A sunrise hike with one of my sons last weekend brought some spectacular desert views….
…with perspectives elevated above the fray that exists between here and there…
…treasures of an Arizona desert morning….
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.
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.
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…
…and here it is again, but in a closer view.
The living and the dead of the eternal desert….
An old-school trail marker, faded by severe summer suns….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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.
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.
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.
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.
Late December, 2014…an uncommon presentation of a common-enough occurrence in the Desert Hills of north Phoenix.
“We all…apprehend the land imperfectly, even when we go to the trouble to wander in it. Our perceptions are colored by preconception and desire. The physical landscape is an unstructured abode of space and time and is not entirely fathomable; but this does not necessarily put us at a disadvantage in seeking to know it….”
“…Believing them to be fundamentally mysterious in their form and color, in the varieties of life inherent in them, in the tactile qualities of their soils, the sound of the violent fall of rain upon them, the smell of their buds – believing landscapes to be mysterious aggregations, it becomes easier to approach them. One simply accords them the standing that one grants the other mysteries, as distinguished from the puzzles, of life.” **
**The above words are from Barry Lopez in Arctic Dreams….
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
I didn’t know that this was a Jumping Cholla…thought it was a Teddy Bear Cholla..turns out that they’re actually the same thing..or so says this website, Sonoran Desert Plants. This particular species of cactus is quite prevalent in the desert area of north Phoenix.