The Lizard Rocks

An environmental portrait of an ornate tree lizard in a jumble of rocks on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I nicknamed this jumble of rocks The Lizard Rocks when I first saw them, though I saw no lizards there. It just seemed like they should be there, though I was new to Arizona and not really sure where lizards would want to live. They aren’t large rocks and it’s not a large formation, I suppose my initial fascination came from it being a nice place on a favorite trail to stop for a drink as it’s nestled into a kink on the trail with room to step out of the unsighted path of cyclists and horses. It took me a while but I did eventually start seeing them, on this spring morning I saw at least six lizards from three different species. This ornate tree lizard was the first I saw, I took some closeups but also pulled back to give a bit of flavor of the place he calls home.

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.

Pushups

The rising sun lights up the blue underside of an male ornate tree lizard as he does pushups on a large granite rock along the Gooseneck Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in August 2019

With a pounding headache and growing nausea I had to chuckle as I walked down the trail that this would be a sunrise best enjoyed sitting on the back porch beside the pool, except that having done only one other short hike the past month it felt good to be out on the trails. Between allergies acting up and being tired I chose an easy short hike close to home, a section out on the Gooseneck Trail, with my planned turnaround the first big rock formation. I reached the rocks at sunrise but didn’t find anything to shoot, if I had been feeling better I would have found interesting plants and patterns in the rocks but the creative part of my brain was moving at half-speed, to be generous.

After a long drink I put my bottle back in my bag and prepared to leave when I noticed a stick on the rocks beside me. The stick started doing pushups and I stood frozen in confusion as I’ve seen a lot of sticks and this is not typically how they behave. There was a beat. Two. Three. Four. Oh right! A lizard! I slowly and steadily moved a smidge down the trail so I could photograph him and thankfully he did another set of pushups, the rising sun lighting up his brilliant blue belly.

I headed back up the trail with lighter footsteps, forgetting for a moment the headache and nausea, feeling for just a moment that perhaps I could extend the hike. With the rising heat I wisely decided that discretion was the better part of valor and I headed back to the car and a lie down on the couch. From last weekend, this weekend I didn’t manage even a short hike, though the afternoon swims have been refreshing.