Class Picture Day

A cactus wren perches on a dead tree branch recently vacated by a house finch beside the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2020

Shortly after the house finch left his perch a cactus wren flew in and posed in the same spot. Was it class picture day? Would a canyon towhee fly in, a little oatmeal spilled on its shirt? A black-throated sparrow with an unruly cowlick? A white-crowned sparrow with a bright smile and a mouthful of braces? Sadly no, the mixed flock of birds continued to move across the desert so I continued up the trail.

A Quiet Morning

Orange clouds hover above the Four Peaks before sunrise, taken from the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2020

Exhausted, I turned off my alarm before bed yet I woke early filled with existential dread for the state of the world. I got up and waited to see if I would get sleepy again, but since I didn’t I decided to surround myself with beauty and went out for a hike. Not up for a long drive I initially decided to hit a favorite trail at Brown’s Ranch but went to the Marcus Landslide instead when I saw clouds in the east. My reward as I started down the trail was this view of the Four Peaks before sunrise. Saw plenty of birds, got some good exercise, then came home where a freshly made breakfast sandwich was waiting courtesy of my wife. I shared the last bit of bacon with Boo before the two of us curled up for a long nap.

In Between the Raindrops

Sunrise lights the bottom of clouds above Weaver's Needle, taken on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

After two decades in Oregon Christmas week has felt familiar as it has rained most days. This morning we got a little sunshine in with the clouds so I changed my plans and made my way over to the Marcus Landslide as I break in some new camera gear. Mostly I photographed birds (big surprise!) but I couldn’t resist a quick shot of Weaver’s Needle at sunrise. A little later I stopped in my tracks as a coyote pack sang out from across the valley, without tall trees to block the sound their voices rang clear even at a distance. I had to laugh wondering how many homeowners in that area woke to their dogs joining in the morning chorus.

A Peek Behind the Curtain

My Tom Bihn The Guide's Pack backpack sits on a rock on top of the Marcus Landslide at a scenic overlook on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

A peek behind the curtain at one of my favorite trails near our new home, giving a flavor of why I wanted to move to this location: while the wildlife drew me here, the views are a nice bonus. Photo is from when I stopped for a snack break at a scenic overlook on the Marcus Landslide Trail, I’m up on top of the landslide looking out over the Sonoran Desert. My backpack is Tom Bihn’s The Guide’s Pack, it’s a bit overkill for a short hike like this, someday I might add a smaller pack and choose one based on the trail, but it’s also nice to be able to load the pack the night before and then choose which trail to hike in the morning. There are two to four water bottles in there plus one in my camera bag, depending on the time of year and the length of the hike. While it’s not hot now it is dry (not today, it’s pouring rain) so you still need to carry water in the winter. I start shedding layers as the sun comes up so I like the big open rucksack of the main compartment, I also keep trekking poles in there for longer hikes when I attach the tripod to the bottom of the bag and bring out the poles. There’s a safety kit, headlight, and multitool in one side pocket with water bottles in the other. Snacks go in the top compartment along with medicine and during the winter a spare hat and gloves in case I forget to bring them.

Where I’m standing used to be up in the mountains to my left before it came crashing down in the landslide long ago. The trailhead is two miles straight ahead, going past the hill on the left where you can see the rock formation I call the Guardian where the hill meets the horizon. Our house is in one of the subdivisions off to the west from the trailhead but you can’t see it from here. To my right is a large county park, a ways to the north is the sprawling northern part of the preserve where I also spend a lot of time. The saguaro on the right is about 10 feet tall and isn’t yet growing the iconic arms, they will probably come with time, it’s young yet for a saguaro though probably similar in age to me. In the distance are the mountains that surround and run through the Valley of the Sun, haven’t visited them yet but will in time, perhaps even soon, we’ll see. The picture I posted recently of the white-crowned sparrow in a jojoba was taken a few feet away from this shot on a different day. The singing and dancing mockingbird from this spring was about half a mile or so further up the trail. The towhee I recently posted was also from this trail.

There’s not much elevation change so it’s an easy hike when I don’t want a challenge, and it’s often birdy as well, so with the trailhead only 10 minutes from the house it’s a favorite early morning hike.

Jojoba

A white-crowned sparrow perches in a jojoba at a scenic overlook on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

Jojoba has wonderful upright leaves and comes in male and female forms (this is a male), the female has a fruit that reminds me of an acorn which reminds me of Ellie. When we were in Portland we had many old oaks in the neighborhood that dropped a multitude of acorns each fall. They smelled like food to Ellie, not enough for her to eat one but enough that she wanted to smell each and every one just to be sure. The pup did not believe in letting food go to waste! The male jojobas don’t fruit although this one sprouted a white-crowned sparrow.