I stood at sunrise beside one of my favorite saguaros, here with the top of the sun just tipping over the mountains and starting to bathe the desert in its red light. I don’t often remember to take self-portraits, especially not during such beautiful light that lasts literal seconds, but the composition was so close to what I was taking anyway that I couldn’t resist a quick one as a celebration of being back in this amazing place. Since I’ve had to go into work throughout the pandemic I stayed off the trails at first until the process of transmission was better understood, and now try to avoid the popular trails and wear a mask if it gets crowded (it wasn’t at this early hour, I slipped it on for the picture). This mask is from Tom Bihn, they are easy to slip on and off and quite comfortable to boot (plus they donate one for every one you buy). There’s also a free pattern if you want to make them yourself.
The backpack is from Tom Bihn as well (it’s the Guide’s Pack), it’s been on somewhere around 170 hikes with me in the desert the past couple of years, at this time of year mostly just loaded with a safety kit, medicine, trekking poles, snacks, and gobs and gobs and gobs of Gatorade. In late May this early in the morning there is just enough cool air left in the desert for long sleeves but the time is rapidly approaching when even I switch to short sleeves.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.