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.
Looking east from near the headwaters of the mostly dry Cottonwood Creek, north and west of Lake Pleasant, Arizona.
I recently spent a few days in Tucson, Arizona, USA…visiting with my wife’s mother, walking the morning-quiet roads of her desert neighborhood, and taking a new perspective when viewing the natural beauty of the surroundings.
Those are the Santa Catalina Mountains in the background, with Mount Lemmon at the highest point, some 9,157 feet in elevation. A Prickly Pear Cactus with fruit is in the foreground and the iconic Saguaro Cactus is prominent toward the left of the photo…I believe that might be a Palo Verde tree beneath the Saguaro with its green bark…and I’m not sure about the larger tree/shrub to the right…maybe a Greasewood.
Owls and woodpeckers often live in the holes that you see in the Saguaro’s limbs.
I believe these are Harris Hawks…they were mostly immobile when I was photographing them…but that only lasted for a minute or so….
Again, if I’m not mistaken, these are a variety of Cholla Cactus…and those spines can cause quite a bit of discomfort….
Wikipedia says that there are seven sub-species of Mule Deer…with the Rocky Mountain sub-species ranging the western portion of the United States and up into Canada. Aside from the Saguaro Cactus, you can also see the Ocotillo Cactus (the other tall and very skinny plant), Palo Verde, Prickly Pear Cactus, and directly behind the deer, what I believe might be more Greasewood.
Prickly Pear Cactus with fruit. You can purchase Prickly Pear jelly and candy in local stores…or you can “Google-it” and find them on-line, as well. 🙂
Desert sunsets can be beautiful…lighting the mountains with rose and orange hues…and bringing-out greater definition of the mountain’s many surfaces as shadows grow….