Keep It Down, We’re Trying to Sleep!

Keep It Down We re Trying to Sleep

Harbor seals eke out as much rest as they can amidst the crashing waves as the Pacific rises to embrace them. I too was awakened recently by gentle but relentless sounds, once by the sound of Boo trying to get out of the bedroom closet he got trapped in, once by the sound of him trying to get into a different closet. The Pacific is mighty and mysterious, but not so much as Boo.

Under Tom’s Thumb

An environmental portrait of a rock squirrel between two massive granite rocks at Tom's Thumb in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I met this rock squirrel back in April a few weeks after we moved here. One of the reasons I love a telephoto zoom like the 100-400mm lens so much (this is the Canon, I only got the Sony recently) is that you can zoom in and take a traditional portrait of a small animal far away, like the shot below, but you can zoom out and take an environmental portrait as well like the picture above (when the scenery allows it). In this case I vastly prefer the environmental portrait as you get a feel for the massive rock this squirrel is perching under. Given more time I would have preferred an ever wider perspective with a different lens to show that it was perched high off the ground between much more massive granite boulders above and below than you can see here, but the squirrel only paused for a moment as it ran up the rocks at the approach of a dog on the trail.

I was struck by how at ease this rock squirrel was in the rocks as it moved about the narrow passages and great heights as easily and gracefully as a tree squirrel in the trees. I was delighted to find both rock squirrels and Harris’s antelope squirrels in the desert as I had mistakenly surmised I was leaving squirrels behind when we left Oregon. I fell in love with chipmunks and squirrels at an early age, we had a forest behind our house as a child in Michigan, I can’t remember ever not loving them. They’re a rarer treat now than then, but a treasured treat always.

A rock squirrel between two massive granite rocks at Tom's Thumb in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The Guide’s Pack

A tall saguaro leans over and appears to be asking for a hug from another saguaro, as my Tom Bihn Guide's Pack sits underneath

I bought my backpack, the Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack, four years ago and put it to use right away on a trip to Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park in Washington. We spent our first years together hiking around the Pacific Northwest, not only Rainier and the Olympics but the Columbia River Gorge, the redwoods in California, the Oregon coast, and of course at Ridgefield. Designed and manufactured in nearby Seattle, it was right at home in its home.

Then we moved to the desert.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack at Sunrise Peak in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

My first thought after moving here, unsure how I would handle hiking in the hotter weather, was to take a lighter pack on some short hikes, so for the first couple of hikes I took an old REI daypack I’ve had for over twenty years. I quickly switched to the Guide’s Pack as I realized it was better suited to carry the water I’d need on longer hikes courtesy of its internal frame and hip belt.

Since some of the trails are narrow my first thought was to take off the two removable pockets on the sides and store them in the bag. One of the pockets has an organizer for little things but the other is open, and it turns out it is perfectly sized to carry two 27oz Klean Kanteen water bottles. I carry one 27oz bottle attached to my camera bag, two in the side pocket, and a spare in the bottom of the backpack. But I quickly realized my mistake once I started putting my telephoto lens and camera into the bag when the light started getting harsh, as to get to the water bottles I had to pull out the camera and lens. You have to constantly drink water while hiking here, so easy access to water is critical. I put the pockets back on the sides where they have stayed ever since, and after looking in the mirror I realized they weren’t sticking out as I had imagined anyway.

A dusty Tom Bihn Guide's pack at Brown's Ranch in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The bag is getting more and more dusty and that’s a good thing because it means I’ve been hiking more and more. I’ve been out almost 20 times in the two months we’ve been here and can’t wait for the next hike. One of the things I’ve loved about this pack is its looks, the navy parapack material is both durable and gorgeous and is well-matched against the coyote brown bottom and straps. It’s a rucksack design, the top compartment is where I keep my snacks, you can open the zipper and get inside without opening up the pack. Pull back the top and there’s a cavernous compartment inside where I store my hiking poles, my fourth water bottle, a first aid kit, and extra clothing (if needed), and various other things. There are some o-rings inside for attaching stuff sacks, adding some nice organizational capability to the large space.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack next to one of the many rock formations in Brown's Ranch in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

My last adaptation in the desert was to start putting the big lens and camera away when the sunlight starts to get harsh, swapping the lens for trekking poles which make hiking in the desert more enjoyable. How I wish I had four arms so I could carry my tripod and trekking poles too! The tripod I cinch under the bag with some lash straps, that has worked a treat. This is the configuration in the picture below, with the backpack and attached tripod holding up Balanced Rock.

There are lots of nice touches in the bag, such as the loop handle that makes it easier to load the bag into the car or move it about the house. There’s a nice mesh on the back – your back does get sweaty in the desert, for summer hiking I might look for a back with a gap between your back and the backpack. Or maybe a lightweight pack if it proves too hot in the summer for any hike over an hour or two.

I absolutely adore the Guide’s Pack. I love that its beautiful, I love that its well-made and made well, and I love that it’s a great backpack too. It broke my heart to leave the Northwest but getting to know the Sonoran Desert has been an absolute joy. My thanks to the folks at Tom Bihn for making the backpack that let me explore my home in the Northwest, and my new home in the Southwest.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack sits underneath Balanced Rock in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Brown’s Ranch

A scenic view of large rocks in the desert in the Brown's Ranch section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

The Brown’s Ranch section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve has quickly become one of my favorite local places to hike. It’s far too soon to say if it will become my Ridgefield – the default place I go when I want to go out – but it has been a great place to explore and learn about the desert in the spring. I’m assuming it was named after someone named Brown and not because everything is brown, though both would be apt.

Chasing Waterfalls

Bird waste flows down the rock face of Tom's Thumb in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I loved the many waterfalls of the Northwest and knew I was leaving them behind when we moved from Oregon to Arizona, but as I stood under Tom’s Thumb I realized I had found a waterfall of sorts. I didn’t need a slow shutter speed to turn the waterfall into a flow of white. I’m not sure what kind of birds are making their home up there but further around the rock formation prairie falcons were nesting, as the rock climbing route was closed while the falcons were nesting. You can see one of the routes on the right side of the picture, it’s the thin grey line ascending the rock face.

A view of Tom's Thumb in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona


A large granite rock formation resembles an egg near the Tom's Thumb Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Before we moved I researched the risk of natural disasters for each city we were considering. In California it was earthquakes and wildfires. In Arizona it was heat and drought. It was only after we moved I learned of the disaster no one dared mention, the dinosaur eggs the size of buildings waiting to hatch outside the city.

I wish someone had told me, I would have moved here a lot sooner.

No Pikas

Snow-covered rocks

I was thinking of pikas when taking these pictures, relying on snow to insulate their talus field homes to survive the brutal winter, but I wasn’t expecting to see any. These rocks are part of the multi-tiered rock wall that we had installed this fall as part of a landscaping project. I’ll have more to say later but we absolutely love the work that Mandi and her team at Habitat Gardens did, the rain gardens have almost completely eliminated water from the basement and the new landscaping out front, replacing a wall of junipers on our front slope, makes me happy every time I walk past.

I must admit I’m tempted to try to find a little stone pika that I can hide in one of the crevices.

Snow-covered rocks


Rocks on Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park in Washington

From a distance Rialto Beach looks like an endless stretch of gray rocks. While walking down the beach my eye was initially drawn to a small red rock amidst the gray, and on closer inspection I realized there was a variety of sizes and shapes and textures and colors beneath my feet. One thing they share, though, is that the endless waves of the ocean that brought these rocks together has worn away their rough edges, leaving them different yet also similar, a whole greater than the sum of its parts.