March 1, 2020
8:14 – 8:55 a.m.
White Tank Mountains, Surprise, Arizona, United States
Arizona State Trust Land
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.
Palo Verde tree with low clouds over White Tank Mountains, 11/29/2019.
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.