Pyramids

A sunrise view from Balanced Rock of Brown's Mountain and Cone Mountain, taken from the Balanced Rock Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2020. Original: _CAM5688.arw

I stood beside Balanced Rock at sunrise, in the distance Brown’s Mountain and Cone Mountain, two pyramids formed by nature rather than vainglorious kings. Perhaps because of the gently sloping boulder beneath my feet the height above the desert floor didn’t trigger my vertigo, even the peak of Brown’s Mountain is kind enough that I can climb it so long as I avoid some of the edges. Some trails here force me to turn around but that’s both nothing new and fine besides, as trails we have aplenty.

I met a fellow hiker with his dog who was enjoying being back on the trails after getting both knees replaced. He obviously loved her and said she was his first dog and knew now he’d never again be without one. A cyclist was there who moved from the Pacific Northwest at the start of our long dry summer, he and his wife bought bikes and were learning to ride on the many trails. I assured him it is always so lovely but not always so hot.

He noted I must have made a beeline to arrive by sunrise, I only do it sometimes as at heart I like to walk and wonder. On a hike weeks earlier I noted in my journal I “was really dawdling along for the first hour, Ellie would have been so proud!” As much as I love hiking, my favorite walks were bimbling around with her as we followed her nose through our old Portland neighborhood. These little ones grab hold of your heart and never let go, even after they’re gone. So too these lands, though we are the ones who must leave.

Desert Flora

A view at sunset of some of the larger plants of the Sonoran Desert, looking towards Granite Mountain from the Latigo Trail on October 17, 2020. Original: _CAM5616.arw

A view at sunset of some of the larger plants of the Sonoran Desert, looking towards Granite Mountain. I assumed the trails would be packed in the evenings but went since I haven’t been able to get out much in the mornings and to my surprise saw almost no one. Perhaps it’s a quirk of timing where it was still hot in the evenings but not dangerously so, maybe now that it is cooling off it will be more crowded.

Art in the Park

A large seed pod sculpture sits in front of a palo verde and a leaning saguaro at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 16, 2020. Original: _CAM5533.arw

Dotting the short hiking trail at Cavalliere Park, a multi-use park near our house, are seed pod sculptures by Jeff Zischke. I love how naturally they are placed in the landscape, they remind me of animal sculptures we saw years ago at an Audubon Center in Maine. This is one of the larger ones, sitting just uphill from the basketball courts, near a saguaro as obliging as it is beautiful as it leans over to more easily fit into the picture.

You Don’t Have to be Straight to be Beautiful

An old saguaro full of woodpecker holes leans over at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 16, 2020. Original: _CAM5573.arw

Two dimensions don’t do justice to how much this battered old beauty leans over, its trunk and surviving arms littered with woodpecker holes. How many families has it sheltered on this little sliver of land, protected from the development that surrounds? I meant to photograph it months ago but got pulled up and down the trail first by a phoebe and then a woodpecker, so I was thankful it still stood in all its perfect glory on a visit at sunset a couple of weeks ago.

Distinctive Silhouette

The silhouette of a rock squirrel atop a granite boulder in front of saguaros on the Saddlehorn Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 17, 2020. Original: _RAC6530.arw

Though I only saw it in silhouette I knew from shape and size which of our ground squirrels I was seeing as I came down the Saddlehorn Trail. This is a rock squirrel, the one I see least. The trail wound away from it so this was my only good view, I did like that I could put the tops of saguaros behind it for context as it looked out from atop the large granite boulder.

Big Needles

A view of strawberry hedgehog cactus in the rain growing in slate on the Quartz Trail in Cave Creek Regional Park in Cave Creek, Arizona in December 2019. Original: _DSC6456.arw

My award for the cutest member of the desert that will still stab you six ways from Sunday goes to the diminutive hedgehog cactus with its almost comically long needles. I found this little clump in the slate at Cave Creek on a rainy winter’s day. Rain, I remember rain. It was wet I think.

An overhead view of strawberry hedgehog cactus in the rain growing in slate on the Quartz Trail in Cave Creek Regional Park in Cave Creek, Arizona in December 2019. Original: _DSC6441.arw

Two Pollinators

A male gilded flicker perches on saguaro blossoms while a honeybee hovers nearby on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2020

It may look like this male gilded flicker took an interest in the honeybee as the two pollinators shared a saguaro, but it was just a coincidence of timing, the bird was only interested in eating from the flowers.

A male gilded flicker prepares to eat headfirst from a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2020

Changing of the Guard

A female Gila woodpecker perches outside their nest in a saguaro as the male prepares to leave on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A female Gila woodpecker brings food to the nest while the waiting male is about to pop out and make room for her. This is zoomed in less than the previous pictures to show more of the saguaro, I was kicking myself later for forgetting to take a much wider shot with my regular lens of the full saguaro and the surrounding desert. I forgot partially because of the excitement of watching woodpeckers and partially because it was 5:30am. At that hour I’m just happy if I dress myself properly because that isn’t guaranteed.

Are You a Tasty Bee: Gila Woodpecker Edition

A male Gila woodpecker looks down at a honeybee hovering above a saguaro blossom near the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Do Gila woodpeckers eat honeybees? With the sun starting to rise this honeybee hovered over the saguaro blossom for so long that this male craned his neck out and started watching it. If he was thinking about jumping out and snaring it he never did, he stayed at the nest entrance until his mate returned. Which didn’t take long, the pair was pretty amazing to watch, even before sunup they were constantly bringing food back to the nest. I don’t know if they eat honeybees or not but there is an ample supply nearby when the saguaros are blooming.

A male Gila woodpecker looks out while a honeybee hovers above a saguaro blossom near the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020