So, So Early

A white-winged dove perches on unripened fruit atop a saguaro at dawn on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

By late June it isn’t just the air that’s hot as even the ground radiates heat back at you before the sun is even up. That sunrise comes frightfully early but the desert is amazing as it wakes so for me deciding whether to get up or sleep in on my days off becomes a delicate act of balancing mental and physical exhaustion. The white-winged doves had been hiding from me last June but suddenly exploded into view one weekend when one seemed to adorn every saguaro. I met this adult in the blue light of dawn, the sun not yet peeking over the eastern mountains. Although the fruits upon which it perched were not yet ripe, the fresh pulp on its beak and forehead suggested that it had already breakfasted at nearby saguaros. My watch read 5:28 am, I had arrived at the park around 4:55 am, up before 4:30 am. Somewhere in Virginia my 20-year old self just had a heart attack hearing this, would someone check on him please? Only wait until after 1 pm and knock softly, just in case he’s still sleeping.

Defenders of the Landslide

A rock formation I call the Guariand and an old saguaro stand above the Marcus Landslide Trail at sunrise in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

Two of the giant protectors of the Marcus Landslide Trail watch over me at sunrise, in the distance on the hill on the left the rock I call The Guardian, closer to me on the right an old if less ancient saguaro. I love this trail but haven’t been in a while, while I’d like to rectify that I’ve been too tired for any early hikes the past couple of weeks.

Blooming Ocotillos

An ash-throated flycatcher perches on the tip of a blooming ocotillo on the Latigo Trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

When we first moved to Arizona I instantly fell in love with ocotillos, their long thin arms spiraling into the sky. Their tips usually bloom with an explosion of reds and yellows and oranges although sometimes it’s a more subtle mix of browns and grays and whites with a splash of rufous.

Nursery of the Spines

A close-up view of water dripping from the tip of a saguaro arm on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in December 2019

Another horizontal saguaro arm in the rain but this one is thriving, it just grew out rather than up. At the tip you can see where new spines will very, very slowly emerge, protected at the base by soft white material (which is what this cactus wren was gleefully ripping out for its nest).

Water Channels

On a rainy Christmas morning water pools up between the pleats of the arm of a fallen saguaro, taken on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

On a rainy Christmas morning I smiled as water pooled between the pleats of a saguaro, mimicking on the outside how I imagined as a child the water was stored on the inside. But it was a sad occasion too as the normally vertical arm was now horizontal, the old giant having fallen over and died, the green and the chlorophyll fading. They may grow slowly but they fall just as quickly as everything else, a gentle reminder that in this life even the mightiest are eventually humbled. On a brighter note it did make me laugh as I was shooting with a new lens and it always seems I test out new gear in the rain. Not a deliberate choice, rather that I love the rain and used to live in a place with an abundance of it. In this case it was a combination of me taking advantage of holiday sales to purchase a newly announced lens that instantly became a workhorse, timed up with some time off and some winter rains.

Lines & Circles

Rain drops collect at the ends of horizontal spines on a teddy bear cholla on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

Water drops collect on the horizontal spines of a teddy bear cholla. It’s rained off and on the past couple of weeks but sadly it’s been off on the days I have been too. On Christmas morning however I woke to the sound of raindrops on the rooftops so I grabbed my rain gear and a new lens and spent a lovely morning in the desert.

This Is My Mountain & I Have Climbed It

A male Gambels' quail looks out from atop a xenolith in a granite boulder on the Cholla Mountain Loop Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

A xenolith provides a handy perch for a Gambel’s quail to survey the surrounding desert. This xenolith has tricked me many times as at a distance it looks like it could be a spiny lizard sunning on the boulder, and even though I know better I often can’t help from looking through the long lens, just to be sure. It’s not an entirely bad instinct, it’s how one day I went back for a second look and turned a cactus into a bobcat.