Saturday, May 23, 2020

January Journey, Part 2 - Saguaro National Park

The second stop on our January Journey was Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona.  The park is located outside Tucson, and has two sections:  west and east.  Over the course of two days, we visited both.

The primary attraction is the saguaro cactus, which only grows in the Sonoran Desert.

As you might expect with plants in a desert environment, saguaro cacti grow very slowly -- they may take 20 to 50 years to reach a height of 3-4 feet -- and have a life span of 150 to 200 years.  They can grow as tall as 40 feet or more.  The tallest saguaro ever measured was 78 feet high.

Saguaro cacti have become an iconic symbol of the southwest United States, even though they do not grow in Texas, New Mexico, or Utah.  They are very photogenic, which is what brought us to the park, especially in the early morning and late afternoon hours.

One of the obvious features of the saguaro cactus is its arms.  Arms develop to increase the plant's reproductive capability, as they create more flowers and fruit.  A cactus's first arm may appear at 75 to 100 years of age; some saguaros never develop any arms at all.

It was fun to look for plants with strange-looking arm shapes:

Some cacti have only a few arms . . .

Others have a lot . . .

And sometimes the arms become so heavy they break:

You can see parts of the internal structure of the cactus in the photo above -- particularly the "ribs" of wood that are as long as the cactus itself.

Here's a dead saguaro where the outer layers have disappeared, leaving only the skeleton:

In addition to looking for weird arm structure, I enjoyed making close-up images of visually interesting parts of the plants:

And back-lit plants provided additional photo opportunities:

In addition to the saguaro cacti, the park is home to many other varieties of cactus, including the familiar prickly pear, 


and barrel.

This variety is called golden barrel for obvious reasons:

One variety of cholla, called "teddy bear," looks cute . . .

but it's particularly nasty because the spines snag your shoes or clothing and break off pieces of the cactus with just the slightest tug.

To see just how nasty these things are, click here for a short video.  Relevant portion runs from 1:15 to 2:35.

I'm not one to miss a visually interesting photo op, so I couldn't resist the patterns on the overhead structure above the observation deck at the Visitor Center.

I also converted a few of my color cactus images to black-and-white to feature the textures:

Finally, of course, we couldn't leave without getting a sunburst shot:

If you would like to see these images (and more) in a larger format, please visit my photogrpahy website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

January Journey, Part 1 - Joshua Tree National Park

In January my photo buddy Bruce and I took a seven-day trip to visit Joshua Tree National Park in southern California and Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona.  This is the first of a three-part series about our journey.

Joshua Tree NP is huge -- over 1,200 square miles (larger than the state of Rhode Island) straddling two different desert ecosystems:  the higher-elevation Mojave and the lower elevation Colorado Desert, which is the western end of the larger Sonoran Desert that stretches into southern Arizona (which we will visit later) and northern Mexico.

Joshua Tree NP gets its name from the strange-looking variety of yucca plant (Yucca brevifolia) that is native to the Mojave Desert.

The tree branches take on weird shapes, like something out of a Dr. Seuss world:

In addition to the trees, the park is filled with large boulders and outcroppings of granite.

The outcroppings and boulders are great for climbing.  We saw these two climbers and their outfitter/coach (yellow shirt) when we stopped for lunch one day:

In some places solitary boulders appear far from the large outcroppings and boulder fields:

This one looks as if it fell from the sky of a Magritte painting:

If you are interested in how these boulders and rock fields were formed, the National Park Service has a nice 2-minute video and article about it here.

Before it became a national park, the area was used for grazing (and rustling) cattle and mining for gold, silver, copper, and other minerals.  There are 288 abandoned mining sites within the park.  One of the ranches and mines was owned by Bill Keys, a true wild-west character.  Keys also operated Wall Street Mill, a stamp mill that serviced his own mine and mines of others for crushing rocks to extract the ore.

Wall Street Mill (abandoned)

In the early 1940s, Keys got into a dispute with a neighboring rancher, Worth Bagley, who blocked Keys' access to the Wall Street Mill, claiming that the road to the mill crossed Bagley's property.  On May 11, 1943, to enforce his claim, Bagley opened fire on Keys; he missed.  Keys returned fire; he didn't miss.

Keys was convicted of manslaughter and served four years in San Quentin, until, through the work of crime writer Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason), he was pardoned and released in 1948.  After his release, Keys erected a marker where the shoot-out occurred.

                                                                      "Here is where
                                                                       Worth Bagly [sic]
                                                                       bit the dust
                                                                       at the hand
                                                                       of W. F. Keys
                                                                       May 11, 1943"

This marker is a replica; the original was vandalized and has been removed to prevent further damage.

We had a great time wandering around and photographing the bizarre looking trees.  

One of our favorite techniques was to capture a sunburst through the sharp-pointed leaves of the trees.  We got a bunch of them.

By chance, I even got a starburst in the very center of my lens, which yielded a bulls-eye from the internal reflections in the lens!  (Never had seen one of those before!)

Along the way, we saw a few ravens . . .

and a little Western scrub jay:

But in general we just enjoyed the weird-looking plants:

No trip in the southwest would be complete, however, without an old abandoned vehicle . . .

After a couple of days at Joshua Tree, we headed east to our next destination:  Saguaro National Park, adjacent to Tucson, Arizona (coming in the next post).

If you would like to see these and additional images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.