Black Canyon Trail north from Emery Henderson Trail-head

Sunday morning, November first of this present year, eight minutes into the hike…the desert looked like…well, the desert as I have come to know it.  This stretch of the Sonora Desert has become rather familiar.  I’ve been on this trail eight times now and have covered more than 40 of its 70-plus miles…and this stretch is the furthest south that I have been.  There might be still one more track south of this trail-head, but being familiar with the area south of here, I doubt that I’ll head in that direction.

Black Canyon Trail heading north from Emery Henderson Trail-head

The early twists and turns of the trail, and the crossing and re-crossing of dry water-ways or creek-beds had brought me up a slight rise and pressed on toward a flatter plain that would soon give way to other and more declivities and inclines as I progressed northward.  I had seen this particular Saguaro from further back and wondered if the trail would take me anywhere near it.  If one were “looking for a sign” when lost out here in this desert wild, that someone might be tempted to view this as some kind of guide, or not….  I found it to be a significant landmark that, when coming from the other direction a few hours later, told me that I was very close to the end of my excursion.

Pointing Saguaro

I’ve seen mistletoe several times, but don’t know that I’ve ever posted any images of it.  Here it is in it’s context…

Desert mistletoe in Palo Verde tree

…and here it is again, but in a closer view.

Desert mistletoe close-up

The living and the dead of the eternal desert….

Ocotillo and Cholla cacti with desert tree skeleton and desert hills

An old-school trail marker, faded by severe summer suns….

Old-school trail marker

The trail was actually quite a bit lower than the surrounding desert in the below photo.  I thought it provided a nice shrub-height perspective.

Line of sight - eye level with Creosote and Saguaro cacti

I thought there would be more to this section of the trail than there actually was.  I came to the end much sooner than I thought I would and then stood there mid-trail thinking, “Is that all…really?”  It felt much too early to head back to the truck and I wasn’t inclined to marching further on the already familiar track, so I headed off-trail to explore a couple of the minor peaks in the area.  After reaching the top of one, I turned north and found a pleasant-enough view of the desert beyond…the trail toward the middle of the image is the one that would take me up toward the trail-head at Table Mesa Road.

Elevated perspective - desert hills panorama

I’m still adjusting to this desert hiking and have to admit that I’m sometimes disappointed in the landscapes and panoramas…sometimes they seem so featureless…or plain….  Someone once said that it’s not what we look at, but what we see that’s important…so I press myself to look more closely in my search for beauty out here…I try to look at things with a fascinated, scientific mind sometimes, framing things within contexts of what I’ve read and learned about this type of landscape.

Enchanted canyon - desert lichen

And when looking much closer, I find cliffs and canyons covered in lichen….not literal cliffs and canyons, of course, but ground-level rocks that are covered in the moisture-dependent and fragile, yet enduring yellow lichen that appears with more frequency than one would expect out here.

Ocotillo cactus and desert hills

I notice, too, the varieties of plant life and the slope and angles of the land as it rises and falls in its relationship with, among other things, the comings and goings of water, the sculpting that occurs from the drainage and collecting of its seasonal rains…and then I wonder at how it looked when it was born, this volcano-riddled desert…..

Misted desert ridges

From the top of another hill, I looked south and over the desert that pressed against roads and homes and saw the distant ridges that were clothed in the mists of commerce and civilization…smog…and was touched by the irony of this kind of “beauty” being the result of something so inherently unappealing.

Desert hillside grasses and Jojoba

When I was taking a biology class in college several years ago, one of our assignments was to conduct a field study or observation of the plants growing on one slope and compare them with the vegetation found living on an opposite hillside.  I had recollections of that experience when I was climbing the hill in the above image.  I had just been on a different slope that was only dirt and rock with very little of anything growing there and no evidence of animal-life, and then visited this particular slope that was covered with wild grasses and Jojoba shrubs, desert trees and cacti, and had wild burro and rabbit droppings, as well as lizards and chipmunk/squirrel type creatures scurrying about….what a difference there was to be seen in the opposite extremes of the lay of the land……when looking closer.

Desert density - view through a tree

I don’t know the name of the tree in the above image, but it provided an uncommon and inviting shade as I was descending the last hilltop of my afternoon explorations.

Classic Sonora Desert perspective

And lastly, an image that presents the contrast of near and far in the Arizona Sonora Desert…not very compelling when viewed from a distance, in my opinion, but strikingly beautiful and fascinating when experienced up close and personal.

20 responses

  1. Nice . . . and I’m partial to the wide-open spaces.

    December 12, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    • Thanks, Emilio…lots of big sky out here….

      December 20, 2015 at 10:34 am

  2. I loved these photos! I still miss that desert a lot and I’m really happy to see so much of it is still relatively unspoiled by development! I could sure use a few days hiking through there and spending a few nights in some of those washes and canyons. That was home for over 20 years. There’s so much to see there when you look closely and far more animal life than one would imagine until you get used to the land.

    December 12, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    • I’m glad to know that you enjoyed them so much, Terry…I think I might have shared it before, but I do think of you often when I’m out walking those desert trails…trying to see things with your eyes, knowing how fond you are of the place…..

      December 21, 2015 at 7:57 pm

  3. Well, I think it’s gorgeous – it makes sense what you say about it seeming featureless sometimes, and needing to look closely to find the interest. I love the observation about the two slopes – amazing, isn’t it? Makes you wonder, which is what it’s all about, to me. The last image is beautifully composed. That saguaro is hysterical – they’re a never ending font of crazy shapes and forms, so many are so obviously animated. One can’t stop anthropomorphizing them. I like the worn sign, too , and the ocotillo (right?). Are you familiar with Robert Macfarlane? I think you’d enjoy “The Old Ways” by him. I’m reading it now. Happy Sunday!

    December 13, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    • Well…how nice that you think it’s gorgeous, Lynn! And yes, it’s all about making us wonder…appreciating what is different from our other experiences, marveling at the relationships of the plants and animals with the land…. And yes, too, those spindly Ocotillo cacti. I think they’re beautiful.

      I only learned of Robert Macfarlane last week, Lynn…I forget where or who shared his name and the title with me, but that particular book is on the very top of my “to get” list…right above “The Living Mountain,” by Nan Shepherd. I read reviews of Macfarlane’s work and think he has a couple of titles that my outdoor, hill-walking soul needs to read…. Thank you for recommending the book; I hope to be enjoying it soon. 🙂

      December 21, 2015 at 8:06 pm

  4. I’d love to spend a few weeks there. Just studying those amazing lichens would be enough but I’d like to see the mistletoe and those great views too. I never knew that mistletoe grew in the desert.
    I like that old sign!

    December 13, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    • Given what I understand of your fascination/love of the natural world, Allen, I know you’d have a great time out here.

      December 21, 2015 at 8:08 pm

  5. Featureless, a good description of how I felt about the desert. I think that is why most of my photography was macro.


    December 14, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    • And you have some wonderful macro shots, Tamara…. 🙂

      December 21, 2015 at 8:09 pm

  6. LB

    There’s much to learn from this post. Not only what you’ve shared with us, but your honesty in describing what you see and your efforts to REALLY see.
    That last photo is really great, and I loved seeing Mistletoe! I’ve never seen it except in a floral shop.

    December 15, 2015 at 11:10 am

    • Thank you for the kind words, LB….and I do WANT to really see things out here…to be caught-up in the beauty that I know is there…waiting for my soul to be touched by it…..

      December 21, 2015 at 8:11 pm

  7. These pictures are classics of the desert landscape. Truly beautiful. My best wishes to you Scott. May it be a very happy holiday for you and yours.

    December 21, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    • Thank you very much, Shimon…for the kind words and the best wishes. I hope this is a peaceful season for you and your loved ones, as well.

      December 25, 2015 at 12:13 pm

  8. It’s a revelation to walk with you, Scott, in this alien place, and to find it made so intimate by being inside your head….beautiful.

    December 25, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    • What a wonderful comment, John…..thank you. 🙂

      January 2, 2016 at 11:19 am

  9. Oh, I remember seeing (and photgraphing) mistletoe at Queen Creek Canyon when we were climbing there a number of years ago. I had no idea what it was and it sort of boggled my mind how it appeared to attach itself to completely different shrubs and grow strangley from them. I have since learned they are a parasitic plant, so interesting!

    March 19, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    • It is rather fascinating, Karen…magical and wonderful….

      April 5, 2016 at 8:58 pm

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