These aren’t necessarily from the archives proper, but the photos are from a little while ago. August of last year found me visiting my Utah kids and then visiting the mountains and canyons south and east of Salt Lake City. You might remember that I lived there for a few years…a few years ago now…and that I spent most weekends hiking in those nearby Wasatch Mountains.
Of the many hikes that I took while living in Utah, I never went to the lakes that I am presenting in this post. They are situated in the conjoined space at the far eastern end of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. In fact, one can walk up to the lakes from the Big Cottonwood side, at the Brighton ski resort, and continue on the trail back down to the Alta ski resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, or vice versa.
I didn’t visit the lakes for the precise reason that I described above…their proximity to potentially great quantities of people. To give a small example of how many people one might encounter there, let me say that there were five vehicles, including mine, when I arrived in the parking lot at 5:55 am, and over 50 when I returned to my truck at 10:30 am…and that was on a Monday morning in the middle of summer. When I lived there, I hiked on weekend mornings…so I avoided the place…in hopes of avoiding the above mentioned “great quantities of people.”
I didn’t study a map of the mountains before leaving for the hike, so I was a little surprised that I would encounter Dog Lake on the near approach to Lake Mary. The little body of water in the second photo is Dog Lake. There is another Dog Lake in Millcreek Canyon, just north of Big Cottonwood Canyon…and back when I used to study my mountain map of the area, I knew of both of these Dog Lakes…but had forgotten about this one. You might remember a black and white rendition of the above photo….
The photo below is from the close approach to Lake Mary…just a little ways further into the mountains from Dog Lake. As you can see the concrete wall in this image, you can tell that this is actually a reservoir, not a true lake.
Not that it matters much, what we call it…especially when we get up to the mountain-reflecting body of water and look out over it….
I had a sense of being home again when I was out on the trail heading up to the lakes…off in the mountains…very few people around…the smells of mountain earth, forest, flowers, grasses, and maybe even the water…all of it flooding my head…rejuvenating the muscle-memories and the actual physical sense of “being” in those surroundings.
I would have to confess then, too, that my body also knew it was only visiting, that it had been existing in the desert at maybe 1,200 feet in elevation…and that it was now hiking from over 8,700 feet up to 9,200 feet…and I felt that difference in my lack of wind and the need to “pull over” every now and then to catch my breath…heart pounding as it was rejoicing….
You can see the top of the reservoir wall in the below image.
There were three or four people sitting around Lake Mary and their voices carried loudly over the water and in the thinner air, so I made my few photographs and then headed back up the trail…up a little further to Lake Martha.
The bluebells were in a huge clump, almost like a grove, actually, if that’s possible…a rather large swath of near boggy forest floor that was covered in great, dark green leaves of some familiar plant whose name I didn’t know…with pink sparks of Indian paintbrush…and then almost purple gray smudges of what became bluebells as I got closer.
Life in passing…in waiting…in anticipation….
Between Lakes Martha and Catherine, there is a something like a minor cirque on the south side of the trail…it rather resembled an amphitheater…an almost bowl-like depression in the ground like some huge something had reached down and scooped out a chunk of earth and then littered the ground with grass and wildflowers and pine cones and rock litter from the hills above….
I sat in the grass and flowers for several minutes with my elbows propped on my knees, making photo after photo of the flowers…with my head and heart lost in the present and the past and wanting to stay there…right there…for fucking ever.
The bowl of Lake Catherine from the left…
…and the right….
This little guy has a bite of my chocolate brownie Cliff’s bar in his hands….
Now heading away from the lake…
Encountering another little squirrel-person eating what he’s supposed to eat…and appearing more fit and trim for doing so….
Lake Mary from above….
Yes…my favorite flower, ever…the Colorado Columbine in its various opening stages.
Below…red, white, and blue Wasatch Mountain wildflowers.
And the trail back down from Lake Mary with its patch of near hedge-like accompaniment of yellow flowers…and the forest beyond….
Thank you for enduring the longer post…for going home again with me to my beloved Wasatch Mountains…even if it was only for a few minutes. If you enjoyed the hike even half as much as I did, I know you absolutely loved it.
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.
We pick-up this post where we ended the last one, nearly the same spot, slightly different perspective, and a few/many feet further up the trail.
The hiking figure below me on the trail is continuing on her trek upwards, as well, drawing nearer, becoming more defined, and still providing an excellent gauge for perspective. She is near the center of the below image….
Looking back over these photographs, I am still held by the colors and the expanse of vision, even with the slight haze in the distance. It seems to add to the almost ethereal state of the place in my memory, these several months since the hike.
The images of the broader landscape do not show much color in the grasses that cover the island, but taking a closer look, we can see that there is quite a bit of green remaining in the middle of August.
The hiker has now passed me in her trek up toward the peak. She told me that she didn’t live too far away and that she hiked the trail several times a month. How wonderful for her, and for the island as well, to have such a dedicated and frequent visitor.
A sun drenched trail on a summer morning….
The below photo shows Stansbury Island (peninsula?) to the west. When the lake’s water level is as low as it has been in recent years, one can literally walk to the island on the exposed lake-bed. I went exploring there several years ago and did not find it as compelling as my trips to Antelope Island. There have been more mining and other commercial endeavors on Stansbury and only the far west side accommodates public visitation.
Looking north and east in the below photo, we can see the lighter gray of the lake-bed between the darker earth and the evident blue of the water…
….and south and east in the below image, down toward Salt Lake City with the Wasatch Mountains in the distance…and the layered and fractured rock in the foreground.
I had seen photos of the lone tree when I searched the internet for other images from the island. The ones from winter-time with the stark white of the snow-covered ground were most compelling.
One last segment to follow….
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.
My very first trip to Antelope Island State Park was in February of 2012. If you’re curious, you can click on this link to be taken back to the post I published after that visit. And now my very most recent trip, partially documented in the following images, is from seven and one half years later, August of 2019.
As I noted in the earlier posts about the sunrise on Antelope Island, it was my intention to get to the trailhead of the path that leads to Frary Peak at sunrise…but I was somehow delayed by the splendor of said sunrise reflecting off of the lake, etc., and didn’t get there until about an hour and a half later.
Turning your head a bit to the right from the above image…with the Wasatch Mountains in the background….
The images that follow are a chronological accounting of my hike up to the higher reaches on the island, close to 6,600 feet in elevation. The trail is 3.5 miles in length and has an elevation gain of about 2,050 feet…which places the trailhead at right around 4,550 feet above sea level.
And now looking further southeast…back down toward Salt Lake City….
And I guess we could say we’re looking pretty much due south now in the below photo.
I’m drawn to the earth colors, the undulating hills, minor canyons or drainages, the small and larger crags, and the space that is open, yet bordered by the near water and the far mountains…I find it all compelling in a visceral sort of way.
All of this curved area in the below photo is referred to as “White Rock Bay,” which you can see here in an image from February 2014, with a much different perspective, as viewed from the north.
If I’m not mistaken, that’s Fremont Island off to the north…just left of center in the below photo…across the water.
Blue-green-gray sage in the foreground has an alluring scent, kind of resinous…and strong enough to linger on my fingertips for hours after rubbing/crushing the leaves between them…a small take-home treasure.
I didn’t see any antelope, but there were multiple strings of American Bison slowly trailing down the far/western side of the island.
A person approaches, below….
More to follow….
sometimes my daydreams are really thoughts about the things of which i would be dreaming, the words that describe what i would see or have seen, words i would use to tell you of the things i remember or wish to see again, so it might be appropriate to share those things in the black and white of words on paper, things which might be able to be described on the whole or in their collected parts, yet they are things which are beyond mere words when contemplated in the mixture of their richest essence, or in my experience, here
Images of this nature used to be the normal fare for my spring and summer weekend hiking when I lived in Salt Lake City a few years ago…they were common enough punctuation marks in the trip narratives…highlights of color in the mountain landscapes…
…and now they are very occasional and intentional shared treasures of uncommon forays back into that used-to-be.
I don’t know the names of all of them, but when I do, I will share them, as I will here, above, with Queen Anne’s Lace, or Cow Parsnip…
…and the predominant flowers in the above image being Horsemint…a name shared with me by a fellow hiker after a chance encounter and then a follow-on comment on a post in those years ago.
Western Coneflowers above, something that I have also seen in the higher desert meadows of the Coconino National Forest just south of Flagstaff, Arizona.
The above resembles a type of gentian I have seen before, but I’m not sure how it is properly named.
A perfect Monday morning horizon above….
A trial for the newer camera…not entirely crispy, but still very clearly capturing dew drops on petals and leaves.
A richness of color for the eyes and morning crispness for the skin…and the mountain aroma of wet grasses and fragrant flowers….
I’m not sure about these, but there were tons of them on a western-facing slope as the sun was just over the mountains on the eastern side of the meadow….
Closer above and below….
And this one might be my favorite of the entire day…dew drops on Bluebells and leaves…I can still feel being there, making this particular photo, with anticipation and hope at what I would see on the computer when I brought the image home.
Life is full in that mountain environment, a feast for the senses at every turn.
And as I’ve shared previously, the Colorado Columbine, below, is my favorite flower, ever.
These were a first for me, the little purple Dr. Seuss flowers below….
And a fitting end for the post, I believe: a carpet of wildflowers with a Wasatch Mountain backdrop….
All images were made on 8-12-2019 during my very first hike from Brighton up to and from Lake Catherine.
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.
There was simply too much to see, too many sights that demanded attention, contemplation, worship…and photographs.
My kids who still live in Salt Lake City had told me about the record snowfall for the past winter and spring; I had also read about it on one of the social media sites from the area that I follow.
I guess I expected that some of the earlier season’s snowmelt would have made it to The Great Salt Lake and would have raised the water level a bit…would have raised it “any” amount, actually.
There was water, of course, mostly north of the causeway from my vantage point, enough to provide those morning reflections that are inspiring in and of themselves…
…and enough, too, to afford the many waterfowl a place to forage, play, rest, and provide still other morning reflections that cause occasional human observers to stop along their various ways to attend, contemplate, worship…and photograph.
Also striking were the morning’s colors…the peachy orangish pink of the waking sky, shining of themselves above, and in the myriad reflections below…
…the black, dark purple, blue and gray of the lake’s living water…
…and the sage, green, rust, and straw colors of the waterside vegetation.
Cast all of those, too, among the brightening gold and greens of the covered hillsides and coves…
…the yellow faces and bonnets of the solitary individuals and masses of sunflowers…
…and finally the rich blacks and browns of the wandering bison.
It was a feast for my desert dwelling eyes.
It has been a favorite pastime of mine for the past nine or so years to hike and to explore the mountains and canyons or desert plains and hills in my surround…
…or in the case of the last five years, in addition to the deserts, etc., the forests, mountains, and mesas that are within a few hours’ drive of where I live.
When I have had good or better fortune, I have been able to go back to those preferred mountains and islands of my not so distant past…
…those beloved places up north, and hike and explore and simply exist again in the environment or locale that remains in my core as “home.”
At some point in the early part of those few years that I lived up north, it became preferable to start the specific adventure, to be at the designated trailhead, before sunrise.
There were fewer cars in the parking lots, fewer pairs of boots on the trails heading into the mountains…
…and a greater chance of capturing the essence of an undisturbed morning’s peace when starting at such an hour.
In application to my southern journeys, it became prudent to start this early, so as to avoid the greater heat of the day by completing the trek and returning to my truck before noon.
That said, I had determined to arrive at the trailhead to Frary Peak on Antelope Island before the sun rose and started warming the northern Utah August day.
Well…I made it to the Antelope Island State Park entrance before sunrise…
…but was then waylaid by the views north and south and east and west while driving on the causeway to the island, so I didn’t make it to the trailhead until nearly an hour after sunrise.
“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….
An image from early August of the year past…bounty from summer rains…Agua Fria riverbed…muddy crossing of the Black Canyon Trail.