The Morning Stretch

A Harris's hawk stretches while perching on a dead tree, surrounded by palo verde blossoms fore and aft, near the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

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.

Explosion

A large palo verde blooms in an explosion of color along the Hackamore Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

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.

Second

My Tom Bihn Guide's Pack backpack with my tripod underneath sits on quartz rocks on the Quartz Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

A week ago I went to a trail near what I expected was going to be my second choice in houses to help cement my opinion. I went further than I’ve gone before, continuing on to the Quartz Trail and wandering up to this outcropping of quartz that looks out over Scottsdale. I had a fun morning and confirmed the other house was my first choice but also that I’d be happy living in the second if we didn’t get the first.

Washed Away

A foothill palo verde with its roots exposed in a wash at Lost Dog Wash in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

As you hike through the desert you’ll sometimes cross a wash, an area that is normally dry but where water runs after a storm. I’ve not seen a wash run, it doesn’t take long for the water to stop flowing and the monsoons usually arrive in the evenings when I’m not on the trails due to the heat. I’ve seen the aftermath though in the scouring of the trails, I wonder if the roots of this foothill palo verde were recently exposed due to erosion after a summer storm. Most of the shallow roots have been stripped of earth and are angled downstream save for one still plugged into the surviving bank.

It may not look like it but this little tree has leafed out, the trees have tiny leaves that you can see along the thorns if you look at the top of the tree set against the darker green of the larger trees behind it. You can also see the green bark, the palo verde can photosynthesize its food from both the little leaves when they are present and from the green bark and thorns year round. I’m curious to see if it survives or if it will fade away now that its roots are exposed, and perhaps wash away in a future storm. But for now it is holding on, literally.

Firsts

A foothill palo verde tree with the moon above it at first light on the Sunrise Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

First light falls upon a foothill palo verde tree as the moon hangs above, taken yesterday morning on my first hike of the Sunrise Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Life has been full of a lot of firsts lately and hiking has been no exception. This morning was the first time I hiked in shorts since arriving here, as I’m testing out when I want to wear short sleeves and shorts based on temperature, and unfortunately it was also the first time I slipped on the trails here. Nothing serious, just skinned up one of my shins, but I don’t think in two decades of hiking in the Northwest I ever drew blood (to be fair I rarely lose my footing).

But mostly the firsts have been positive. First time seeing animals, first time seeing plants, first time visiting parks, first time hiking trails. The new Columbia sun hat and new Merrell hiking shoes are both working well, Friday morning I wore the shoes for the first time on a flat hike and by Saturday morning I was confident enough to wear them on this hike of the Sunrise Trail, which is mostly constant elevation change. It was also quite windy so fortunately I had the chinstrap on my hat cinched tight or my new hat would be soaring above the desert even now.

Adapting to the Desert

A foothill palo verde tree grows in front of saguaro cactus along the Gateway Loop Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

We’ve been here four weeks now, though strangely it feels to me like we’ve been in Arizona a month but left Portland months ago. One of the appeals of moving here was the unique beauty of the Sonoran Desert and I’m thankful that not only have I been able to start exploring the desert, but I’ve been out six times! A welcome respite after only getting out once since November while in Oregon. What a blessing it is to be out on the trails.

One of the things I looked for in a rental house was easy access both to work and to local hiking trails, thankfully our house is only 15 to 30 minutes from a number of trails, allowing me to explore the desert in spring before the brutal summer heat arrives. While the trees here like this palo verde don’t provide shade, I have found some trails that are shaded in the morning by the surrounding hills, so hopefully those will be tolerable for a couple hours after sunrise even during the summer months. We shall see.

In the meantime adjusting to hiking here means adjustments to my hiking gear.

I’ve had the same hiking hat my entire time in Oregon, a hat we picked up at REI after we moved there, but after a few hikes in the desert I realized I was going to need a hat designed for the heat. On Friday the Columbia Sportswear Bora Bora II Booney hat arrived and was immediately put to use on both hikes this weekend. I immediately noticed the difference as the new hat is lighter and lets out more heat while keeping out the sun. Loved the old hat and will love the new one. I figure sun hats here are like sunglasses, you’ll want multiple ones so you’re never caught without one when you need it, so I may keep the old hat in the car and maybe pick up a different style of hat as well, but this one I expect to be my main hiking hat.

I’ve been wearing a pair of old New Balance trail runners on all my hikes so far, which work well on the flat hikes but on some of the hills I would have preferred a more structured shoe. Both of my pairs of hiking shoes are waterproof and a bit warm for the desert in the summer (they’ll be fine in the winter). Saturday my Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator shoes arrived, I haven’t worn them hiking yet but Saturday night I wore them around the house and they fit well and don’t seem like they’ll need any break-in. I ordered them in black as I like the look despite knowing from the moment I hit the trails they’ll be covered in desert dust from here on out.

Saturday morning after returning from my hike I ordered two Klean Kanteen 27 oz water bottles to join the two I’ve had for years (as well as a smaller one) and they arrived that afternoon, a perk of the the Phoenix metro area is Amazon has same-day delivery on some items. They joke about the dry heat but it really is dry here and you have to work harder to stay hydrated. I always try to hike with more water than I’ll need so it was time to up the water bottle ante, the two new bottles were put to use this morning. The Klean Kanteen bottles are sturdy and I’ve never had a leak, which is important to me as they sit next to some expensive camera gear. They come in a variety of colors, really love these bottles.

I do miss Portland’s tap water though.

My wife picked up a small bottle of sunscreen so I can keep it in my backpack in case I forget to apply it before I leave or if I need to reapply it. I used the same bottle of sunscreen in Oregon for many, many years, as I rarely needed it unless I was above tree line or out on the coast. Here though I never hike without it. I already had some good hot weather hiking shirts, I’m still testing out when I’ll wear long versus short sleeves, and I have a couple pairs of lightweight hiking pants that convert to shorts, so I’m OK there. I did order a long sleeve swim shirt and a new swimsuit, as while I haven’t swum much the past thirty years, that’s about to change and I enjoyed testing them out in our pool this afternoon.

A quick dip in the pool to cool off, and to get some exercise even in the heat, that I think I’ll love.

Lots of pictures to come, this desert really is something special.