Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Funky Flora


I looked for an hour trying to identify this one. Any takers?

Century Plant
This plant is actually an agave, and can grow up to 26' tall. They are pretty neat.

Definitely don't eat this one.

Arizona Cyprus

Monday, November 26, 2012

Scorched Earth: Cave Creek to Seven Springs

Scorched earth... That's what the desert can feel like sometimes. I've been in Phoenix since June and my body still hates the heat. When the relentless sun beats down on me and the sweat pours from my brow in buckets, I long for the shade of some pine trees. All I get instead is a sharp headache and a bout of nausea. So, I was a little worried about my upcoming backpacking trip in the Sonoran Desert. This would be my first outing with the Arizona Backpacking Club, and my first all-desert hike. Luckily my personal nurse and wonderful girlfriend Sarah came with me. It's a comforting feeling having a genuine life saver on hand, just in case I pass out from heat exhaustion.

Giant Saguaro
Sarah standing next to a gnarly Giant Saguaro.

The first day of the hike was all in open desert. The shade was virtually non-existent as we hiked along dry creek beds and across broad mesas. Despite the heat I mostly felt pretty good. Except for a couple short but steep climbs, the trail was mostly flat. But it was so damn hot! I was soaked in sweat in an hour. One particularly brutal climb I felt my stomach rumbling and a twinge of pain in the back of my head. "Here we go again" I thought. I just put my head down and kept moving. Luckily it only lasted about 15 minutes before I felt good again. The mountains were gorgeous, but I didn't take as many pictures as I normally would. I kept feeling like I was holding the group up when I stopped. It's the one thing I hate about hiking in groups. 

Shade? I think not.

  Even though the trail was relatively flat, the hiking wasn't always easy. I swear every desert plant has thorns, barbs, spikes, or some other cruel implement intent on causing bodily harm if you get too close. The trail wasn't well maintained, and mesquite and prickly pear cactus were always scratching at my arms and poking at my clothes. My Therma-Rest Z Lite strapped to the top of my pack was constantly getting snagged too... I don't think I'll bring it on a desert hike again.

Cactus land.

But the going was relatively smooth. We saw some Hohokam petroglyphs that were over 700 years old. It looked to me like they were depicting hunting scenes, but it was hard to tell. I would have liked to spend more time studying them. I took tons of photos, but unfortunately none came out that great. 


Our camp at Cave Creek was nothing like the desert we hiked through. It's crazy how much the environment  in the desert can change around the waterways. Instead of Saguaros and sagebrush we were camped under sycamores and cottonwoods. I used my Solo Stove for the first time, and while it performed really well boiling water, I still haven't formed an overall opinion about it, so I think I'll use it a few more times before I write a review.

Cave Creek Camp
Cave Creek Camp

The hike out on Sunday followed Cave Creek to the trail head at Seven Springs. It was nice because there was a lot of shade, and the trail was soft dirt instead of hard-pan desert and rock. Overall it was an enjoyable yet uneventful hike. The only wildlife I saw was a crayfish that darted from underneath a rock as I bent down to filter water. Other than that I saw nothing. Not a single bird or even a lizard, which I normally see everywhere hiking in the desert. But it was still an awesome time. Just being out there was enough

A streak of fall color in the desert

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mountain Gear

Recently I mentioned that I had several writing projects in the works. Well I'm pleased to announce that one of those projects is finished, and I wanted to post a link so my blog readers here could check it out. This piece Is a "guest blog" I wrote for It's a funny story about what happens when you let your imagination get the best of you in the backcountry. Hopefully this is the start of a long and fruitful relationship with Mountain Gear. Enjoy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sea to Desert Wildlife

Sea Anemone
Sea Anemone
You'll have to venture out at low tide to find these colorful little guys.
Short Horned Lizard
Short Horned Lizard
He thought he was totally camouflaged. Funny thing is, the dog walked over it, and around it, and couldn't even see it.

Purple Shore Crab
Purple Shore Crab
Feisty little buggers.  He did not like my camera in his face.
Desert Tarantula
Desert Tarantula
Found this guy on the trail last week. Took lots of photos. This is one of my favorites. It almost looks like an old man.

Southwestern Fence Lizard
Southwestern Fence Lizard
The desert has canyons, and in some of the canyons exist lush green riparian areas full of wildlife.

Herring Gull
Herring Gull (I think)
The Olympic coast is a bird watchers paradise.

One of my favorite birds. You'll see the Osprey just about everywhere. I took this shot on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Backcountry Fishing

 I love fishing, especially in the backcountry, where most of the time you have an entire lake to yourself. I'm the type of guy who appreciates solitude. I would prefer a day of catching pan-fries alone in the backcountry to a packed lake choked full of boats.

Fly-fishing on No Name Lake in Glacier National Park

Steve fishing on Heart Lake (I know I've shared this before, but it's one of my favorites).

In the backcountry most of the fish you catch are pretty small...

... but every once in awhile you land a lunker, and yes we ate this for dinner that night.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Lost Dutchman

So much for backpacking this weekend. We had planned a trip into what is supposed to be one of the most beautiful destinations in all of Arizona, the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. But it was not to to be. The weather turned foul. In Phoenix we had wind and rain, and when I checked the forecast for Sedona and Flagstaff (the nearest towns to Sycamore Canyon) I saw rain and snow, and temps down into the 20's. Normally that wouldn't have been a deal breaker, but Sarah just does not have the gear for that kind of weather. She's a desert rat. She gets cold when the temps drop below 90. I've been meaning to buy her rain gear and a better sleeping bag, but so far she just hasn't needed it. The weather down here is always so nice and warm and predictable.

Lost Dutchman State Park
Lost Dutchman State Park

We needed a "plan B". I've wanted to check out Lost Dutchman State Park since I arrived in Arizona. I think it's the name that intrigued me, and the legend behind the name. Supposedly, back in the old west, some guy discovered a gold mine in this section of the aptly named Superstition Mountains, but before he could reveal the location of the mine he was murdered. So actually its not the Dutchman who is lost, its his gold mine. Or at least that is one popular version of the legend. Apparently there are many versions of the lost goldmine legend.

The Superstitions
The Superstitions

 Ever since the late 1800's, people have been coming to this area looking for the lost goldmine. Of course no one ever finds it, and some even get lost and die in the desert. It's easy to see how someone could die in the Superstitions. It's rough, rugged, dry, and totally unforgiving. How early settlers survived here I have no idea.

Sarah breaking the rules

Sarah was in a very ornery mood. I was having a great time, but she called the trail "stupid" and complained that she felt like a mule following it. She wanted to trek cross country, and I couldn't dissuade her. Nothing I said changed her mind, and neither did the signs that read "Hikers Do Not Leave The Trail".  I gave her an impassioned speech on Leave No Trace ethics, and when I finished she looked at me like I was a complete sissy. "Rules are meant to be broken" she said, as she jumped off the trail. I reluctantly followed. I kept thinking about those people that died from exposure looking for the lost goldmine.

Desert Tarantula
Desert Tarantula

I was totally ecstatic when I spotted a big Desert Tarantula. The first tarantula I've ever seen in the wild. Even though I've seen them in captivity a lot, and am perfectly aware of just how big they get, I was still taken aback by it's size. It looked straight out of a horror movie. I took probably 50 photos of it. Funny thing is, in 4 months of desert living and hiking, I have yet to see a rattlesnake. 

Overall it was a really great desert day hike, but I feel like I really need to get out for a weekend. Hell, I need to get out for a month, or maybe six. I've got the backpacking bug, and I cant shake it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hikers Unite!

Sorry about my lack of writing lately. I actually have several writing projects that I'm currently working on, and have been really hard-pressed for time. Hopefully these photo-blogs make up for that.

So here is a new category for the photo-blogs. I'm calling it "Hikers Unite!" It's just a celebration of people on the trail. Enjoy.

Hiding from the rain.

Jason and Kelly 

Maggie and Sarah

Luke in the rain