has worked a treat. This is the configuration in the picture below, with the backpack and attached tripod holding up Balanced Rock.

There are lots of nice touches in the bag, such as the loop handle that makes it easier to load the bag into the car or move it about the house. There’s a nice mesh on the back – your back does get sweaty in the desert, for summer hiking I might look for a back with a gap between your back and the backpack. Or maybe a lightweight pack if it proves too hot in the summer for any hike over an hour or two.

I absolutely adore the Guide’s Pack. I love that its beautiful, I love that its well-made and made well, and I love that it’s a great backpack too. It broke my heart to leave the Northwest but getting to know the Sonoran Desert has been an absolute joy. My thanks to the folks at Tom Bihn for making the backpack that let me explore my home in the Northwest, and my new home in the Southwest.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack sits underneath Balanced Rock in McDowell Sonoran Preserve