Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sonoran Sojourn

It happens every year, usually in January: wanderlust sets in and I head down south to the incomparable desert of the Sonora. As I said to my friends, I was going to get in the suv, head southwest and keep going until I got warm. When I was finally able to get away, I was out of here like a shot and got down to Tucson in good time where rained. And rained. With fog one morning, which I've never seen in the desert, and it actually looked pretty cool. But it wasn't what I came for. On the other hand, the indescribable scent of creosote bush was in the air, riding along with the aroma of rain and opening earth, and I wish I could send that over the internet because it's a healing balm to the soul, let me tell you. I was breathing it in deeply as I took this shot, just after I arrived at the eastern unit of Saguaro National Park, nestled between the eastern edge of sprawling Tucson and the Rincon Mountains. Rain in the desert has its own beauty...

... and to console myself for lousy timing I met my second objective for the trip after dry heat, which was to have dinner at Cafe Poca Cosa, my favorite restaurant in Tucson. This is the best real Mexican food you'll find in the southwest, and I think the place has reached cult status--the owner-chef is certainly a saint, and for me it's a spiritual experience. Never mind: if you're in Tucson, just go, and make sure you're hungry when you do!
Anyway, above you can see a view of the bajada west of the Tucson Mountains the following day, after the rain cleared out. This is the western unit of Saguaro National Park, west of the city, across the small, serrated Tucscon Mountains. Saguaros, prickly pear and creosote.

Before that, I was sulking at a trailhead in the back of the X-Terra because it had begun to pour, when I noticed how lovely the droplets of water were as they glimmered on the branches of a paloverde tree. One thing I love about the Sonoran Desert are the lovely, soft greens. By the way, I don't know if you know this, but if you double-click on these photos you can see them much larger, and really see the incredible detail of these plants and places!

This is also on the bajada in Saguaro West atop a small knoll of basaltic boulders. That's a pretty famous petroglyph, the spiral on the central boulder. Just seems to capture the soul of the desert. You know, I just realized that all these pictures look pretty remote, like I hiked out into the screaming wilderness for hours just to get there. Actually, I'm a wuss. I can't take much heat (English ancestry) and usually drive for miles out into the screaming wilderness so I can take a leisurely stroll wherever it looks interesting.

Heading back to town later, I pulled off Gates Pass Road to photograph this beautiful little rainbow over the Tucsons. Such a feeling of benediction comes from rainbows and this land--as harsh as it is, there's a vitality and vibrancy to it that seems to come from the incredible plants. Remember, this is the middle of winter with temps around the 50s to 70s, and there's rain. If you go in June you have relentless sun and temps in the hundreds, for days on end.

The day after that the storm cleared out in earnest and I decided to head over to Ironwood National Monument out to the west. Much more remote here, and a different feel that velvety silence that is the true hallmark of the desert, and all too rare in our lives today. I went out on the dirt road for about 8 miles and could have gone much farther, but didn't want to be out alone after dark (even though this is the most active time for desert life). The bajada and plains here were just gorgeous. I had a hard time selecting just a few photos because they were all incredible.

Mature saguaros, creosote, and the fuzzy, pale cacti are teddy bear or jumping cholla--and they're not fuzzy; those are densely packed, wicked spines. Don't know the name of those mountains out there. You can see how there is plenty of ground between plants: desert plants have a very strong presence and everything here has exactly the right amount of space it needs. The image at the top of this post is also from this part of Ironwood.
Nothing dies quite as spectacularly as a saguaro. They sort of fall apart in slow motion, eventually leaving their ribs exposed in a very picturesque manner. Yes, the sky really is that blue--none of these photos were doctored.

The monster. I don't know how I missed this on the way in, but I did a u-turn when I saw it on the way out just to get a better look. Saguaro cacti can live for 250 years, and if they grow arms, they don't start doing it until they're about 70. And sometimes there are saguaros that become true giants with dozens and dozens of arms...who knows why; it could be the result of any number of factors. But this one looked almost scary, like the wild god of saguaros, and I can't tell you how many arms are growing and budding on it. Wow. I want to visit it again over the years and see how it's doing. Maybe even try to count them. Or leave an offering.

Golden sunset on the Tucson Mountains again, in the clear light of evening. The green of the paloverdes is almost incandescent.

That vivid moment just as the sun sets in the Gates Pass. Dozens of people had come up to watch the show. Orange stone, lavender sky, something primal in the air, despite our proximity to the roaring city beyond. That timeless energy in the land will outlast anything we can build, and I find that a comforting thought.

One last hike, back at Saguaro East the next day--hard to believe this was the grey-green landscape of rain and mist just a few days ago. A classic "candelabra" of an old saguaro towers into the blue. And it was warm. The fiercely rugged granite Santa Catalina Mountains are over there in the northwest, towering 9000 feet over the city (hidden beyond the rise).
Well, I got back home and the weather here (at 5500 feet) turned warm and dry and has stayed that way for the most part, which means the studio windows are open during the day and I'm not getting the winter blues. I promise I'll get that post of my studio and our high desert landscape up soon...
Till then,

1 comment:

stregata said...

Beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing.