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.

The World Before Me

An ornate tree lizard perches vertically on a rock face near the summit of Brown's Mountain in McDowell Sonoran Preserve, taken on the Brown's Mountain Trail in September 2019

The sun was just tipping over the horizon this fall as I approached the summit of Brown’s Mountain with an expansive view of the mountains circling my desert home. But as the light spilled across the world at large around me it was the world writ small before me upon which I trained my gaze and my camera’s lens, for I shared that lovely sunrise with an ornate tree lizard scampering about the rock face. I love the scenery here but there is no doubt where my heart lies.

The Song Disruptor

A northern mockingbird sings in the reddish light of sunrise atop a rock on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Back in June I woke up early before work so I went out for a short hike, spending the morning the way I had the previous two mornings, watching a mockingbird dance and sing as the sun rose. The previous day a curve-billed thrasher had flown in and the mocker stayed out of sight for a while, but on this morning I got a picture of it singing right as the first light arrived. But then almost on cue the thrasher flew in, dried saguaro fruit clinging to its beak, and the mocker yielded. I noticed the previous morning that although it would lay low for a while whenever the thrasher flew in, eventually it would always come back to dance and sing, but on this morning work waited so I could not.

A curve-billed thrasher perches atop a rock, dried saguaro fruit clinging to its beak, in the reddish light of sunrise on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019