March 1, 2020
8:14 – 8:55 a.m.
White Tank Mountains, Surprise, Arizona, United States
Arizona State Trust Land
One from the archives…November, 2018…looking east along the Walking Jim Trail…Lake Pleasant in the distance…and the rolling desert hills in between here and there.
One minute apart looking in opposite directions….
7:34 am, above; 7:35 am, below
Morning in the desert on State Trust land, just north of the White Tank Mountains in northwest Surprise, Arizona, USA.
It’s been over a month already since I went looking for something new, a local place that contained a bit of wildness, a place that I hoped contained something like wildness, anyway.
I cross a bridge on my way to work every morning that spans a desert river that was a mere stream when I encountered it on January 5th of this year.
At this particular location, the river runs between the Glendale Municipal Airport to the west and the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium to the east….
…so it’s not exactly far away from anything civilized…and one might even suggest that it’s still smack-dab in the middle of it all.
I “had” to hop the fence that you might have noticed in the very first photo above. I wanted to walk and explore along the actual river, so I had to get away from the cemented and fenced bike and walking path. It was only upon my return to the walkway that I noticed the No Trespassing sign with its warning of prosecution, fines, and jail time. Good grief.
Anyway, I found a free-flowing river, of sorts, one that happened to still be alive and moving in the desert. I’m not sure how much of it will still be around come summer, but it was pleasant enough during my few hours out there.
One might consider that the riparian vegetation and bird life was enough to make this something approaching “wild.”
When we look closely we can see microcosms of life beneath the desert trees; we can see the tiny flora that can’t help but enrich the soil of the waterway.
There was an unexpected diversity of riparian trees, bushes, grasses, and other assorted growing stuff along the way.
You may already know of my admiration for dew drops on morning desert grasses….
It was almost easy to forget that I was close to an airport and football stadium when I didn’t look around or hear an aircraft overhead.
There was a feeling of being “away,” as long as I focused on what I could see and not so much on what I could hear.
I’m not sure of the particular variety, but there were many cottonwood trees along the waterway.
And even a fairly grand assortment of bird-life, as well (more to be highlighted in a following post).
Even a richness in the winter-colored ground-cover….
I don’t know what they’re called, but I think they’re fascinating little Japanese lantern type things that I found in only one spot along the river.
After going south and exploring close to a mile along the waterway, I encountered a significantly boggy stretch of ground that would have prevented me from keeping my boots dry if I continued heading in that direction.
So I went back north and past the roadway that I drive every morning, under the overpass, and into another stretch of the riparian wilderness that was more densely packed with trees and reeds and tall wild grasses and other thriving things. I had to skirt quite a bit of the more slowly moving water and take a broader view of the area.
I finally made it close enough to the water and found the above setting; it was almost like being under a forest canopy.
A final image of the New River plant life.
In April of the past year I went trespassing onto State Trust land that lies north and west of the White Tank Mountains.
I have now obtained my permit and can hike, shoot guns, park my truck, camp, get drunk and disorderly, or just otherwise mind my own business out there in the fenced desert of western Maricopa County.
On that first foray, I noticed the barely visible zigzag road on the side of the distant mountainside and purposed to get there someday, sometime, some other not-scorching Arizona morning. Those are clumps of mistletoe hanging/subsisting in the palo verde tree in the below photograph…and creosote/greasewood in the foreground.
So that’s where I went with purpose yesterday morning, back to that formerly trespassed land. My plans for the day had been canceled and I jumped at the opportunity to get out there, to get out into the out-of-doors that lies just northwest of the town where I reside…to get into the literal desert just out there and beyond.
I’ve mentioned in the past how I find much of the desert so unappealing, especially when viewed from a distance, when all one sees is the rolling or flat or hilly or mountainy landscape or terrain or whatever you might call it…those locations where it just looks like dirt with green fur on it, if there’s even any fur to be seen.
And I’ve said, too, that I have intentionally gone out into the same desert looking for what my inner eye/heart might consider to be beautiful, compelling, possessing of that “something” that would make my mountain/forest loving soul, say, “Yes…it is beautiful out here.”
I have also shared that in order to find those things, I have had to look closer, to find those smaller things that give me pause, that insist upon being captured in images for me to reflect upon later, for me to enjoy.
And so I endeavored….
…to bring back images that were not too bleached-out by the late morning and early afternoon sun…
…to capture what might be a compelling representation of the essence of the lives that inhabit such a landscape…
…photographs that demonstrate what the desert is inside of that bleakness…the rolling fuzzy dirt of our West….
…the persistence of living…
…the evidence of death and decay…
…and the beautiful juxtaposition of harsh and delicate…
…sharp and soft…
…loud and mute…
…and may they be treasured…all.
ADDENDUM: here is a nice link from AZBackcountryExplorers.com that provides helpful information about using State Trust Land.
I was hoping for a second visit to the mesa when I launched out on the venture in May of this year, but there was absolutely no way I was going to make it from this approach. My first visit was in November of 2014 and you can see the images by clicking here. The locations presented in images 4-8 of that earlier post are all under water in this photograph.
We had an unusual amount of rain through the past Winter and Spring, which allowed Lake Pleasant to become fuller than it normally has been…or maybe it could have been as full in the past, but the water management people allowed more of it to flow past the dam…or there’s some better explanation of which I’m not aware.
At any rate, I didn’t make it to the mesa, but I did spend a nice hour or so out in the desert wilderness watching egrets, herons, cormorants, Canada geese, and other water fowl, hunting, fishing, and sailing about in the water on an overcast Arizona morning.
“The resistance to Copernicus, a kind of geocentrism, remains with us: We still talk about the Sun rising and the Sun setting. It is 2,200 years since Aristarchus, and our language still pretends that the earth does not turn.“ – Carl Sagan
Watson Lake is situated in an area known as the Granite Dells…weather-worn remnants from another geologic era. There is another lake a bit to the north and west named Willow Creek Reservoir. I haven’t been there yet, so that’s another Prescott adventure for the future.
The brochure for Watson Lake states that it is four miles northeast from downtown Prescott, Arizona…it is also 98 miles from my driveway in the far northwest valley of metropolitan Phoenix, more precisely, it’s that far to the parking lot for the Peavine Trail…a former rail-bed turned hiking trail that runs along the southern edge of the lake and beyond.
I follow an Arizona hiking page on another social media site and have seen numerous photos or posts about the lake and its very immediate environment. I have not, however, seen any images from the trails that circle the lake, nothing from the greater setting in the Granite Dells…and, actually, nothing beyond intimate photos of water reflected boulders and beautiful sunsets.
The above image is the only one that made it into black and white. The location was in the shadows of the cottonwood and other trees in the southeast corner of the lake, and while it provided great access for longer views while approaching the lake, it was difficult to capture significant color in the immediate area.
My original plan was to hike the majority, if not all, of the Peavine Trail. I understood that it was somewhere between 11 and 12 miles in length, and that was what I wanted…a nice long hike…situated near the lake…close enough to it that I could make some images of my own.
Shortly after passing the above location, I ventured off down one of the shore trails and wandered around looking for photo worthy settings that weren’t too effected by the morning’s sun and shadows. I didn’t have much luck….
So it was back on the Peavine Trail heading northeast again, parallel to the lake…and going away from it.
The lake and surrounding property now belongs to the City of Prescott…literature claims they took possession of it in 1997 in order to protect it and to use it for recreational purposes, etc. In their efforts to make it more user-friendly, they placed weather-protected maps on sign posts along the way informing the hikers where they were in relation to the lake, which trails they could take, distances covered, etc.
When I noticed that I was going to be heading too far away from the lake on one of the trail-side maps, I decided to take the “Over the Hill Trail” back to the greater network of the “loop” trail that essentially circled the lake. Given that much of the trail was over exposed rock and was not discernible as an actual trail, the Parks Department painted white dots on the granite to mark the way. You can see one of the dots to the right and down from the tree in the center of the above image.
The “Over the Hill” trail led down to Granite Creek, which we can see in the lush green toward the bottom of the rocks….
When the Over the Hill trail intersected with the Granite Creek trail, it was initially unclear which way to go…right or left. Heading toward the right led to waist-high grasses and very soggy walking, as the trail through that tall grass was actually under water.
Turning back to the left brings us back to a clear trail, still through tall grass, but alongside the creek, and then (not marked), heading over the metal walking bridge that you can see directly above the tree that is in and over the water.
Another thing that the juncture of the two trails mentioned above brought to me, was the sound of a waterfall…that very particular crashing and rushing of water kind of sound that means water is flowing hard and fast somewhere nearby. As you can see above, it wasn’t exactly a “waterfall,” but is was definitely falling water…hard and fast and loud in the half-circle of the concrete and canyon walls.
This is still a desert, supposedly…high desert…5,000 plus feet in elevation…stream-side…marvelous…wonderful…green….
Exposed granite slabs, rolls, pressings…and I imagine it would be hotter than the blazes with reflected heat on a true mid-summer day…
The first glimpse of the lake after rounding the granite hills…now perched on what is the northwest corner/curve of the reservoir….
The front side of the dam, above….
Heading back down south and west….
A cormorant congress above….
Looking back north and east….
A closer look at the heron in the backwater toward the far south and west…nearing the Discovery Trail….
…and now into the deep cottonwood shadows that we skirted at the beginning of the hike…beautiful shade and cool breezes.
I woke at 4:00 am, drove for two hours, and still arrived an hour or so after sunrise…considered doing the entire shoot in black and white…settled for color, though, as I could change the treatment later…changed the frame to more of a wide angle, similar to that of a large-screened television in format…found that I was disturbed by the breadth and mass of the sky in the viewfinder, actually felt off kilter, but I knew the setting would help for the more panoramic shots that would come later and didn’t want to keep fiddling with the camera…so I changed my point of view and came home with this….
More to follow….
North and east of Lake Pleasant and just inside of the Agua Fria National Monument, trespassing again, in a near marsh-like drainage from the surround of desert hills, I found this unexpected microcosm thriving after the year’s abundance of winter and spring rains….
I wouldn’t bet any vital body parts on it, but I could swear that I heard the guy on the far left whisper that phrase to the person on his immediate left when I asked them out loud if they were all related. Nobody responded…they just looked at me…like I was the ass….
Not to be confused with Desert Vista Hospital where I spent an hour the other day meeting some phone-colleagues (people with whom we frequently speak, but rarely, if ever, meet) and having an interesting conversation with a patient about rich porn stars who eat at the homeless shelter so they can avoid the paparazzi….
Looking northeast from the White Tank Mountains on a past October morning…worlds away from the above-mentioned hospital….
The morning started with the alarm and coffee and then a neighborhood street that led to Bell Road, to the Sonoran Desert Parkway, to Lake Pleasant Parkway, to the Carefree Highway and west past Lake Pleasant, then to Castle Hot Springs Road, and finally, five miles north to a trail-head in a parking lot that has been re-fenced with silver wire that is new against the morning, untarnished and unvarnished with desert sun and windblown sand, unrusted in the elements, bright and confining, restricting of early hikers looking for familiar portals that ride now in memory alone.
Common and uncommon things mix in a November sunrise.
Somewhere between light enough and yet not enough…we see destinations unfolding with the trail…like the white caps on the tips of the many saguaros’ arms with their densely packed and unfolding new spines…things to come.
One of many crossings of Cottonwood Creek…a familiar place with wild burros, great horned owls, and collared peccaries….
and lying on the desert floor, looking east…and finding that “distant fairyland of wonder and bright alarm.”
A creosote frame leaving an aromatic resin on fingertips….
…and the tiny treasures of desert wildflowers….
Still heading west…with the destination in the upper right corner…after many winding turns, hills, valleys, dips, and desert meadows….
A distant spot of white in a green and brown world….
Gaining elevation and looking east…we can see a bit of Lake Pleasant tucked into the haze covered hills…
…and south…faint waves of them…green, purple, blue…white…and gone….
Higher now, more of the lake…and the landmark of Castle Hot Springs Road. You might remember that the haze is from California’s wild fires back in October/November.
The stark contrast of yellow against the greens and browns of the desert is a welcome change…it is even a surprise sometimes.
Walkin’ Jim Trail follows Cottonwood Creek up into the mountains, all the way from Castle Hot Springs Road…when the occasional mis-adventurer loses the trail on the way down the mountain, all he has to do is locate the proper drainage down from that mountain and follow it back into the stream-bed…and back to the parking lot where he started….
There were tadpoles larger than jellybeans in the pools along the way…more desert mysteries…marvels…Sonoran Desert surprises….
An image from early August of the year past…bounty from summer rains…Agua Fria riverbed…muddy crossing of the Black Canyon Trail.
I have lain in morning soaked grass with dandelions prowling rolling hillsides along slow moving mountain city streams and I have lain in the middle of desert trails with camera touching my face and the earth before me; sun has filtered here into the captured realm on her rise and landed prismatically aslant in the tiny orbs of life that have come bidden to the surface of their hosts; a near enough though distant fairyland of wonder and bright alarm.
smoke from california’s november wildfires drifted across the desert and found a temporary home in the sonoran desert north of phoenix…lake pleasant under haze…as seen from the distant end of the walkin’ jim trail
Looking east on the Walkin’ Jim Trail at 7:06 a.m. this Sunday past…five miles north of the Carefree Highway…about half a mile west of Castle Hot Springs Road…which is just west of Lake Pleasant Regional Park, Maricopa County, Arizona.
You might recall from this post, that I went into the White Tank Mountains after an early morning rain so I could specifically see/hear the water running down the various desert mountain waterways. It had rained multiple times in the preceding week and again around three-something on this particular Sunday.
I had a somewhat fanciful goal of hiking the trail until the closest point of divergence that would allow me to “bushwhack” out and beyond that known area to find myself ascending the hill where those antennas were perched in the distance….they looked so close on the map….
It would very likely have taken me another two-plus hours to make it there over hill and over dale…and the dark clouds were coming in quickly with their occasional loosed drops of sky…so I postponed the goal and looked to the immediate landscape and much closer ground for what might be otherwise interesting.
I already shared a post (as mentioned with the link in the first paragraph above) with an image of a closer view of the bejeweled grass, but here’s another one with a bit of a broader view.
The brooding sky and a bit of trail in the foreground….
More foreground trail and the darkening sky above the antennas in the distance….
I know I’ve shared images of the Sonoran Desert’s cholla cactus in the past…probably numerous times…but it’s something that cannot be ignored when I’m out hiking, and no matter how many photos I seem to make, there’s something so strikingly individual about them that I’m compelled to share them again.
The cool, damp weather brought out a couple more “firsts” for me and my desert hiking adventures: a tarantula and baby frog on the trail in the White Tank Mountains.
And lastly, low clouds over the mountains partially obscured the towers just north of Barry Goldwater Peak at 4,083 feet in elevation.
Thank you again for visiting…I hope you enjoyed this little foray into the White Tank Mountains just west of Phoenix, Arizona.
“Who can withstand the recondite wisdom and sonorous silence of wildness?”**
**Terry Tempest Williams in An Unspoken Hunger.