Remarkable Red

A male house finch perches on a chain fruit cholla at sunrise on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I arrived before sunrise to get into place to photograph this chain fruit cholla at first light. As the sun crested the mountains clouds in the east slightly softened the light just as a male house finch flew onto the cholla. I have been surprised by so many things in the desert it’s hard to say what has surprised me most but the finches are near the top of the list. These are the same finches that fed year round at our feeders in Portland yet they also thrive in the desert. When I first saw their little groups flying around I assumed they could only survive near subdivisions but then I noticed them miles out into the desert, like this lovely little fellow on a winter morning.

The Other Side of the Guardian

A rock formation sits before orange clouds at sunrise along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I didn’t want to get up this morning but with high clouds forecast I thought it might make for an interesting sunrise. I headed to the Marcus Landslide Trail to photograph the rock formation I call The Guardian but as I started down the trail I realized the best light was going to be in the opposite direction than I had planned. I stopped and switched lenses and took this shot before continuing down the trail. It was only the start of what turned out to be a wonderful morning.

A Lovely Beginning at the End

The sun begins to fall on a foothill palo verde tree in front of Brown's Mountain on Brown's Ranch Road in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

The forecast for New Year’s Eve called for clouds in the morning and rain in the afternoon. The night before I debated about where I wanted to go in case there was a colorful sunrise, trying to choose between one location at Brown’s Ranch and another at Marcus Landslide, waiting until morning to make my choice. I fell in love with Brown’s Ranch on my first visit after we moved here and have wanted to photograph this palo verde in front of Brown’s Mountain for some time, so that was where I decided to end the year.

I arrived in plenty of time to hike to the tree before sunrise and as I waited in the cold I saw the most amazing sunrise taking place behind me, high clouds in the eastern sky lit the most intense pink. I wasn’t in a place to photograph the sunrise itself so I drank in the moment and hoped for the best for the scene I had in mind. I have long enjoyed photographing morning arriving at my favorite locations and like to leave part of the scene still in shadow, for this picture I hoped to catch the mountains and palo verde in the early light with the surrounding desert scrub still in shadow.

Low clouds soon began blocking the rising sun as it started to illuminate different parts of the park, one minute there’d be dynamic light and the next none at all, my hopes rising and falling with the light. Dark clouds rolled in behind the mountain, not the clouds that would soon bring much needed rain to the desert but perhaps a portent of what was to come. Suddenly the light broke through, for a moment, and I had my picture before clouds blocked the sun once more, the dark clouds before me moved past, and I continued on my way. Up to the Vaquero Trail, to scope out another scene for another morning.

A lovely start to the end of the year. I was sick in the afternoon and decided not to risk going out this morning despite being up early, so the new year begins more quietly with my loved ones at home, before I head back to work tomorrow.

Merry Christmas

A rock formation resembling a smiling face looks out over the desert at sunrise on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I call this rock formation the Guardian of the Desert, I love how it smiles while looking out over the desert valley. It reminds me of the moai on Easter Island, though this statue was not carved by human hands. I spent this Christmas morning on the trails but the picture is from a month ago, taken at first light on a lovely morning in the Sonoran Desert.

Purple Mountain Majesties

The rising sun casts long shadows across the mountains in front of Weaver's Needle, taken from the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The sun rises to the left of Weaver’s Needle, casting long shadows across the mountains. It was a delightful morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail, I had gone for one particular shot at sunrise but couldn’t resist this quick shot of the distant mountains. The phainopepla were out in abundance along with other birds, just a lovely morning in the desert.

I Finally Found a Mushroom I Like

A close-up view of Mushroom Rock on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

While I believe mushrooms belong in the Mount Rushmore of Disgusting Foods along with green beans, quinoa, and brown rice, this mushroom I like! Weathered granite formations like Mushroom Rock are created by erosion, the granite pebbles that break away spread across the surface of the desert (my shins had an unpleasant introduction to these pebbles early on after we moved here when I slipped just a little on a hike).