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.

The Green Elephant

A saguaro I call the Green Elephant just before sunrise on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

I never expected to see a Sonoran elephant but there she was, standing still with the sun about to rise. Smaller than her African cousins and without the trademark flappy ears, hers were long and rounded like her legs and trunk, swirling into the sky. I barely dared breathe for fear of startling her but she welcomed me and together we admired the rising sun. I like to think she gets up every morning before the others stir to stand there in quiet worship and the question is not so much will she be there, but will I.

A saguaro I call the Green Elephant just after sunrise on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

Dressed in Orange

A mule deer doe and her fawn graze in the desert scrub in the first light of the day along the Watershed Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

The first light of day filtered through the desert scrub, bathing a doe and her two fawns in orange light. I too was dressed in orange, my jacket a holdover from my time in Oregon when I walked to the train station and needed every advantage to be seen by drivers who weren’t looking for me. I stick out like a sore thumb in the desert and have thought about replacing it with something less distracting, but for the moment I’ve held off as it does make me more visible both from a distance and a glance to the cyclists I share the trails with.

Though she’s looking at me for eternity in this picture, the doe paid me little heed as I stood quietly and watched the trio graze as the sun rose. Suddenly to my right a young buck and doe crossed the trail and I stopped taking pictures for a while, obviously I was rather visible but I didn’t want to make any noise as the mother doe was slightly nervous at the new arrivals. She relaxed when the two showed no aggression and they all breakfasted together, coming in and out of view through the shrubs and trees and cacti, when suddenly they bolted and disappeared from view. I soon heard why as two cyclists came riding up the trail, we said our good mornings and they too disappeared from view. A lovely quiet morning on the Watershed Trail.

Ring of Fire

A ray of light illuminates the red crest of the silhouetted form of a ladder-backed woodpecker perched in a tree on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

There is a species of woodpecker in the desert I’ve glimpsed so briefly that it wasn’t until two months ago I could put a name to its face. After seeing them a few times recently I decided Sunday morning to try for a picture in the early light, heading to the one section of the one trail where I’ve seen them. The sun was just cresting the mountains, not yet illuminating the desert floor, when I stopped in my tracks as a ring of fire flashed atop the silhouetted form before me, a ray of light illuminating the red crest of a ladder-backed woodpecker.

Shivers

A saguaro with wavy pleats stands next to two normal saguaros at sunrise on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

We’ve had a string of nights recently with temperatures near freezing, so since I get cold easily I wore one more layer than normal, stripping off layers as the morning advanced and the air warmed. I felt for this poor saguaro seemingly shivering in the cold as the sun rose, it probably didn’t help that its friends to the left and right didn’t seem to mind the winter weather. I don’t know what causes them to grow like this but I confess the oddballs are my favorites.

A Quiet Morning

Orange clouds hover above the Four Peaks before sunrise, taken from the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2020

Exhausted, I turned off my alarm before bed yet I woke early filled with existential dread for the state of the world. I got up and waited to see if I would get sleepy again, but since I didn’t I decided to surround myself with beauty and went out for a hike. Not up for a long drive I initially decided to hit a favorite trail at Brown’s Ranch but went to the Marcus Landslide instead when I saw clouds in the east. My reward as I started down the trail was this view of the Four Peaks before sunrise. Saw plenty of birds, got some good exercise, then came home where a freshly made breakfast sandwich was waiting courtesy of my wife. I shared the last bit of bacon with Boo before the two of us curled up for a long nap.