desert stream in black and white
An image from early August of the year past…bounty from summer rains…Agua Fria riverbed…muddy crossing of the Black Canyon Trail.
By far, I have found it best to be on these desert trails shortly after sunrise, or within the first hour thereafter….
…the light is more pleasant and provides for greater character in the subjects found along the way.
Two Sundays ago found me hiking south on the Black Canyon Trail from the Bumble Bee trailhead. I have hiked this stretch of the trail once before…on a sweetly cloudy day in July of last year.
I didn’t go as far with this present hike, as the day’s heat was growing more oppressive and casting something of an ugly hue on everything that caught my eye.
I didn’t get out hiking in the earlier part of Spring, and have therefore missed the rich greenness that all of these wild grasses and flowers must have added to the area.
I love the pearl-like clusters of the creosote or grease-wood bushes…especially when the morning light is behind them.
The desert, overall, wasn’t especially attractive on this particular morning, but when I stopped along the trail to look more closely, I found plenty to admire.
All of these images are from the first two and a half hours heading out on the trail.
And in the photo below, a glance skyward brings a reminder of what can happen if one tarries too long…..
Sonora Desert Morning
…the trail rounds rocky corners and hiding hills and rises gently from the desert floor as the sun eases from below the far horizon and lights anew this sharp and prickly land…the glow and flare inside the lens is equaled among the red spines and golden stems of cacti and brush and grass alike…the morning fire quietly waking the harshly coated earth…sweet light fading soon with the ascent of day….
desert deja vu
I’ve only been hiking about two dozen times since I moved back to Arizona almost two years ago, and all of the hikes have been on different trails…or on different sections of the same larger trail…with very little overlap of covering those sections, and on only one occasion, hiking the exact same trail. When I was hiking in Utah, I covered many of the trails several times, five or six times, and even more than ten times on another two trails…they were compelling locations with easy and quick access, short drives from the house, where minutes later I would find myself in the woods…alone, or with very little company.
You might remember from various earlier posts that I’ve hiked several segments of the Black Canyon Trail…and on some of those occasions, I went past the “formal” or designated section’s length and continued onward for another mile or two onto the next section….this is some of the “overlap” that I mentioned above.
When I found myself about 100 yards to the left of the location on the trail where I made this photograph, I had an overwhelming sense, a physical knowing, that I had been there before. It actually caused me to stop and turn in slow circles looking for something that was familiar…some landscape feature that was significant and placed somewhere in my memory. I found nothing…there was nothing that I recognized…and I can usually recall sections of most trails that I’ve hiked, both here and in Utah…the stuff just gets cataloged away, mental images…. Anyway, I “felt” that I had been here before…and I’ve never “felt” that way before when out hiking. Yes, certainly, I’ve visually recognized and absolutely “known” where I was out on hikes that I had made before…but this is the first time that I “felt” or physically “sensed” that I was somewhere where I had been previously…but didn’t visually recognize….so it was odd…strange…made me wonder about juju and voodoo and other related and unrelated things.
Maybe it was a physical memory as a trauma response to the last time that I was at this location…at the spot right there in this image. I had hiked north to this point…and then went off trail to go exploring in what looked like the chute or body of a rock-lined water-course and water fall…the point that you can see immediately to the right of the large light-colored rock that is just left of center in the image. I went off trail…something that I don’t do unless I leave a note saying that I’m going to do it…something that maybe I shouldn’t do, shouldn’t have done…something like that. But…I did…bush-whacked it right through the desert and climbed over the associated boulders and scree, balanced on shifting rocks with my full back-pack…and then there was a buzzing and flying creature screaming into and around my face, darting at my eyes, nearly clinging to my glasses with wings flashing and whining face-close and loud…my hands swatting at the winged-beast, trying not to knock the glasses off my face…and finally, the bastard landed next to the outer corner of my right eye and JABBED its stinger into my face flesh and then its poison or toxin lightning-darted and ran and flew through the nerves and up into my scalp, Real Lightning Darts, not any of that fake shit you see on TV or read about in pulp magazines…but the real stuff, right through the muscles and upward…screaming WOW WOW WOW!!!!!
So…after I steadied myself, assessed the minimal damage to my confidence that I was really somewhere that I should have been…realized that my eye wasn’t going to blow-up…realized that I could still see…with just a little bit of blur…I sat on a rock, had a bit of water, and then continued my explorations….cautiously…listening….watching. There were no hissing and rattling snakes or attacking Gila Monsters…no circling round of buzzards aloft overhead…and no banjo-playing hill-billies…..just a dried desert waterway that hadn’t been visited by any creatures that would have left tracks since the last rainfall. After looking around in the wash and making a few photographs, I climbed back up the hill to an area close to where I made this image, and then continued up the trail, still heading northward, the same direction I was going before stepping off the trail to go exploring and getting my face stung.
I think my spirit of adventure had been abated somewhat…and I didn’t actually continue very far up the trail. I had already gone more than a mile past what I had planned, so I did a 180 and then started back to the truck.
In my post-event analysis of this experience of “feeling” that I had been there before without actually recognizing it, I think that this must have been where I turned around…where my body decided for me that it was time to go home…that my still hyper-alert mind had probably cataloged the whole surroundings and then recognized them before my conscious mind did when I returned to the place while hiking south from a different trail-head….some seven months later.
So…that’s the photograph…that’s the place…that’s my little bit of desert deja vu.
I hope it was fun for you, too. 🙂
Antelope Creek segment of the Black Canyon Trail
I made this first image within the same minute that I made the photo from the last post…at 7:45 on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago…but this one caught the sun just coming up over the ridge.
There wasn’t anything spectacular about the landscape on this hike, as it resembled much of the Black Canyon Trail (BCT) that I had already hiked…but this was yet another section to complete, the Antelope Creek segment. I had actually hiked the first mile of the trail on another occasion, but this was the first venture in covering the entire area. This is the portion of the BCT that is just south of the Drinking Snake segment that I covered in an earlier post.
After several hours of hiking south and southeast and then north and northwest on the return trip, I was back at the same spot where I made the first image, approaching it from another direction and with the fullness of the day’s sun shining on the land.
Thank you for joining me on another hike in the Arizona Sonora Desert…and stay tuned for more coverage of the Black Canyon Trail.
The sun had already risen, but the trail had meandered down into a fold of the land and I found myself again in a pre-sunrise situation. The foreground wasn’t actually this dark, but with the brightness of the sky above the horizon, the area closer to me was darkened and made for a nice silhouette image. That’s one of the trail-signs to the left of the juniper tree…a common and reassuring symbol that I was exactly where I was supposed to have been at 7:45 on a Sunday morning….
“Drinking Snake” segment of the Black Canyon Trail
I’ve shared several posts with images that I’ve made while hiking the Black Canyon Trail, here in the Arizona Sonora Desert, just north of Phoenix. If you’d like more information on the trail system itself, you can click on the highlighted name to be taken to the home-page. There are something like thirteen sections that cover approximately 78 miles of scenic desert trail leading from the Carefree Highway, just down the road from my house, all the way up to highway 69, just north of Mayer.
This post pertains to the area that I covered during my ninth hike on the Black Canyon Trail (BCT), the Drinking Snake segment, which, if you care to look at a map of roughly central Arizona, you will find six miles north and west of Interstate 17 and Bloody Basin Road (exit 259)…and for those further interested, or even mildly curious, I did not encounter either a drinking snake or a bloody basin….
I was still about three miles from the trailhead when I was compelled by the beautiful sky to stop and make some photographs. The above image is from 7:28 am., about 12 minutes before the one below, taken from the trailhead parking lot.
I can’t think of a reason to share a photo of my truck here on the blog, so just forget that it’s there. I always take a photo of the truck at the start and end of my hikes to mark the time…that’s all…and given where the sun is located in this particular image, I figured (when I made it) that the sun would wash-out the image, but it would still show the truck and mark the time. When I returned home and found that it was actually a rather nice image of the sun just peeking over the horizon, I had to do more with it than just leave it in the folder. Anyway….I was happy that my point-and-shoot captured an uncharacteristically clear and aesthetically pleasing image of the moment of sunrise at 7:40 am.
As you will notice as you scroll further into the post, and possibly remember or reflect on the desert images from earlier postings, the landscape I encountered on this hike was markedly different from what I found on other outings. The first example of that difference was in the juniper trees that appeared in clumps and in singular instances along the trail and out on the rolling hills and plains. The cairn above appeared to be a tabletop for some creature that thrives on the juniper berries. I found a handful of other locations along this first part of the trail that appeared to be similar feeding stations.
A reliable website that I frequent when researching various hikes, Arizona Hiking, indicates that the elevation of the Drinking Snake segment ranges between about 3,900 and 4,300 feet, which is a significant enough increase in elevation to effect the types and kinds of cactus and other desert/high-desert vegetation that can live there.
The weather report for the area said that it was going to be a partly to mostly cloudy day…but it was a bit different during the time I was out on the trail. There were beautiful clouds for sunrise and the next hour or two, but the earlier winds seemed to have removed them for mid-day and early afternoon.
I love to hike in the mornings…aside from there being many fewer people out hiking or riding their trail bikes, the rising sun plays wonderfully on the cactus spines and grasses that I normally find along the way.
The below photo is a bit darker than I would prefer, but it still gives you an idea of the grassland and the different type of shrubs…the singular yucca with its multi-podded antennae, the juniper off to the right, and, of course, the few groupings of the ubiquitous Prickly Pear cactus….and the fence….
And here are another five photos that show the morning light captured in the cactus spines and seed-heads…
…a different variety of the Prickly Pear cactus…and seed-heads…
…a nearly heart-shaped lobe of cactus…
…wild grasses and cactus spines…
…and some kind of wildflower left-overs among the cacti….
Looking toward the southwest, but mostly west, we can begin to see more of the Bradshaw Mountains…beyond the rising, grassy plain…
…and looking behind us, the direction from which we came, we can see the flatter grassland and those fading clouds….
A few minutes later, the trail turned a bit toward the east, still going south, though, so the mountains out in the beyond are not the Bradshaws…but possibly the New River Mountains…I’m not sure.
The online resources indicate that this watering hole and windmill are at 2.8 miles into the hike…but they didn’t say anything about the clatter and racket from the blades, or the sound of the wind in the air and among the grasses….
Those are the Bradshaw Mountains off in the distance…and I believe this little draw area in the foreground might be the drainage of Antelope Creek…. The section of the trail just south of this Drinking Snake segment is named after Antelope Creek…and this bit of landscape is in the right spot to be such a named thing….
And this next image is looking east again, with a bit of south in it, as well…with a couple of horses and mountain silhouettes, cacti…and the ever grasses….
…a bit closer….
…and a bit farther away, too, from a slightly higher elevation and further down the trail where you can see a greater spread of the land.
We’ve already seen a different presentation of this next image…it’s the same bit of ground as the one where the horses first appeared…but we’re closer now.
The Drinking Snake segment of the Black Canyon Trail actually ends right there at that lone tree in the upper image. Just beyond that spot is a graded road…Forest Road 259, or Antelope Creek Road….the northern starting place for that next section of the trail that I mentioned above. I’m not sure how long that stretch of the trail is, but it will join up with the segment that we visited a while earlier when we went north from Bumble Bee Road…back in July.
I made this last image toward the very end, actually the very middle, of my hike…my turning-around point. It’s about 0.8 miles into the next section of the trail that is south of the Drinking Snake segment. I hadn’t explored this bit of ground on the map before heading out…and hadn’t indicated (on the note I left taped to the fridge at home) that I was going further, so it was a good spot to sit and have a snack before heading back to the truck.
So…that was another almost six miles of the Black Canyon Trail…shown in chronological order from the starting sunrise to the point of return. Thank you for joining me on the hike. I hoped you enjoyed this latest glimpse of the Arizona Sonora Desert….
when there is water where the wind blows…
Just a few images from my most recent hike along the Black Canyon Trail…with more to follow in another post….
This not-so-old watering hole was situated roughly three miles into the hike…the trail approached it from the right and continued toward the left…in the below photo.
It was a rather breezy morning and the air was filled with the sound of the cockeyed spinning and clicking of the blades.
When I passed-by again on the return trip a couple of hours later, it wasn’t moving at all…the glory of the morning light was gone, and with it, the continuous flow of winds that blew through the little funnel and curvature of land where the windmill was located.
“The Walking Dead” Saguaro…..
I’m not a great fan of popular culture, but this one was too fitting to deny….
I’ve never seen a Saguaro cactus in such a state of decay…upright…
…so it came to me that it must be a zombie Saguaro…escaped from the set of The Walking Dead TV series….just hanging-out in the Sonora Desert, just off the Black Canyon Trail……
At home in the desert….
Don’t read too much into the title…I was referring only to the context of the post…the desert home, of sorts, that I found on my most recent hike on the Black Canyon Trail. Each time that I’ve been out in the desert, I’ve looked relatively closely at the nearby terrain, the areas immediately bordering the trails, and more closely at the vegetation and ground where I might choose to stand or sit for a quick rest or hydration break.
And each time I’ve been out there on the trails, I have happened upon a few to more than a handful of nests in the cacti and trees that were along the trails….
This was the first time, however, that my curiosity was rewarded for taking the time to stop and peer inside of said nests. What a nice surprise it was to find a couple of blue, speckled eggs tucked inside of the inhospitable looking home of what I believe is a Cactus Wren’s nest. If you didn’t notice it right away, you can see the form of the nest in the first photo, tucked into the lower left/center portion of the mass of the cactus.
Prickly Pear “In-sight”
We’re used to seeing them like this, out in the desert wilderness of Arizona and other southwestern locales, or possibly even in other parts of the world….
Or we take a closer look and see the spines in their protective glory and the plump fruit that is awaiting harvest by desert creatures…and humans, too.
But we don’t often get a view of what is inside those cactus “leaves” to witness what must be the vascular highway that provides the overall structure while transporting water and nutrients from one part of the plant to another as the seasons demand….
I think there is a particular “something” about the structure of the cactus’s leaves…a sort of compelling and abstract beauty….
Sheep Gulch walkabout….
If you remember seeing that ribbon of green in the third-to-last photo, three posts back, this is what it looked like from the inside….a bit of an unusual micro-environment full of fantastic trees, shrubs, and grasses that appeared rather unexpectedly, smack-dab in the middle of the desert.
I don’t know the names of most of the larger trees, but there are mesquite and assorted palo-verde on the fringes.
I don’t know the origin of the name of the place, either, but if we were to follow the stream-bed forward, in the above photo, a couple/few miles, we would run into, or at least approach, the proximity of Sheep Gulch Spring…….that’s the way it looks on a map of the area, anyway.
Maybe it’s not a miner’s shack, maybe it belonged to a shepherd, I don’t know…it was just a guess…and quite possibly wrong, as there were none of the other signs indicating that a mine had been dug there….no slag or tailings pile…no water chute….
I didn’t explore the little cave/shaft beneath the shack, either…it seemed rather imprudent at the time, given the poor lighting and the propensity for hidden and biting things to be lurking in such a place…okay, maybe not lurking, but certainly things that had tucked themselves away from the direct sun and would not have been welcoming of my curious bipedal disruption….
And below is the shack in the context of its surroundings…quite a place to perch one’s self, if you ask me….
I kept walking upstream a little bit, as I was looking for a soft place to sit in the shade and recoup myself before heading back for the next 2.5 hours hiking to return to the truck.
After a quick snack, I headed back toward the main trail, the Black Canyon Trail going south again toward Bumble Bee Road. Those are the Bradshaw Mountains in the background of the below photo, and a distinctly misshapen Saguaro in the upper right corner. It looked something like a smashed finger…or perhaps the still-webbed fingers/hand of an embryonic life-form.
Lastly, this is the view looking east on the bridge that crosses the stream, and the exact place that has the moniker of Sheep Gulch on the map. I know that some of those trees are cottonwoods, but, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure of the majority of the others. At any rate, they seem to thrive in the stream-beds of this portion of the Sonora Desert…and they cast a beautiful shade during the near-noon portion of the day.
Storm clouds over the Bradshaw Mountains
The high for the day was supposed to be below 90 degrees…and there was a 50-60% chance of rain in the area starting around 11:00. The image is from two minutes shy of noon and I had yet to feel a drop of rain…and I wouldn’t for the next hour that it took me to make it back to the truck…but it was beautiful in its potential. Sometimes that has to be good enough….
Beyond Bumble Bee
For the past several years, I have used the website “Weather Underground” to follow the temperatures and weather patterns in the places I have lived…and to even look back nostalgically at places where I used to live to see how things are going there, as well. Two weeks ago I was watching the temps for Black Canyon City and hoping the high temperatures for the coming weekend would be lower than they were a couple of weeks earlier when I was out in the murderous heat and so desperately needed a Coke after my hike. I was in luck…the high for this past Sunday was supposed to be under 100 degrees, which meant that I could get out on the trail around 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning, have a nice long hike, and still make it back to the truck before the heat became too ugly.
This first image is of the Bradshaw Mountains, looking northwest at 6:25 am. The larger trees in the foreground are a variety of Palo Verde. During drought conditions, the trees lose their leaves and are still able to perform photosynthesis through the chlorophyll in the “bark” or exterior covering of all of the branches and trunk…. You can also see several Saguaro cacti in the background….
Most of my hiking in recent months has been along the Black Canyon Trail. I’ve been out six times and have covered nearly half of the 78 mile long trail. If you care to look at a map, find Interstate 17 (I-17) going north from the Carefree Highway at the extreme north end of Phoenix, and imagine a trail running in the desert just west of the interstate and east of the mountains further west…and follow that space northward for about 80 winding and curving miles up toward the Prescott National Forest. The portion of trail featured in this post is what can be found heading north from Bumble Bee Road, about 25 miles north of Phoenix.
This second image is primarily of the “Pancake Prickly Pear” cacti and the dried wild grasses common to this area.
If you’ve ever driven that same interstate north from Phoenix and remember seeing a rest-stop sign for “Sunset Point,” and you stopped to look west at the huge, folding and flowing mountains, this hike took place on the stretch of trail just west from that Point. The first part of the hike was mainly in the shade, as the trail followed the contours of the west facing side of the hills and was situated far enough below the ridge-line that I was out of the sun for quite a while.
It’s been a while since I shared multiple photos as single images, instead of presenting them in the “gallery” form, but I thought the photographs from this hike would be easier to appreciate in this larger form…so here they are, placed in chronological order and covering the first two and a half hours of the hike. There will be a couple of other posts in which I share groups of photos from particular stopping-places along the trail.
These “desert hills” and mountains are quite different than the ones I hiked for the last few years, but they are still inviting…and tempting me to go off-trail to explore the draws and ridges that we can see off in the distance. I won’t likely do that until the temperatures are much lower, however, just in case some “unplanned” event occurs and I’m out there for longer than I had planned to be.
In the below photo, you can see an unpaved portion of Bumble Bee Road in the lower right corner, a couple of hiking trails further in the distance, and then a section of what might be the Agua Fria River bed in the area just left of center.
I had knelt to take some closer shots of Prickly Pear cactus fruit and saw this single piece of bone lying nearby. A quick search of the area failed to reveal any other bones, so this one must have been carried away and left here when the predator or scavenger was finished with it.
At just past 7:30 am, the sun was sufficiently over the ridge to highlight the shrubs and grasses along the trail in the next photo. This one, right here, is where peace comes out on the desert’s trail, to me anyway…I love this image, this piece and the broader whole that it represents…the light, the smell, the quiet whisper of the morning breeze among the branches and grass, the un-nameable feeling that comes with being right here…is wonderful, and compelling, and alluring, and causes me to go out into the unpleasant heat that I know is quickly approaching, so that I can be here on a trail like this one.
I would prefer temperatures in the 60s or 70s, but it was far from ugly-hot when I stopped to make this next photo. At only 7:45 am, it was still rather nice for desert hiking.
My only companions for the day were two mountain-bike riders who passed me on their way out and back in again…and the occasional cow, a couple of dozen lizards, multitudes of desert birds, and a single rabbit…
Lines of demarcation, thine and mine, in the images above and below, but I was and am thankful that there was a gate or opening that allowed passage…so many places we’d like to go, it seems, have fences around them…. At 8:10 in the morning, I wondered how many mornings and afternoons these fence and gate posts have seen….their colors and textures speak of years…decades, even.
The photograph below shows another view of an image that you have likely already seen…but I wanted to share it again within the context of the hike, moving from place to place, with the morning green of the desert hills and mountains, and the richer green, like a ribbon of life that thrives along a desert waterway, a sometimey waterway that likely runs below ground for most of the year, but rises again with the various seasons’ rains and floods.
I usually become aware of the Gambel’s Quail when they burst from the underbrush as I pass too close to their hiding place, but I happened to spot this silent sentry as she sat alone in the tree some 20 or 30 yards off-trail. Even at this distance you can tell that this one is a female, as her head is missing the distinct color pattern that is common to the male.
And lastly, several blooms on a Graham’s Pincushion cactus. I found several of these along the trail and, upon first seeing them, thought they were headbands that some hiker had lost along the way…they were so very bright, so vibrant in the middle of all the earth-tone, desert colors that surrounded me, they just seemed so unnatural and out of place. And if you’re interested, the flat, paddle-like leaves around this cactus belong to the Jojoba plant….
So…that was most of the hike, on the way out, anyway…and minus a couple of detours that I will share later. Thank you for visiting…and I hope you have a nice week.
Making friends in Arizona………again….
Today’s installment comes to you from the Black Canyon Trail, about five miles south of Bumble Bee Road, where I have finally had occasion to meet more than just a few dozen lizards, rabbits, and birds….
I was minding my own business, hiking down the trail, when I heard an instant of “noise,” and then the tell-tale rattling coming from somewhere nearby. I immediately stopped in my tracks, looked all around me, saw nothing of concern, walked a few more steps down the trail and the rattling became fainter, turned around and walked back the way I had come and it became louder, passed a few more steps beyond the precise spot where this guy was hiding and it became faint again, and then walked back, peered into the brush, and saw him/her sitting pretty, just waiting for me to make a photograph.
The truth of the matter, when it comes to how the photo came to be, is that I was looking through the middle of the brush while holding the camera down at ground level and pointing blindly through the underbrush, hoping that something good would come out of it. For only a moment, I considered lying prone in the trail to have a better view of the subject, but then thought better of it, and remained squatting there, pointing the camera and hoping for the best. This is photo number five, and the only one that turned-out well. I was surprised and thrilled when I got home, downloaded the photos, and beheld this little treasure…. And no, I was not this frighteningly close to the creature…the “zoom” function on my point-and-shoot camera is wonderful!
If you’d like to revisit the earlier post, “Making friends in Arizona,” where my Little One and I encountered our very first rattlesnake in the “wilds” of Arizona, you can click on the highlighted name to do so….
Sheep Gulch greenery
Yes…it really is a desert, but this is what it looks like when a “river runs through it.”
Summer Solstice Morning Trail in the Sonora Desert
It’s a little more than a week-old at this point, but it’s one of the only “nice” shots from the entire five hours out there, so I thought I’d share it. This is photo #6, taken at 7:05 a.m., on the Black Canyon Trail, heading north from Black Canyon City, Arizona, USA. It was hotter than blue blazes toward the end of the hike and there was nothing so inviting as the thought of getting into the truck and making a quick stop at a corner store for an ice-cold Coke. I’m not in the habit of doing that after a hike, but it sure was wonderful on this particular afternoon!
Hiking the Black Canyon Trail north from Table Mesa Road presents you with choices…at about 1.5 miles into the trek, you must decide to go east or west…either way brings you to the Agua Fria River. If you go west, you encounter the river sooner than if you go east…regardless of when you get there, it’s going to be “refreshing” in a way that cold, winter water is going to be refreshing on a hike through the Arizona desert in early February.
There are many things to see out there, in that desert…things to look at…and things to really see. Sometimes perspective can blind us to what’s right in front of us…and other times, it reveals things that might be hidden…right in front of us.
mid-winter green in the desert hills
I made this image a couple of weeks ago…on the day that happened to be one year exactly since I had taken my last hike in the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City, Utah. Oh, how the scenery has changed in that passing of time!!