Coming back and looking at photos after a wander or trip is an interesting experience, as themes emerge of things I observed, but might not have noticed I was noticing at the time. While I fumbled with my shutter speed settings on the second half of this trip, I was able to pull out and work on a few photos to get a glimpse of what we were seeing and experiencing …
I’m smitten with Red Rock Country. I was neither born there nor have I ever lived on the Colorado Plateau. But the moment I step onto a sandstone feature, sink my fingers into the chromatic earth, or stare our at the wide horizon, I feel at home. My pulse slows and my shoulders relax as I sink into the landscape. Possibly it’s the inviting vastness or the diversity of shape and texture that reminds me that we are mere humans walking on a massive planet through a time that is only a brief breath in geologic chronology. I imagine that stirs distress in many; for me it cools my mind and frees my soul.
One can wander day after day, exploring the expanse or getting down on hands and knees to examine some magical detail …
Or get lost in the rich, saturated color. Maybe it’s that orange and blue out there, nature’s magical trick of complementary colors, that invites such balance …
Eventually dusk comes. Light shifts from bold, to subtle, to almost dull. Earth’s features become silhouettes of the complex forms they once were. And we are left craving the coming day, or longing for the next trip …
In 4th Grade I traveled to Organ Pipe with a Desert Studies class I was lucky to be a part of as my sense of adventure and environmental exploration bloomed. Captivated by the Organ Pipes, the landscape has stayed strong in my memory for more than 25 years. I was glad to be able to bring Brennan here on my third trip, (amazing how a place you have only been to a couple of times can stick with you), and see her same awe of the cactus and the vastness.
But capturing the beauty and essence of these particular cactus certainly challenged my novice photography pursuits. I found demonstrating the joy of the walk we took, the same one I took with my class decades ago, to be near impossible to find in an image. Sometimes it’s just about the experience.
People tend to love mountains and oceans with ease, the masses flock there for good reason. The desert seems to take a longer courting. But I was born there, and those horizons and landscapes are in my blood.
And the desert keeps giving, because as you look down from the expanse, the eye is filled with wonder at the nuance, the textures, and the loveliness of subtlety.
Then there is dusk. The quality of light seeping through hills, changing the feel of the exact same place, altering the way we see.
Always appreciative of natural areas in reach of an urban area, these two spots near Scottsdale and Phoenix offered some incredible space for desert wanders.
The cactus at the Sonoran Preserve were unbeatable: Saguaros standing in their usual sentinel poetry, Teddy Bear Cholla glowing in the sun, and other species offering rich colors and sharp-spine textures. And seeing a Cactus Wren’s nest and its adaptations to live in this environment was a real treat.
At Granite Reef, Brennan spotted wild horses grazing along the Salt River while I was mesmerized by seemingly lost swans (an adult Trumpeter Swan and an immature Tundra Swan met up this winter to enjoy the desert). The rich color of the nearby cliffs was only beat by the red of a Vermillion Flycatcher, who gave quite a show.
Beneath an expansive big sky view and shimmering light, a small shore line offers adventures in cracking through the freeze, sending little islands of ice sheets and bubbles into the open water, and tracking wandering birds.
In each collection of photos, I try to capture some of the details I observe and the overall feeling of the day. The motif of austere snow, shadow and plants continues as the gift of sunny winter days return. And remaining Dr. Seuss-like pines remain in otherwise clearcut areas.
Part of my intent is to simply document some of the different details on the landscape that I see when slowing down. The snow provides a perfect setting for seeing animal tracks and signs: an elk trail and droppings, a rabbit run, a small rodent darting between two areas of cover, and a fox crossing a winter stream.
Trees with a snowy backdrop, even on a very grey day, keep catching my attention and appreciation this winter: layers of detail, shape, and color. I also wonder what’s occasionally afflicting some trees.
The large cottonwood featured in these images is a sentinel looking over our neighborhood park. I am interested in different angles of photographing the great tree as it changes throughout the seasons.
Getting to spend a week in the mountains, wandering with the Continental Divide always in view, playing in the snow, and enjoying the details of the season, is certainly a privilege and a welcome reprieve from urbanity. Photos help document the gratitude of the day.
Return to St. Louis Creek — Fraser, CO 12/29/20
Wander Out The Back Door — Fraser, CO 12/30/21
Photos that look like dugout holes in the snow are tracks of a fox carrying some type of insect and running through the snow (I think).
Sometimes I feel that maybe we are living out the fear of that song, you know, the one about the tree museum … nature and wildness locked up in small urban preserves, tucked against settling ponds, rock quarries, and prisons. But thank goodness these important places exist at all. Where would the urban psyche be without these landscape reprieves? We need much more habitat. And I am also grateful for the open spaces others have worked hard to protect.