This Too Is Arizona

My rain-soaked Tom Bihn The Guide's Pack sits beside the back wheel of my 2013 Subaru Crosstrek at Cave Creek Regional Park in December 2019

My rain-soaked Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack waits to be loaded into my Subaru Crosstrek after hiking in the rain for a few hours in late December, a scene that seems more apropos to my former home in Oregon than my current home in Arizona. I may seek out a rain cover at some point but for now I still pack it the way I did in Oregon, everything inside that needs to be protected from the wet gets stored in plastic bags, as the pack shucks off lighter rains without issue and I like easy access to water and food and clothes. I have rain gear from my time in the Northwest so funnily enough I was drier after this hike than many others (apart from my hands, my gloves aren’t waterproof) since I wasn’t sweating in the cool weather.

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.

My Porch Buddy

Our dog Ellie sleeps on the concrete beside her dog bed on our porch at our house in Scottsdale, Arizona in April 2019

We developed a ritual, the pup and I, during our year in Arizona. I’d go hiking in the morning on my days off and when I got back I’d heat up a breakfast sandwich, grab my laptop bag, and we’d go out onto the porch for a little rest & relaxation as I wrote in my hiking journal about my experiences that morning. Ellie would eagerly watch me eat as I always gave her a little bit of cheese and egg and bacon/sausage at the end. Only a sliver as her kidneys couldn’t take too much protein but she always appreciated the gesture. After she died it became hard to continue the ritual, I forced myself out onto the porch at first but it took longer before I could eat a breakfast sandwich, even now it is a little difficult sometimes. Because she was deaf in her senior years I could sometimes sneak past her when I got home from the hike so I could wake her when my hands were free and I could help her up, for I knew as soon as I started heating the sandwich she’d wake as nothing got past that nose.

Also, as you can see from this picture and the previous one, though we got her these shoes to help her get up and move about the house, the pup was pretty good about getting out of them so you’d find them scattered about the house once she woke up.

Semi-Retired

A close-up of our dog Ellie sleeping beside my Tom Bihn ID laptop bag on our porch at our new house in March 2019

I took this picture a week after we moved to the new house with the intention of it being a light-hearted post about how, like many in Arizona, my laptop bag was living a semi-retired life. I drive to work now and don’t need my laptop there so I no longer sling the bag over my shoulder each day as I used to in Portland when I walked to the train. Instead it keeps my stuff organized beside my couch during the week and on the weekends joined Ellie and I as we went out on the porch after my morning hike. The bag holds my 15″ MacBook Pro, my iPad, my hiking journal, my pens, my headphones, and some field guides as I learn about Arizona’s plants & animals. I held off on posting it, partially because I was so busy and partially because Ellie’s health was declining. Now though it’s a nice reminder of our good times together even as her time was running out.

The Mocking Spot

A view of my photography and hiking gear where I photographed a mockingbird near a mushroom along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

A peek behind the scenes at my setup as I photographed a mockingbird doing its ritual dance this spring, it would perch on a large rock betwixt me and the hillside. I photographed from two locations on three successive mornings right around sunrise, twice from this spot beside the mushroom and once just a bit to the right on the other side of the palo verde. On this morning a thrasher flew in and the mockingbird left off its dance right as the sun started to clear the mountains and bathe the desert in soft red light, so in the quiet moment before the mocker returned I stepped back and took a picture of my gear with my iPhone. You can see the large crack at the base of the mushroom, some day it will fall over but on these mornings it was a steadfast companion as we listened to the mockingbird sing. This mushroom holds the xenolith I photographed back in December, it’s down in the corner behind my backpack. The sign describing it is just to the left, taken on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Second

My Tom Bihn Guide's Pack backpack with my tripod underneath sits on quartz rocks on the Quartz Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

A week ago I went to a trail near what I expected was going to be my second choice in houses to help cement my opinion. I went further than I’ve gone before, continuing on to the Quartz Trail and wandering up to this outcropping of quartz that looks out over Scottsdale. I had a fun morning and confirmed the other house was my first choice but also that I’d be happy living in the second if we didn’t get the first.

Tom and Nik and I

My Tom Bihn Nik's Minimalist Wallet sits on top of my dusty Tom Bihn Guide's Pack

I had been looking to get a smaller wallet so when I saw the colorful designs of the new Tom Bihn wallets, Nik’s Minimalist Wallet, I ordered one in the color of Island in 210 ballistic. I chose design number 4 with the outside pocket and the little webbing loop at the top. I love it, it carries my essentials and is much less obtrusive in my back pocket than the old leather wallet I’ve had for many years. I usually carry it in my back pocket but sometimes I like to clip it into a bag using the loop. During the week I keep a credit card and my cafeteria rewards card in the outside pocket for easy access during lunch at work, and on days I have to stop for gas I’ll put the gas rewards card in that pocket too.

A photo of some of my Tom Bihn gear on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

During a water break on a recent hike I photographed the wallet along with a couple of new buckle straps for securing my tripod to the bottom of my backpack (the Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack). I have been using some simpler lash straps without the buckle and thought I’d try the buckle straps to see if it makes it a little quicker to attach and detach the tripod. I’ll let my summer self decide, it’s his heat-addled brain at the end of a hike that I’m thinking of, so far my winter self has been happy with both designs.

A closer photo of some of my Tom Bihn gear on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

This spot is on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve, I discovered the trail last month and immediately fell in love and have hiked it a number of times since. The sign marks the boundary to an adjacent county park and has been a good spot for bird-watching, I’ve gotten close photos of phainopepla, white-crowned sparrows, mockingbirds, and curve-billed thrashers in the past few weeks. When I decide to head back to the car, the camera goes into my camera bag and I swap the tripod for my trekking poles that otherwise are folded up inside the main bag compartment.

The Tom Bihn Nik's Minimalist Wallet compared to a saguaro

The specs of the little wallet are available on the Tom Bihn website but sometimes I feel photos give a better sense of size than numbers. Here, taken in the area of the landslide itself, you can see the wallet is about as tall as a saguaro cactus. I’d guess this specimen was about 30 feet tall but I’m not good at estimating distances, so take that with a grain of salt.

The Tom Bihn Nik's Minimalist Wallet compared to a massive rock formation know as Tom's Thumb

As another example, you can see the wallet is about the same size as Tom’s Thumb, a massive rock formation on the nearby Tom’s Thumb Trail. And yet somehow the wallet still fits in my pocket with minimal thickness and weight. Not sure how that works, but I love the wallet and highly recommend it.