Life 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.
(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.
The 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.
Take plenty of water if you go. Many of the trails here will probably leave you looking like this:
Thanks for looking,
Thousands upon thousands of motorcyclists rolled into town this past week for Bikes, Blues and BBQ, but for the first time since I moved here, I mostly skipped it. The rally has an oversupply of photographable characters, not least one fellow in a Viking helmet who buzzed around on a scooter waving around a plastic hammer. But I wasn’t really feeling the earsplitting roars and smattering of white supremacist symbols that also tend to come with it. I hiked this morning instead.
The first time I walked around Lake Wedington, back in April, the lake and the waterfall draining it were overflowing with rainwater. I had to turn around about halfway down the trail because of it. Now we’ve gotten hardly any rain weeks, so I wanted to try again.
The water was mostly still, steaming in the early morning and disturbed only occasionally by a solitary circle of ripples. The trees have begun losing their green. A motorcycle occasionally drove by on the lake’s other side.
When I got to the end of the lake’s dam, suddenly there were a lot more of those ripples. Little black shapes hopped out of a quiet cove every few feet, one after the other. They disappeared so quickly that I’m still not sure if they were frogs or little fish, fleeing from a bigger fish or pouncing on prey. They popped up silently and constantly for at least the 20 minutes I sat watching.
The waterfall was a trickle, but I still couldn’t go any further. Spiderwebs more than a foot wide slung across the path. I knocked one down, made lots of noise when I walked into another, and saw yet another further along. You win.
Thanks for looking, and happy fall.
There’s no mistaking a southwestern Missouri creek. I’ll always recognize the high-pitched clink the fist-sized rocks make when I walk on them. Many of them bear tiny round or cylindrical fossils — some rocks are essentially nothing but fossil. Crawdads and snails and fish flit or crawl over the creek bed. The water itself, cool and clear, gleams golden and reflected green. I’ve known these creeks, like Bull Creek above, since my earliest memories, and my dad has known them even longer. It was good to get back a couple of weekends ago.
I’m heading up north again in a couple weeks for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse that will sweep from coast to coast. Click that link for detailed maps on where to see the total blockage of the sun by the moon — you can bet I’ll have about 1,000 photos to share, but it sounds like photos won’t do this cosmic event nearly the justice it deserves. If you can go and decide to do it, watch out for tens of thousands of others doing the same. If you don’t, you’ll at least get a partial eclipse no matter where you are in the country. But there’s no way I’m missing this thing; I’ve been looking forward to it for more than a year.
See you on the other side!