During my second day in Saguaro National Park, I had a chance to truly start to take in many of its treasures. A park like this you never feel like you can see everything, but having spent one day already I knew at least a little bit about its major features and how the light falls on the park. Two things dominate the landscape everywhere you look: the huge Saguaro cacti and the Tucson Mountains in the background.
There are other plants in the Sonoran desert besides the cacti. One of my favorites is the ocotillo. This plant grows as long spindly rods that shoot straight up from a central point on the ground, never branching or seeming to bend. It’s covered with long spines all year long. Although the desert suffered a serious drought, a few of the plants were beginning to leaf out.
It seems that the area of Saguaro National Park was popular for many hundreds of years. The Hohokam people once lived in this area, although they were gone before the first Europeans arrived in North America. One on hill top, they have created marvelous designs on the rocks known as petroglyphs. Most of these designs are abstract shapes, spirals are especially common, but a few depict animals or people. Whether there was some purpose to the design or they were just created for enjoyment remains a mystery.
After spending some time with the petroglyphs on Signal Hill, I went back to my tent area to eat some lunch and get out of the harsh sun. It always pays to keep your camera at your side. Fortunately I had it there when I noticed an ant lumbering beneath the weight of an enormous wood chip it was transporting. Suddenly the camera equipment I carry around felt a lot lighter.
Most of the time I take landscape photos by moving around and stopping when I see something that interests me or great light. I had a vision of a photograph I wished to take even before I arrived in Arizona. I had an inspiration to create a silhouette image of a Saguaro cactus. In my mind, the cactus would be on a diagonal ridgeline of a mountain with the sunset over the ridge. My first attempt at getting this shot was yesterday, but it was a miserable failure. So I tried again today at sunset, but with a couple of hours of looking I could not find a saguaro positioned as I hoped. Instead this was the best silhouette that came out of the evening – a far cry from what I was looking for. I was determined to come back and try for a third day to capture the image I wanted.
Sometime back in January I got to thinking that I really had to do some serious photography. I was taking some photos during the winter in Michigan, but with only a little bit of time here and there it can be difficult to put the time in needed to get some good photos. So I quickly settled on going somewhere and late March was the first available time. This is a great time to photograph shorebirds and wading birds down in Florida, but I had a great time doing that the last two springs. March is a strange time of year – it’s not quite spring in most of the country and in many places the winter is noticeably not at its peak. I narrowed it down to options. The first was photographing adorable harp seals being born on the ice in Canada. I definitely need some work on my landscape photography, so I chose to head down to southern Arizona based on advice from a great book by one of the best, John Shaw. Before I say anything else, let me offer a big thanks to all the people I met down in Arizona. Their help was indispensable and let me have a wonderful time on my trip. The people were numerous – from campground hosts, to birders, to other photographers, to the pleasant people I met just walking around the parks I visited – I greatly appreciate all the help and advice I received.
Southern Arizona it was! After a late flight into Tucson, it was a few hours of sleep before heading out in the dark early enough to make it to Saguaro National Park before the faintest light. As a kid I had this view from movies and television that deserts were full of sand and not much else except the occasional cactus or lizard. When I found out the truth, it was a pleasant surprise. Saguaro National Park lies within the Sonoran desert – a very unique ecosystem that reaches about as far north as Tucson and extends down into Mexico. As you might guess from its name, it’s dominated by the might Saguaro cactus.
As it was my first day in SW Arizona, my priority wasn’t so much nailing great images (as you can tell from these), but rather starting to learn about the area and scouting around for the future. So I visited all corners of the park from before 6am until 8pm or so when the light was gone. The saguaros are everywhere and in many different shapes and sizes. The one you see here is a little baby. They live for around 200 years and grow to the size of huge trees (50 feet tall). So much of the life in the desert seems to be adapted to them – using them as homes, perches, or resting in their shade. The one thing you can’t tell from the photos is that the wind makes a unique sound blowing across the accordion folds in their skin.
Whether you are old or new to my blog, I hope you enjoy the photos, stories, and anecdotes that you find here. Maybe you’ll learn something new about wildlife, photography, or some of the inspiring natural places in this beautiful country. Most of all, I hope to increase your appreciation of some of the natural treasures we are fortunate enough to have and the need to preserve this heritage for the future.
For those of you who have read my old blog, you may be wondering if I dropped off the face of the earth. I suppose I sort of did for a while. I wanted to do things differently than I had been with my old blog, and setting up the new website came first. Boy did it take a lot longer than I was expecting. After the site was up, again it took more time before the blog piece was settled.
Now it’s all done and ready to go! Perhaps at some time I’ll move the old blog content over to here, but if you’re interested you can check it out at robertrommel.blogspot.com. I know there’s a big time gap between the two blogs that included a dream trip to Alaska, but I’ll be starting with recent events. Enjoy!