Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Winter Break in the Sonoran Desert

My wife and I took a nice break from what's been a colder than average winter here in southwest Colorado by packing up a weeks worth of clothing, supplies and our dog Yoda and heading to the Phoenix area. It was wonderful to trade our -10 to -15 degree mornings for 70+ degree days in the desert! My wife spent the week attending a seminar to help her get her feet off the ground with her new business endeavor. I spent the week chauffeuring her back and forth to her meetings and fitting in some exploration of the surrounding Sonoran Desert whenever possible. Between driving Tami around and the fickle evening weather (4 of the 5 late afternoons that I was able to get out ended up being cloudy), this turned into more of a scouting trip than anything else. This was fine as it was my first trip to the Sonoran Desert anyway and it gave me plenty of opportunity to simply explore and get my bearings. My plan is keep on eye on the area's wildflower reports in the latter half of March and return then on a much more photography-centered trip.

So aside from the warm winter weather, what's so special about the Sonoran Desert? The answer to that, in my mind, is simple...its vegetation. The Sonoran receives more rainfall than any other North American desert. While that still might not be's called a desert for a's enough to support a wide variety of cactus and other plant life. In particular, it is the only desert in the world where the mighty Saguaro cactus grows in the wild. The Saguaro cactus is vital to the Sonoran ecosystem as it provides both food and shelter for many of the creatures that call this desert their home. These giant cacti are slow growing and have a life span of approximately 200 years. It takes almost 75 years before they are able to develop their first side arm! Given their large and statuesque presence in this desert environment, they make for great photographic subjects. What photographer can resist shooting their silhouette against a blazing sky at sunset? Not me!

A Sonoran Desert Sunset
Back to this particular trip report, most of my time was spent wandering around the mountainous areas east of Phoenix since late day shooting was my only option. Thus, the areas adjacent to the Apache Trail (a scenic road which winds through this spectacular desert environment) were some of my main objectives which included the Superstition Mountains along with the picturesque reservoirs (Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt Lakes) along the Salt River. I also spent some time exploring the Goldfield Mountains bordering the last of the major reservoirs along the Salt, Saguaro Lake. Here, I was surprised to see the last remnants of fall colors in the cottonwoods and willows lining the river. Fall colors in January...only in the Sonoran desert!! I was in this area when I saw the only golden light of the trip and was able to come away with the image below.

The Goldfield Mountains Reflected in the Salt River

All in all, it was a rather unproductive trip photography-wise, but a fun (and warm) getaway nonetheless. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a good wildflower bloom this spring for my return trip. Too see a few more images from this venture, click on the link below...


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