Nursery of the Spines

A close-up view of water dripping from the tip of a saguaro arm on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in December 2019

Another horizontal saguaro arm in the rain but this one is thriving, it just grew out rather than up. At the tip you can see where new spines will very, very slowly emerge, protected at the base by soft white material (which is what this cactus wren was gleefully ripping out for its nest).

Water Channels

On a rainy Christmas morning water pools up between the pleats of the arm of a fallen saguaro, taken on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

On a rainy Christmas morning I smiled as water pooled between the pleats of a saguaro, mimicking on the outside how I imagined as a child the water was stored on the inside. But it was a sad occasion too as the normally vertical arm was now horizontal, the old giant having fallen over and died, the green and the chlorophyll fading. They may grow slowly but they fall just as quickly as everything else, a gentle reminder that in this life even the mightiest are eventually humbled. On a brighter note it did make me laugh as I was shooting with a new lens and it always seems I test out new gear in the rain. Not a deliberate choice, rather that I love the rain and used to live in a place with an abundance of it. In this case it was a combination of me taking advantage of holiday sales to purchase a newly announced lens that instantly became a workhorse, timed up with some time off and some winter rains.

Lines & Circles

Rain drops collect at the ends of horizontal spines on a teddy bear cholla on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

Water drops collect on the horizontal spines of a teddy bear cholla. It’s rained off and on the past couple of weeks but sadly it’s been off on the days I have been too. On Christmas morning however I woke to the sound of raindrops on the rooftops so I grabbed my rain gear and a new lens and spent a lovely morning in the desert.

Baby Steps

A look down at one of my Merrell waterproof hiking shoes as I stand next to the water of Cave Creek on the Spur Cross Trail at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek, Arizona in January 2020

For a while now I haven’t ventured out to parks I haven’t visited a number of times, partly because I like getting to know an area over time but also because I was trying to limit the number of new things in my life after a couple of years of significant change. I took a few days off at Christmas and decided to take some baby steps with my free time, finally visiting a couple of county parks I hadn’t been to yet and getting an annual pass. One park was the babiest of steps as I accessed it from a trail I hike all the time. I was back at work the next week but had New Year’s Day off, planning to sleep in and be well rested for the remainder of the work week. However as has happened multiple times recently, I woke up early and couldn’t get to sleep so I headed up to visit a third county park near here, Spur Cross Ranch.

I could hardly believe my eyes but for the first time since I left Oregon I saw running water on the trails! I first crossed Cottonwood Creek, which was such a trickle I hopped over it, but Cave Creek was flowing like an honest-to-goodness creek. I decided to commemorate the occasion with a picture of my hiking shoe next to the water, a rather poignant moment for me as I bought these waterproof shoes right before my team got laid off a couple of years ago and thus never had a chance to use them in the wet of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve worn them on occasion here but they have been in regular use this winter and did great on a couple of recent hikes where it poured rain.

Some reminders of my former home in my new home, I’ve been beyond blessed to be able to live in such beautiful places.

Weather Patterns

Ice and muddy water fill depressions in the Rock Knob Trail made by bike tires after heavy rains in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

A week’s worth of weather in one picture. Rain turned the soft parts of the trail to mud that deformed under bike tires. More rain filled the depressions with water. Yesterday dawned cold and the water turned to ice, which either took on the color of the muddy water below or reflected the blue skies above.

Soft and Sharp

The needles of a saguaro are damp with rain on the Cholla Mountain Loop Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2018

Last year in one glance on a spring morning I was reminded of my former home of two decades and my new home of two months. The softest of rains fell on the desert, reminding me of the gentle winter rains of the Pacific Northwest. The raindrops collected on the sharp spines of the saguaro, giants in this intoxicating desert that have drawn me out time and time again. I’ve long since grown accustomed to seeing saguaros but may I never tire of them or take them for granted.

Not So Close

A male bighorn sheep stands on a boulder and grazes from a bush beside a river in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in July 2004

This is a wider shot of the bighorn sheep I posted a while ago, the telephoto shot made it look like I was rather close but not only was I a ways away beside the road, there was a river between us. He came down the cliff behind him to graze at the river’s edge then went back up the cliff. From my trip to Yellowstone in 2004.

Dew Blue

A male blue-winged teal looks out from dew-tipped grasses at Horse Lake in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

Green-winged and cinnamon teal were easy to see at Ridgefield but not so the blue-wings, so it was a special treat to find this lovely fellow in the dew-topped grasses growing in Horse Lake early on a spring morning in 2011. I spent the day at the little refuge, arriving at 6:30am and leaving at 5:30pm.