Since we moved to Arizona I’ve been fascinated by the moment when light first sweeps across the desert or, as in this case, the light suddenly falls away. There was a particular cactus I wanted to photograph at last light but I was delayed watching a sparrow and a family of hawks. I had to laugh as I hurried down the wide trail, seeing something I wanted to photograph and the light disappearing before I could get the camera to my eye. I was able to get this environmental portrait of a phainopepla before the light disappeared from all but the mountains, a shot that pokes gentle fun at my misunderstanding of what the desert here was like, thinking it was just sand and an occasional cactus. But also a show of gratitude that I researched the area when an opportunity appeared here at the last minute, and for a park dense with vegetation and wildlife that drew me in and didn’t let go.
Phainopepla have been back for a while now and are one of the birds I see most on the trails I’ve been hiking recently. The charming flycatchers are a delight and take some of the sting out of the arrival of cooler temperatures and the disappearance of reptiles. I liked the flow of the dead tree branches as this male preened on a warm November morning but was even happier when I realized I could sidle down the trail a few steps and put the tall arms of a saguaro in the background to give the scene more context.
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.
A view at sunset of some of the larger plants of the Sonoran Desert, looking towards Granite Mountain. I assumed the trails would be packed in the evenings but went since I haven’t been able to get out much in the mornings and to my surprise saw almost no one. Perhaps it’s a quirk of timing where it was still hot in the evenings but not dangerously so, maybe now that it is cooling off it will be more crowded.
Dotting the short hiking trail at Cavalliere Park, a multi-use park near our house, are seed pod sculptures by Jeff Zischke. I love how naturally they are placed in the landscape, they remind me of animal sculptures we saw years ago at an Audubon Center in Maine. This is one of the larger ones, sitting just uphill from the basketball courts, near a saguaro as obliging as it is beautiful as it leans over to more easily fit into the picture.
Two dimensions don’t do justice to how much this battered old beauty leans over, its trunk and surviving arms littered with woodpecker holes. How many families has it sheltered on this little sliver of land, protected from the development that surrounds? I meant to photograph it months ago but got pulled up and down the trail first by a phoebe and then a woodpecker, so I was thankful it still stood in all its perfect glory on a visit at sunset a couple of weeks ago.
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.
Saturday morning for the first time in two months I had enough energy to get up early for a hike in the desert. With the sun rising and the moon about to bid good day I used a gently sloping boulder abutting the trail to add my shadow to the desert’s own, a little nod to my deep appreciation at being back.