Pyramids

A sunrise view from Balanced Rock of Brown's Mountain and Cone Mountain, taken from the Balanced Rock Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2020. Original: _CAM5688.arw

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.

Much to Learn

A self-portrait at Balanced Rock at sunrise, taken on the Balanced Rock Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2020. Original: _CAM5685.cr2

Some people were flabbergasted, knowing how much I loved the rain of the Pacific Northwest, that I was willing to give life in Arizona a try. I knew it would take an attitude adjustment on my part not just to deal with the heat but with the relentless sun. It’s not that I never went hiking on sunny days in Oregon but in those glorious forests the sun was more of an abstract than a reality, so it was mostly a concern up above treeline or out on the coast. The other morning I got up early as there was a specific tree near Balanced Rock I wanted to photograph in the shade and I knew Granite Mountain would block the rising sun for a little while, giving me time to try out different compositions. Though I made a beeline to the area even from a distance I could see Balanced Rock was already bathed in sunlight. I checked and double-checked and triple-checked my watch and was so confused I turned back to the rising sun to understand my mistake and could but laugh as I realized at this time of year the sun peeked through a dip in the southern end of the mountain, lighting this area earlier than on my other visits. The next weekend I returned for this shot when the sun first cleared the mountain, a little paean to how little I understand and how eager I am to learn.

Distinctive Silhouette

The silhouette of a rock squirrel atop a granite boulder in front of saguaros on the Saddlehorn Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 17, 2020. Original: _RAC6530.arw

Though I only saw it in silhouette I knew from shape and size which of our ground squirrels I was seeing as I came down the Saddlehorn Trail. This is a rock squirrel, the one I see least. The trail wound away from it so this was my only good view, I did like that I could put the tops of saguaros behind it for context as it looked out from atop the large granite boulder.

Defenders of the Landslide

A rock formation I call the Guariand and an old saguaro stand above the Marcus Landslide Trail at sunrise in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

Two of the giant protectors of the Marcus Landslide Trail watch over me at sunrise, in the distance on the hill on the left the rock I call The Guardian, closer to me on the right an old if less ancient saguaro. I love this trail but haven’t been in a while, while I’d like to rectify that I’ve been too tired for any early hikes the past couple of weeks.

This Is My Mountain & I Have Climbed It

A male Gambels' quail looks out from atop a xenolith in a granite boulder on the Cholla Mountain Loop Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

A xenolith provides a handy perch for a Gambel’s quail to survey the surrounding desert. This xenolith has tricked me many times as at a distance it looks like it could be a spiny lizard sunning on the boulder, and even though I know better I often can’t help from looking through the long lens, just to be sure. It’s not an entirely bad instinct, it’s how one day I went back for a second look and turned a cactus into a bobcat.

Frosted Moss

A smiling face in the moss covering a rock gets a frosted look on a cold winter morning along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2020

Taken a week before the other image of this face in the moss, this time during a cold snap that gave the moss a frosted look in the minutes before the sun began to warm the desert floor. I’ve been meaning to look for it again when passing on more recent hikes, to see if the moss has grown enough to cover the eyes and mouth, but I keep forgetting when I’m in the area (today included).

The Hidden Smile

Moss covering a small rock appears to smile on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2020

In the damp of the Pacific Northwest it wasn’t hard to find moss, stand still long enough and the moss found you. I was surprised though to find it growing in the desert far from any water, covering a rock hidden in the shadow of a boulder. I was even more surprised when it matched my smile with its own, so joyful and exuberant, beautiful if unconventional, as I told it of the glory of the rising sun that it could never see.