In Between the Raindrops

Sunrise lights the bottom of clouds above Weaver's Needle, taken on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

After two decades in Oregon Christmas week has felt familiar as it has rained most days. This morning we got a little sunshine in with the clouds so I changed my plans and made my way over to the Marcus Landslide as I break in some new camera gear. Mostly I photographed birds (big surprise!) but I couldn’t resist a quick shot of Weaver’s Needle at sunrise. A little later I stopped in my tracks as a coyote pack sang out from across the valley, without tall trees to block the sound their voices rang clear even at a distance. I had to laugh wondering how many homeowners in that area woke to their dogs joining in the morning chorus.

A Peek Behind the Curtain

My Tom Bihn The Guide's Pack backpack sits on a rock on top of the Marcus Landslide at a scenic overlook on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

A peek behind the curtain at one of my favorite trails near our new home, giving a flavor of why I wanted to move to this location: while the wildlife drew me here, the views are a nice bonus. Photo is from when I stopped for a snack break at a scenic overlook on the Marcus Landslide Trail, I’m up on top of the landslide looking out over the Sonoran Desert. My backpack is Tom Bihn’s The Guide’s Pack, it’s a bit overkill for a short hike like this, someday I might add a smaller pack and choose one based on the trail, but it’s also nice to be able to load the pack the night before and then choose which trail to hike in the morning. There are two to four water bottles in there plus one in my camera bag, depending on the time of year and the length of the hike. While it’s not hot now it is dry (not today, it’s pouring rain) so you still need to carry water in the winter. I start shedding layers as the sun comes up so I like the big open rucksack of the main compartment, I also keep trekking poles in there for longer hikes when I attach the tripod to the bottom of the bag and bring out the poles. There’s a safety kit, headlight, and multitool in one side pocket with water bottles in the other. Snacks go in the top compartment along with medicine and during the winter a spare hat and gloves in case I forget to bring them.

Where I’m standing used to be up in the mountains to my left before it came crashing down in the landslide long ago. The trailhead is two miles straight ahead, going past the hill on the left where you can see the rock formation I call the Guardian where the hill meets the horizon. Our house is in one of the subdivisions off to the west from the trailhead but you can’t see it from here. To my right is a large county park, a ways to the north is the sprawling northern part of the preserve where I also spend a lot of time. The saguaro on the right is about 10 feet tall and isn’t yet growing the iconic arms, they will probably come with time, it’s young yet for a saguaro though probably similar in age to me. In the distance are the mountains that surround and run through the Valley of the Sun, haven’t visited them yet but will in time, perhaps even soon, we’ll see. The picture I posted recently of the white-crowned sparrow in a jojoba was taken a few feet away from this shot on a different day. The singing and dancing mockingbird from this spring was about half a mile or so further up the trail. The towhee I recently posted was also from this trail.

There’s not much elevation change so it’s an easy hike when I don’t want a challenge, and it’s often birdy as well, so with the trailhead only 10 minutes from the house it’s a favorite early morning hike.

Lizard, Milky White

A side view of a molting ornate tree lizard, taken on the Saddlehorn Trail in the Granite Mountain area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2018

When we moved to Arizona I was delighted to find lizards but also a bit baffled at identifying them. On my first visit to the Granite Mountain area I encountered a handful of little lizards in one rock formation on the Saddlehorn Trail but was particularly confused by one that, to my eye, looked milky white. When I brought the telephoto lens to my eye I understood my confusion, the little thing was molting and from some angles the dead skin looked white in the morning sun. I was even more surprised when it ran over to where I was standing, if only we could communicate so I could have offered to help remove the larger tufts. It must feel good when all the dead skin is gone!

An overhead view of a molting ornate tree lizard, taken on the Saddlehorn Trail in the Granite Mountain area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2018

Jojoba

A white-crowned sparrow perches in a jojoba at a scenic overlook on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

Jojoba has wonderful upright leaves and comes in male and female forms (this is a male), the female has a fruit that reminds me of an acorn which reminds me of Ellie. When we were in Portland we had many old oaks in the neighborhood that dropped a multitude of acorns each fall. They smelled like food to Ellie, not enough for her to eat one but enough that she wanted to smell each and every one just to be sure. The pup did not believe in letting food go to waste! The male jojobas don’t fruit although this one sprouted a white-crowned sparrow.

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.