Many years ago in Oregon I was reading about someone who visited one of the American deserts and so fell in love they moved there and never left, and I thought “How do you fall in love with sand?” I wonder how much of my photography in the desert is a love letter to that past self, gently poking fun at his complete and utter ignorance of the desert but also deeply thankful that when it became apparent he was going to have to leave the place he never wanted to leave, he kept an open mind and found not just a new home but a new love.
This trail is in not just my favorite part of the preserve but one of my favorite places anywhere. In December 2021 I was taking environmental portraits of phainopepla and as sometimes happens, took my favorite late in the day while hiking out. I saw the male atop a crucifixion thorn in front of the Four Peaks, the late light starting to cloak them in their purple mountains majesty, near an old saguaro replete with woodpecker holes, and couldn’t resist a quick shot before continuing towards my exit.
I wasn’t ready for summer to end but a consolation prize was the arrival of one of my favorite winter residents, phainopepla. This female turned the blue skies a little gray, in a happy way, as these cheery red-eyed flycatchers are frequent companions on hikes and dog walks.
One of my favorite moments is when the rising sun first sweeps its light across the desert. I’ve played around with different ways of photographing it on days off when I manage to get up before sunrise, which is rare these days. I love simple scenes and when we moved here made a mental note to photograph this one next to the trailhead, only to realize the other day I had never done it. I thought I’d prefer the scene when it was more strongly lit but my favorite three images were over a 40 second span when the rising sun just fell upon the boulder and tree and left the foreground in shadow. At the moment this is my favorite of those three.
Early on a spring morning before my hiking came to a screeching halt, I saw a great horned owl sleeping in a palo verde on my favorite trail. I knew I’d have a better look a little further up but as the trail undulated up the hill my view of the owl was blocked and when I popped out in the spot where I expected to see it again, I could find no owl.
They fly silently but I thought it unlikely it left its perch given its sleepy mood, so I backtracked down to where I first spotted it and immediately relocated it. Back I went up the hill and once more the owl disappeared. This repeated a few times until I was finally able to not only relocate the owl but place it as I had hoped, with saguaros in the background. Thankfully only the owl was witness to my ineptitude and if it noticed it didn’t feel the need to rub it in.
I was up before sunrise, though not as early as I would have liked, I blame the orange tabby who when he heard me stirring curled up under my chin and started purring. As I finally rolled out of bed and left for my hike I brought my macro lens for a shot I hoped to take, overly optimistic given the predicted winds, and as soon as I stepped out of the car I realized my folly. Changing plans I instead visited trails that by now feel like old friends, just happy to be out in the desert as the sun rose. Halfway in I met if not an old friend then a fast one, perched on a dead tree in the early light.
Meeting her took some of the sting out of later walking past my favorite saguaro and seeing fresh damage on some of her arms, and near the end of the hike passing a dead tree I had photographed before that had broken and fallen over.
As the butterfly turned and spread its wings into the light of the rising sun, I could see how its wings resembled fallen leaves with uneven edges and transparent sections that mimic areas that have rotted away leaving only the veins. The disguise might be more effective in the forest than the desert where the leaves tend to be rather tiny.
To whoever named this beautiful butterfly, I don’t know, isn’t the name a little too on the nose?
As I descended Mount Washburn on my last hike on the last day of my trip to Yellowstone in the fall of 2011, I met this black bear feasting on pine cones up in a tree beside the trail, the bear and I at eye level courtesy of the steep hillside. The bear was relaxed and hardly anyone passed by in the late afternoon so I sat down and spent a blissful hour watching it fatten up for the winter. At last it ambled down the tree and waddled off into the forest and I continued down to my ever faithful Subaru to start the long journey home. I couldn’t have known then it would be my last hike in this wonderful park, and as I recall my last bear sighting as well. At least I went out on a high note!
A male ladder-backed woodpecker clings to a dead tree on a cloudy morning in the Sonoran Desert, a little tribute to the overcast of the Northwest with a bird of the Southwest from someone lucky enough to have called both home. Not much later he and his mate pulled the ol’ switcheroo, when I wasn’t looking he flew off and she flew in but I didn’t notice the change at first. Taken in March of 2020, turned out to be my first sighting of the female, the male I had seen before.
One of our neighborhood cardinals singing on a sunny spring morning.