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.