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

Artist-in-Residence

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.

If I Could Change Careers …

Green and gray lichen grow on a granite rock on the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 9, 2022. Originals: _ZFC7597.NEF to _ZFC7630.NEF

If I could snap my fingers and change careers, I’d like to study lichen. It’s not that they are my favorite organism or anywhere near the top of the list, but rather I think they’d be endlessly fascinating to study and just as importantly, move at my speed. If you know anyone looking for a lichenthrope with no biological training and rather high salary demands, hit me up.

Their color is supposed to be influenced by their pigments, photosynthesis components, and how wet they are, but I suspect their favorite flavor of curry also plays a role. The lichen in the first picture clearly favors green curry, the greatest of the curries, while in the second we have fans of red and yellow. The gray lichen I assume understand that variety is the spice of life and enjoy them all.

Orange, yellow, and gray lichen grow on a granite rock on the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 9, 2022. Originals: _ZFC7499.NEF to _ZFC7524.NEF

The Forest & The Sea

Moss and lichen intermingle on a granite rock on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona on December 31, 2021. Originals: _ZFC5756.NEF to _ZFC5783.NEF

Another homage to my former home, I was photographing areas where the moss and lichen embrace and this scene reminded me of the Oregon coast from above. The moss standing in for the evergreen forests stretching into the sky, the lichen caressing the granite representing the Pacific washing over the rocky beaches and around the sea stacks.

There are many giant wonders in this desert, many small ones too.

Quiet For a Moment

A cactus wren perches on a rock immediately after the sun set at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on July 25, 2021. Original: _RAC5493.arw

In late July I had a quiet moment with our not-so-quiet state bird, the cactus wren. The sun had mostly dipped below the mountains as it posed for a moment before flying off with two others. More robin-sized than wren-sized, they don’t seem to cock their tails like their smaller cousins, but their personalities remind me of the ever-entertaining marsh wrens I watched in the Northwest. On recent hikes they’ve kept me company calling out from either side of the trail while mostly staying out of sight.

Two Favorites

An environmental portrait of a common side-blotched lizard perched on a granite boulder in front of a tall saguaro, taken on an offshoot of the Latigo Trail in the Brown's Ranch area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 4, 2021. Original: _RAC6033.arw

I’ve been in the mood for environmental portraits so I was delighted to take one of two of my favorite desert inhabitants, the saguaro and the common side-blotched lizard, one of the largest residents and one of the smallest (at least one of the smallest on four legs). As much grief as I give my pattern-matching self for spotting marmots in the rocky hills when he knows there are no marmots here (he’s mostly stopped with the occasional relapse) and for spotting lizards that turn out to be protuberances in the rocks, he nailed this one from afar. The little fellow was a ways off and wasn’t worried about me so I had time to find a spot on the trail both where I could see the saguaro behind him and place him in a gap between the giant arms so he’d be easy to see against the blue sky.

I quietly wondered if he’d be willing to stick around for an hour-and-a-half for the last light of day but I knew he wouldn’t stay that long and neither would I, I wanted to get some hiking in and I had only just begun. In any event I finished the day further east, taking environmental portraits of another favorite resident, but no spoilers …

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.