I Hiked Alone, Surrounded by Friends

A black-throated sparrow perches atop a buckhorn cholla on the new interpretative trail at Fraesfield at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 24, 2021. Original: _RAC3574.arw

I came across this black-throated sparrow in a mixed flock of sparrows on the new hard-packed interpretative trail at Fraesfield on a rainy winter afternoon. It’s a nice trail if you have mobility issues or need to push a stroller or wheelchair or the like, and is also nice on rainy days when they’d prefer you stay off the regular trails. Even after a few years in the desert I can’t get over how naturally birds land on a cactus with spikes half the size of their bodies, they are more at ease in their dangerous world than I will ever be in mine.

A black-throated sparrow perches in a buckhorn cholla on the new interpretative trail at Fraesfield at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 24, 2021. Original: _RAC3614.arw

Red Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

A female phainopepla perches on a curved branch on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 28, 2020. Original: _RAC9951.arw

This is what a female phainopepla looks like on our more typical sunny desert days. I heard her cheerful cheeps from the backside of a tree as the trail wound its way up a small hill but I was headed to a particular spot and wasn’t going to try for a photograph. But as she flitted about she hopped onto this ready-made perch right as I approached so I couldn’t resist a quick picture of one of my favorite birds.

I Feel You, Sister

A phainopepla rubs her damp head feathers on a branch on the interpretative trail in the Fraesfield area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 24, 2021. Original: _RAC3738.arw

On-again, off-again rain showers left this phainopepla feeling a little bedraggled as she preened her damp feathers to get them back into their normal glorious shape, here gently rubbing her crest on the branch. She was her normal chipper self even if the wet weather seemed to have thrown her a little off her game. I wonder how she felt the next day when it snowed.

Remind Me Where I Live Again?

Melting snow sits on the pleats of a saguaro in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 25, 2021. Original: _CAM9141.arw

On Monday my wife texted me a picture of our snow-covered backyard. I was supporting a couple of urgent tasks at work and by the time I got home the snow was rapidly melting. I needed to log on to work so didn’t have time to run out for pictures, which was a shame as the mountains looked so lovely dusted in snow. I grabbed a few pictures from the front yard, up top is one of our saguaros and below a barrel cactus. The melt was so rapid that even in the few minutes I was taking pictures our short steep driveway went from a slick surface I had to walk slowly on to one I could descend without worry. I’m so thankful I got to see it before it melted, even if not in its full glory, snow is not exactly a common sight in the desert.

An overhead view of melting snow atop a compass barrel cactus in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 25, 2021. Original: _CAM9217.arw

More Than Skin Deep

A close-up view of the damage to one of the arms of a saguaro I call the Green Elephant on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 17, 2020. Originals: _RAC6567.arw to _RAC6570.arw

My favorite view of the Elephant is looking west but the best view of the recent damage to her arms is with a telephoto looking east. Everything about her is beautiful, even her scars, they remind me of grizzly carvings in the trees of Yellowstone. I’m not worried she’s going to die, I make all my favorite saguaros sign legally-binding contracts stating they’ll outlive me. I wouldn’t ordinarily, you can find yourself in a real monkey’s paw situation since there’s an obvious way for them to guarantee it, but a saguaro is one of those rare creatures you can trust unconditionally. If a day comes when she can’t keep her promise, if a day comes when she breaks my heart, I’ll be thankful for the times our paths crossed and how far I carried her in my heart when we parted.

Boo’s New Friends

A javelina eats in our front yard on December 27, 2020. Original: _RAC2559.arw

My wife and I isolated during the holidays but we did end up hosting a hungry family a couple of days after Christmas. I heard some grunting when I stepped outside and looked up to see a family of javelina scattered about the yard. I went back into my office for my camera and telephoto lens (they are tolerant, not tame) and saw Boo was in my office. I put him onto the window seat as some of the family walked right below it and he was mesmerized, I think it was his first time seeing them. I felt sorry for the one that must have wandered too close to a teddy bear cholla although the prickers didn’t seem to bother it.

A family of javelina eats in our front yard on December 27, 2020. Original: _RAC2592.arw

Tosche Station

The moon sets over a building near the 114th Street entrance to McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 30, 2020. Original: _CAM8649.arw

The moon sets over Tosche Station, I was supposed to meet my friend Luke here to pick up some power converters but he had a couple of new droids to take care of. I forget what this building actually is, I think it’s a utility building of some sort, but it reminds me of Star Wars and thus makes me smile. It sits at one of the neighborhood entrances to the preserve, closest to my favorite saguaro, there’s no parking here but we live close enough that my wife can drop me off when she’s available. That saves me some time hiking over from Brown’s Ranch, while I love that section of the trail it lowers the probability of me getting seduced by woodpeckers.

I’ve been meaning to photograph it for a while, I almost did the other morning when the entire scene was bathed in red but I wanted to get out to the saguaro (which was bathed in pink when I arrived). I couldn’t resist a quick shot a few days later as the moon set, I only took the one as I wanted to see if I could include the moon in a scene with the saguaro and since the moon wasn’t standing still, neither could I.

A Quiet Beginning

Granite Mountain framed by saguaros in the soft light before sunrise on the interpretative trail at Fraesfield in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 31, 2020. Original: _CAM8703.arw

Granite Mountain to the north in the soft light as New Year’s Eve dawned, even as clouds in the east and west began to catch fire. I have a fondness for the subtlety of this first shot of the day, the year ending meant my vacation soon would too, along with the daily hikes it afforded. These quiet moments never last long, the day always rushes in behind.