Welcome to the Artists’ Studio

An owl perches on a large granite boulder in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 21, 2023. Original: _Z722802.NEF

I dubbed this mushroom The Artists’ Studio when I realized a prolific pair of artists was painting the rock face. Bear and I had seen both owls on our walk earlier in the afternoon but I came back out with my biggest telephoto hoping for a close-up near sunset and only saw the one. I got those pictures but my favorites were the environmental portraits I took with the Nikon Z 24-200mm lens, perhaps not surprising since I’ve been craving these types of images for a while now.

This first image is my favorite of the two, the second was taken a few minutes later and further up the trail so I could include the mountains in the background. The lighting is more direct here and the light getting much softer, often a look I prefer, but in this case while I like both I prefer the shadows from the side-lighting of the first picture.

TAn owl perches on a large granite boulder with mountains in the background in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 21, 2023. Original: _Z722832.NEF

The Sunset Watch

A pair of Harris's hawks look out from a large boulder as the setting sun colors the rocks red near the Jane Rau Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 30, 2022. Original: _CAM6306.ARW

A pair of Harris’s hawks look out from a large boulder as the setting sun colors the rocks red. Earlier in the evening I saw a family of five on one of the big electrical towers but I’ve not seen the birds on these rocks before. From a distance I could see three forms on the boulders and couldn’t imagine what else they could be, by the time I got close the third had flown off but these two stayed to watch the sun set with me.

Subtle Sunrise

A large boulder and tree light up at sunrise on the Sunset Vista Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on September 25, 2022. Original: _Z726910.NEF

One of my favorite moments is when the rising sun first sweeps its light across the desert. I’ve played around with different ways of photographing it on days off when I manage to get up before sunrise, which is rare these days. I love simple scenes and when we moved here made a mental note to photograph this one next to the trailhead, only to realize the other day I had never done it. I thought I’d prefer the scene when it was more strongly lit but my favorite three images were over a 40 second span when the rising sun just fell upon the boulder and tree and left the foreground in shadow. At the moment this is my favorite of those three.

Much to Learn

A self-portrait at Balanced Rock at sunrise, taken on the Balanced Rock Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2020. Original: _CAM5685.cr2

Some people were flabbergasted, knowing how much I loved the rain of the Pacific Northwest, that I was willing to give life in Arizona a try. I knew it would take an attitude adjustment on my part not just to deal with the heat but with the relentless sun. It’s not that I never went hiking on sunny days in Oregon but in those glorious forests the sun was more of an abstract than a reality, so it was mostly a concern up above treeline or out on the coast. The other morning I got up early as there was a specific tree near Balanced Rock I wanted to photograph in the shade and I knew Granite Mountain would block the rising sun for a little while, giving me time to try out different compositions. Though I made a beeline to the area even from a distance I could see Balanced Rock was already bathed in sunlight. I checked and double-checked and triple-checked my watch and was so confused I turned back to the rising sun to understand my mistake and could but laugh as I realized at this time of year the sun peeked through a dip in the southern end of the mountain, lighting this area earlier than on my other visits. The next weekend I returned for this shot when the sun first cleared the mountain, a little paean to how little I understand and how eager I am to learn.

Beauty in the Shadows

A male desert spiny lizard close his eyes as he rests beneath massive boulders at Cathedral Rock in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2018

Cathedral Rock is awash in beauty, with massive boulders and sweeping views of the Sonoran desert, but its greatest beauty sleeps in its shadows, hidden in crevices below the monoliths. Despite its size, the desert spiny lizard is rather shy and often scurries out of sight long before I approach. Thankfully I was not only able to spend some time with this one and watch as he grew sleepy, but ease away and leave him to his slumber.

The Mocking Spot

A view of my photography and hiking gear where I photographed a mockingbird near a mushroom along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

A peek behind the scenes at my setup as I photographed a mockingbird doing its ritual dance this spring, it would perch on a large rock betwixt me and the hillside. I photographed from two locations on three successive mornings right around sunrise, twice from this spot beside the mushroom and once just a bit to the right on the other side of the palo verde. On this morning a thrasher flew in and the mockingbird left off its dance right as the sun started to clear the mountains and bathe the desert in soft red light, so in the quiet moment before the mocker returned I stepped back and took a picture of my gear with my iPhone. You can see the large crack at the base of the mushroom, some day it will fall over but on these mornings it was a steadfast companion as we listened to the mockingbird sing. This mushroom holds the xenolith I photographed back in December, it’s down in the corner behind my backpack. The sign describing it is just to the left, taken on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The Morning Submarine

Submarine Rock is bathed in soft red light early on a spring morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Submarine Rock is one of the massive boulders that fell down from the mountains as part of the landslide 500,000 years ago. At first I wasn’t sure which rock was Submarine Rock as at first glance I thought “whale” and there is another large boulder out-of-frame to the left (it’s casting the shadow on the front) that looks to me like a World War II era submarine breaching the surface. Submarine Rock now lies halfway into my hike as it is in the middle of the short loop at the far end of the Marcus Landslide Trail. Normally I can’t get out this far during the soft sunrise light, even if I’m hoofing it, while it was no different on this morning smoke from fires in the distant Superstitions left the light a soft red for longer than normal.