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 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….
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.
And in the photo below, a glance skyward brings a reminder of what can happen if one tarries too long…..
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. 🙂
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.
the storm from the other night started with only the massing of clouds that covered the stars and then the quiet flashing of lightning in the dark eastern sky
within the passing of ninety minutes or more, or less, the rain was blowing sideways onto the bedroom windows and sliding glass door and there were striking flashes of blue-white light and delayed or immediate crashes of thunder that I could feel rumbling in the bed posts
when I looked outside I could see the rain coming down in a torrent from the street-light-lit sky and hear the thrashing of the wind and rain against the house
I cannot say how long it lasted, as I fell back to sleep while it was still underway
in the morning I found the feeble sun shining weakly through some lower clouds and only a few patches of barely blue sky
moments later, the clouds had lowered and the sky was covered with a pewter thickness
the air was wet and cool and carried the scent of a rain-washed desert in its breezes
it was heavy laden with creosote and wet leaves and grasses that had pooled in delta-like triangles and linear forms of sediment along the raceways of temporary streams that ran in the desert night
on my walk along the desert trail, I found those leaves and seeds and twigs and other desert-floor detritus collected in large swaths of poultice-like gatherings and saw the sand in its colors drawn in lines and slides of black and brown in the shapes of tiny gone rivers from the night’s collected rain
it looked like an ocean’s beach after the tide has gone out or after the ever waves have receded each in their cycle and turn, lines and drawn angles and arrows of black grains pulled over and through the surface of the deeper gray-brown sand of the desert’s bed
the quail were fewer in number that morning, as were the wild rabbits that I usually see…only one was out with his white tail and long pink-tan ears, hastily retreating into the desert there
no lizards raced across the trail and into the scrub beneath the trees and fresh washed bushes along the way, but the ants were out in their multitudes, opening their flooded caverns again, collecting the blown and washed seeds and stems from their surround…after the desert rain
before the rains the desert smells like dust and rock
sometimes an unknown metal rides the glands of nose and mouth with searching
and after they come it is sweet with a knowable something
one that you know when you’ve been there and one that you don’t when you haven’t
creosote or greasewood blossoms on a spring morning in the sonora desert north of phoenix arizona
We’ve not completely made the move yet, but I was in town for the past few days for an interview and to see a bit of the new neighborhood. I made these images on a short walk through the desert area that is about five minutes away from our new home in the far north part of Phoenix. Please remember that you can click on any image to be taken to a slide-show that presents each photograph in a larger format.