One Year Ago

Looking down into a teddy bear cholla along the Pinnacle Peak Trail in Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale, Arizona

I took this picture one year ago on my first foray into the Sonoran Desert. I had interviewed the morning before on my first to Arizona and they called a few hours later to let me know they were going to make an offer. I already knew I was likely to accept so I wanted to make sure I’d enjoy hiking in the Sonoran Desert, although I didn’t have much time before visiting some neighborhoods and then flying back to Portland. I headed up to Pinnacle Peak Park for an hour or so to get a taste of the desert.

The last note in my hiking journal is simply this: “Can’t wait to hike more here, will always miss the Northwest of course, but the desert will be amazing to explore.”

I accepted when the offer arrived early the next week, setting in motion a frantic month getting ready to move. A year later we are getting ready to move again, this time from our rental house to our new home. It’s been a busy month but nothing compared to last year, a cross-city move is so much simpler than a cross-country move, especially since then I was also starting a new job, we were finding a rental house, all while getting ready to sell the old house.

I’m excited and nervous and happy and tired and above all, grateful. I loved my 21 years in the Pacific Northwest and I’ve loved my year in the Sonoran Desert. Here’s to many more.

Seeing Red in the Desert

Fruit begins to ripen atop a saguaro on the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I knew even before setting foot in Arizona that my pictures in the desert would draw heavily from a palette of browns rather than the green of the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t know that there would occasionally b red in the desert too, such as the red racer, the house finch, and the northern cardinal. However, for a month or so at the end of spring and the start of summer red explodes across the desert in the fruit of the saguaro.

Fruit splits open atop a saguaro at the Amphitheater in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Here near The Amphitheater in McDowell Sonoran Preserve a ripe fruit bursts open, exposing the pulp and seeds inside. The fruit is chockfull of seeds, according to the National Park Service there are about 2000 seeds per fruit. Few will develop into a seedling and fewer into an adult saguaro in the harsh desert climate but its not for lack of trying. I noticed multiple birds eating the fruit but mostly it was white-winged doves, who apparently digest the seeds rather than passing them in their waste like some other birds. They end up with so much juice and pulp and seeds on their faces that I imagine some of the seeds will fall to the ground as they preen, so perhaps all is not lost.

Red saguaro fruit along the Upper Ranch Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

As the fruit continues to ripen on the saguaro, even the outside turns red. The dried stalk above them is all that remains of the flowers that grew atop them, the ripened fruit results from flowers that were pollinated. Most of the fruit grows at the top of the saguaro or the ends of its arms but some grows on the sides like the one below that has been cleaned of most of its contents by the denizens of the desert, only a few of the tiny black seeds remain inside.

Saguaro fruit emptied of its contents on the side of a saguaro in Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale, Arizona


Fractures split a large granite boulder along the Pinnacle Peak Trail in Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale, Arizona

Fractures split a large granite boulder along the Pinnacle Peak Trail. The message could be that you don’t have to be perfect to be strong. To stand true and resist. Or it could be that those from whom you draw strength are wounded in their own way from the stress of the world and need support as well. Or maybe that nothing lasts forever, whether these rocks will outlast me depends on how many millions of years I live, but we are here now, together, and I am thankful for it.

Sunset on the Rocks

An American pika peaks out from a rock wall near sunset on the Pinnacle Peak Trail in the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park

When I visited Mount Rainier National Park in the fall of 2008, I saw more pikas on the the Pinnacle Peak Trail than I’d ever seen on a single trail before. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say I saw more pikas on that hike than I had seen in my entire life until then. They weren’t all close to the trail, the talus fields are extensive and often lead far from the trail, but some of them were close enough for pictures, including this pika that popped out of a rock wall near sunset.


An American pika with twigs in its mouth on the Pinnacle Peak Trail in the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park

It’s hard not to be jealous of how well-adapted some animals are to their environment. It was a little humbling to watch these tiny little pikas sprinting across the talus field with plants in their mouths. I don’t think I’d be quite so quick if I had to drag several 12 foot tall trees in my mouth as I ran across a boulder field with rocks as big as a school bus.