The Hawksbill

_C1_9559.JPGThe forest sounds different without its leaves. Rather than rustling millions of leaves, Sunday’s gusts roared like a distant waterfall between the trees’ bare bones. A good strong wind always seems to accompany hikes along the heights of the Ozark National Forest.

Area hiking enthusiasts probably recognize the outcropping above instantly: Hawksbill Crag at Whitaker Point, near the Buffalo River. It’s one of the best known spots in the state, but in all of my time here, I hadn’t seen it. I tried almost three years ago and was foiled by a steep and wet dirt road. A good friend just bought a Jeep, so this time we were golden. (It turns out there’s also at least one easier route a little further down the road. Good one, Google.)

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_C1_9602.JPGThe overlook at the end is obviously the primary draw of this trail, but the scenery on the way deserves its own attention. The trail runs along the top of a bluff line peppered with boulders and crowned by trees growing right out of the rock. The Boston Mountains swell and fall all around like immense ocean waves. These bluffs, like many around the Buffalo, can be deadly for those who go too close to the edge. Be careful if you visit.

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_C1_9549.JPGAnd here’s a view from on the crag itself. An unseasonably warm December afternoon wound up being a terrific time to get acquainted with this landmark. Someday I’ll come back to see its greener self.

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_C1_9576.JPGThanks for lookin’,

Dan

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Saguaro

IMG_5985.JPGLife in the hot and dehydrated Sonoran Desert needs to be strange to survive. The bark of palo verde trees is pistachio-green with chlorophyll, which means the trees can photosynthesize even after dropping their leaves to conserve water. The ocotillo plant grows in clusters of slender, vicious-looking stems several yards long, like a car-sized sea urchin, that are decked with even more spines to protect the tender leaves that occasionally appear. Cholla cactuses are so densely covered with spines that they look fuzzy and can grab onto passersby at the slightest contact.

Looming over them all are the saguaros, unmistakable sentinels found only in this desert and the namesake of Arizona’s Saguaro National Park.

I’ve come to this place for years, way longer than I’ve had the notion to visit and photograph all of the national parks. The photos here come from as far back as 2008. The park’s right outside of Tucson, where my mom has lived for years, and each visit brings at least a glimpse of this odd desert forest.

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Arizona-January-2010-077.jpg(That’s Tucson in the distance.)

Saguaros grow slowly and can live for a century or two, reaching 60 feet with their upturned arms. The ridges up their sides allow them to expand like accordions to take maximum advantage of any rain, and inside they’re supported by a circular cluster of wooden slats, like the support beams of a building. The leftover skeletons of dead saguaros can sometimes be beautiful on their own.

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Christmas--Arizona-08-268.jpgThe Arizona clouds overhead often bring another kind of beauty. Usually I’ve visited in winter, so that might be behind it, but almost every time I go I see these huge brushstrokes of wispy vapor stretching and twisting across the dry air.

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Take plenty of water if you go. Many of the trails here will probably leave you looking like this:

Arizona-January-2010-118.jpgThanks for looking,

Dan

Twin Cities

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I’ve neglected the tail end of my recent trip north to see the solar eclipse and the Badlands. My last stop was the Twin Cities area in Minnesota to see one of my oldest friends. I was only there for a day, enough time to see two very different sides of the twins.

First up is the Mall of America in Minneapolis, a four-story, multimillion-square-foot monument to American capitalism. It holds about every store I can think of, sometimes more than once. The place is mostly a cacophony of thousands of visitors and a few roller coasters, but it’s also home to “Hot Lunch,” an installation of thousands of yarn strings by an artist who goes by HOTTEA. It’s meant to honor the people who serve us lunches and their unseen, inner lives. I liked it.

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We went over to St. Paul for something very different: bonsai trees, exotic plants and quiet at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.

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IMG_2742.JPGI hope I’ll get back someday and see a little more of the home of more than 3 million people.

Thanks for looking.

Dan