Yesterday as Bear and I took an afternoon walk around Cone Mountain, I took a few snapshots of the desert in bloom as mementos of our time together on the trails. Later on as we circled the mountain, as we passed a boulder closer to the trail than this one, the tall grasses began to shake and rattle. I instinctively told Bear to leave it (we’ve been practicing whenever my beloved lizards scamper across the trail) but he wasn’t showing any interest in any case. To be sure he understood what I wanted him to ignore, I backed up a few feet, still far outside striking range, to make sure he saw the rattlesnake. He looked at me the same as when I stop for a picture, ready to go when I am, so we continued on our way.
I’m delighted he didn’t try to position himself between me and the snake, or show any interest at all, but the snake was fairly hidden in the tall grass so perhaps it would have been a different story if the snake was slithering on the trail in front of us. Odds are highly in favor of it being a western diamondback but it was so obscured I couldn’t tell with a quick glance and didn’t take a picture since I didn’t want to risk disturbing it any further or to take my eyes off the pup.
Bear gets formal snake training in a few weeks but I’m glad to see he passed the test, this was his first rattlesnake. It’s a test he’ll have to pass repeatedly to be allowed to hike in the desert in the warmer months. Sadly our afternoon hikes will come to an end soon as hot weather is fast approaching, then it will be early morning hikes only for him. There are more dangerous things than rattlesnakes.
Far and away my favorite rock is folk rock but Cathedral Rock is pretty nice too (given how many made up names I use for my favorite places in the preserve, I should point out this is the official name of this massive rock formation at the foot of Cholla Mountain). This visit a couple of weeks ago was Bear’s first, I’ve been here before but not in a while as the potholes can hold water long after it rains, which tends to attract my arch-enemies the bees. I had a wonderful experience here with two desert spiny lizards in 2018, and in the same year saw two of the three Gila monsters I’ve ever seen on the trail leading here, which is a good reminder to visit more often when the rocks aren’t buzzing.
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.
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.
I love watching whales when they break the surface of the desert, their faces are covered in barnacles but sometimes they have an extra passenger along for the ride. In this case it was either a desert spiny lizard or a very tiny mermaid, there’s no way to be sure.
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.
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.
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.
Always fun to see a humpback whale breach the desert floor, this one had the most adorable barnacle clinging to its mouth.
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 …