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.
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.
Saturday morning for the first time in two months I had enough energy to get up early for a hike in the desert. With the sun rising and the moon about to bid good day I used a gently sloping boulder abutting the trail to add my shadow to the desert’s own, a little nod to my deep appreciation at being back.
You can find mourning doves across the United States but you’ll have to visit the Sonoran Desert to see the square ones.
This palo verde sprouted its tiny little leaves, I suppose their small size minimizes water loss while allowing more photosynthesis than from just their green bark. It also sprouted a cactus wren, as have seemingly all the tall plants on my hikes lately, as I’ve seen (and heard) these boisterous birds frequently the past few weeks. Perhaps it is time to establish territory and seek out mates, or perhaps they are practicing for an upcoming all-wren revue. Either way, can’t wait!
One of my favorite pictures this year, taken early in the morning in October looking west from a frequently-hiked trail near our house. It speaks to the misconceptions I used to have about this area and how surprised I was to learn there is so much diverse life here. There are the twisting trees, the yuccas with their flower stalks reaching towards the sky, the green-barked palo verdes, the yearning ocotillos, and above all the saguaros. Topping it off are two members of the Harris’s hawk family that so charmed me this year, an adult perched in the bare branches of the tree in the upper left and a juvenile down below, calling out to the rest of the family who must have been on the other side of the hill. The adult eventually flew off in that direction and the juvenile took its spot high in the tree before following the adult out of sight. How lucky I am to be in their, and my, home.
It was two years ago today that my team got laid off, setting in motion the events that brought us from Oregon to Arizona. To me it feels like we left Portland much longer ago but that we’ve been here much shorter. I haven’t ventured further afield than my local trails, that will change with time but for now I’m content to enjoy the pictures people post as they travel the state. While Ellie was with us I didn’t want to be away from her more than I had to be, then with the new house and a lot to learn at work it’s left me a bit thin at times. Thankfully I am blessed with an abundance of local trails, to the point that some mornings I have difficulty choosing where I want to go. And there is so much wonder to behold in the Sonoran Desert, such as this Harris’s hawk I met in June with the blossoms fading and the sun rising, one of the adults that helped raise the two young hawks in the saguaro nest further up the trail.
In Oregon we got occasional heavy downpours but mostly the summers were bone dry while the winter had frequent drizzly showers that kept everything damp and preposterously green. In Arizona we get some rain in the winter but it’s summer that brings the monsoons. Rain may be rare but when it arrives it often pours down in buckets, perhaps accompanied by high winds and thunder and lightning (I can count on one hand the number of lightning storms I saw in two decades in Oregon). I haven’t seen much rain this year, when it has rained I’ve either been at work or it’s been dark, so I still haven’t seen a wash run. Our neighborhood is on a hill so there are washes running through (one beside our house), some more natural looking than others, so one day it will happen. This chair would have an excellent view of a running wash, sitting in the middle of a desert wash along the Gooseneck Trail, and by the looks of it has probably seen its fair share of summer storms.
I met this Harris’s hawk shortly before sunrise, it was mostly sleeping perched high in a dead tree. With the palo verdes blooming, there was one spot on the trail where if I lowered my tripod to a particular height I could frame the hawk using blossoms on trees between us and blossoms on the trees behind. The picture is a bit of a lie in that it gives the impression the hawk is in a dense section of trees but in truth it was in the open, I’ll post other pictures later that give a more accurate depiction of why it chose this perch.
I framed the shot for the pose when the hawk was resting but when it suddenly stretched after the sun came up most of the time its head was obscured behind the yellow blossoms, up until it reached the peak of its stretch and it came into full view again, showing off its chestnut shoulders and legs and the large white patch at the base of its tail and the white strip at the tip. I thought it was going to go to the bathroom, birds often do before they take flight, but it was just a morning stretch. Do all animals have their equivalent? Our cats do it after waking up from a nap, our dog Ellie did too and something about it always made me laugh.
The shape of the branches of this blooming palo verde made it seem to me as though it was literally exploding with color. I had to hoof it out there to arrive as the sun was about to clear the slopes of Cone Mountain behind me, I only had a brief moment for pictures as immediately after this shot clouds obscured the sun and the light was gone.