A True Ninja Can Hide Even in an Orange Jacket

A self-portrait wearing a bright orange jacket while sitting in front of a copse of ocotillos on an off-map trail in the Pima Dynamite section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 26, 2020. Original: _CAM8203.arw

A couple of days ago I visited my favorite copse of ocotillos at sunrise, when I realized they were going to be partly in shadow for a while I started goofing around with self-portraits. The jacket is a holdover from my time in Portland where I was frequently a pedestrian, I have a small army of jackets and hoodies in bright orange to make me more visible. On this morning it was a little cool and windy so I put up the hood of my wool hoody to take the chill off. I have a wool cap on underneath, I’ve never liked the cold but after a couple of years in the desert I’ve lost any tolerance of it. The mask didn’t go unappreciated not just for a little warmth, and not just because I didn’t need to smile for the camera, but because it hid the tears streaming down my cheeks from being up so early.

I can’t tell the story of the Sonoran Desert, only my time in it. I’d love to revisit this shot when the ocotillos leaf out or bloom but this is their normal state, bare arms soaring into blue skies, and I hope in some sense it shows how beautiful the desert is even when it’s not trying to be spectacular.

A self-portrait wearing a bright orange jacket while standing in front of a copse of ocotillos on an off-map trail in the Pima Dynamite section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 26, 2020. Original: _CAM8233.arw

For this shot I put myself at the edge of the large flat boulder, the plants are growing between this one and the next, so I could be as close as possible to the same plane as the two ocotillos in front to give some context as to their size. All of which is to say no optical tricks, they get pretty big.

The Morning Submarine

Submarine Rock is bathed in soft red light early on a spring morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Submarine Rock is one of the massive boulders that fell down from the mountains as part of the landslide 500,000 years ago. At first I wasn’t sure which rock was Submarine Rock as at first glance I thought “whale” and there is another large boulder out-of-frame to the left (it’s casting the shadow on the front) that looks to me like a World War II era submarine breaching the surface. Submarine Rock now lies halfway into my hike as it is in the middle of the short loop at the far end of the Marcus Landslide Trail. Normally I can’t get out this far during the soft sunrise light, even if I’m hoofing it, while it was no different on this morning smoke from fires in the distant Superstitions left the light a soft red for longer than normal.

Early to Rise

Chain fruit cholla bathed in blue light before sunrise along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

In December I arrived when the Tom’s Thumb trailhead opened so I could hoof it out as quickly as possible to photograph this bank of chain fruit cholla before sunrise, with my beloved Guardian looking out over the desert in the background. At that time of year I can hike as fast as I can without worrying about surprising a rattlesnake as they are still hibernating. My favorite shot turned out to be the first one of the desert bathed in the soft blue light before the sun rose above the mountains behind me, but I also like the one below of the same scene bathed in the red light of sunrise.

Chain fruit cholla bathed in the red light of sunrise along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

The Other Side of the Guardian

A rock formation sits before orange clouds at sunrise along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I didn’t want to get up this morning but with high clouds forecast I thought it might make for an interesting sunrise. I headed to the Marcus Landslide Trail to photograph the rock formation I call The Guardian but as I started down the trail I realized the best light was going to be in the opposite direction than I had planned. I stopped and switched lenses and took this shot before continuing down the trail. It was only the start of what turned out to be a wonderful morning.

Survivors

A xenolith embedded in a granite mushroom along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Walking in the desert humbles you. To see life survive and even thrive in such a seemingly inhospitable place is inspiring. Then there are the xenoliths (from the Greek for strange or foreign rock), pieces of ancient rock that survived as magma flowed and solidified around them. This xenolith is in a granite mushroom along the Marcus Landslide Trail, bathed in the reddish light of sunrise. It saddens me to think of what climate change will do to the desert but for now it is a land of wonders, of survivors.

The Green Land

A western gull (I think) perches on a large boulder in front of a moss-covered cliff on the beach at Heceta Head on the Oregon coast

A western gull (I think) perches on a large boulder in front of a moss-covered cliff on the beach at Heceta Head on the Oregon coast. A stream was flowing between us, emptying into the Pacific just to my right. The rich greens of western Oregon were something to behold, I miss seeing moss growing on the rocks, on the trees, in the grass. I don’t miss seeing it growing on the roof, on the steps, on the car …

Snow-capped Peaks

A close-up view of a large quartz rock along the Windgate Pass Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

As I hiked along the Windgate Pass Trail I was surprised to see snow-capped peaks here in the Sonoran Desert, especially to see them at my feet. Looking at this large quartz rock reminded me of the glaciers and snowy mountains of the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest. At least I think it’s quartz, learning the rocks of my new home is on my list, but it’s a long list.