Such a lovely lovely first day of the year with Dan, Jessica, Mark, wearing my new to me Earth First T-shirt which once belonged to Z and came to me via Julie as a Christmas gift — a most precious thing. We started at the King’s Canyon trail head, and did a glorious loop up past the petroglyphs my dad first showed me. Deer, even though the trail was busy.
Anyone who came to visit us was taken to Kitt Peak, once the largest, most advanced astronomical observatory in the world. It is still wondrous, though larger, more modern telescopes have since been placed further from lights and cities.
I’ve never driven there, and it bears so little resemblance to childhood memories. In snow and wind it was quite honestly terrifying.
But the skies, oh the skies were wondrous.
Once arrived, we found they had cancelled the next tour because of high winds. The highest winds I have ever experienced I think. We wandered about a little, the solar telescope is the one I remember best so we went there. Doors all closed, therefore locked. I crept towards the edge to see the incredible view but didn’t even get close.
I’ve never driven there, and it bears so little resemblance to childhood memories. In snow and wind it was quite honestly terrifying. Once arrived, we found they had cancelled the next tour because of high winds. The highest winds I have ever experienced I think. We wandered about a little, the solar telescope is the one I remember best so we went there. Doors all closed, therefore locked. I crept towards the edge to see the incredible view but didn’t even get close.
We must go back and see it again properly.
We drove back down along Ajo, down the roller coaster of Kinny and along through the Tucson Mountains to hike Brown Mountain Trail. I ran up here once to sit on this hill and watch a wall of rain across the valley. The trail is beuatiful, though perhaps a little too close to the road, which is far too busy for my liking. But we came up the hill and stared back across to Baboquivari and Kitt Peak, sun beams streaming down to light them up. Sacred mountains.
Mark, Julie and I had our first great walk of Christmas holiday ought eighteen up in the Catalina foothills (directions here), with flowers blooming everywhere in such a wet winter. It was beautiful. We went off trail a bit and I had forgotten how much I loved that, but we did pay for it in blood and Mark’s new typology of stabby things, hooked stabby things and barbed stabby things. Also, sore muscles.
I renewed one of my old traditions today, when I was little I would go searching for leprechauns in the desert on March 17th. I figured if there were any in the new country, they’d be out and about on St. Patrick’s day. I still believe in the little people, but of course, I have yet to find one in Arizona.
It was beautiful. I hiked through the heady smell of desert saje and another plant I know not, amidst the calling of birds and the mad fleeing of lizards.
Tiny baby lizards, most of them smaller than my pinky finger. Hundreds of them scuttled across the sand, waving their little tails wildly. The tail serves as a decoy, it is a striking white with black stripes underneath, and they whip it above them to invite attack. Once in a botched lizard capture, I ended up with a tail between my fingers. The amazing ability of lizards to regenerate their tail, however, is one of the most incredible abilities I know of, and lizards are some of my very favourite things. Regeneration and the ability to relax completely when flipped over and their bellies are stroked? I wouldn’t mind that myself.
I went West today, and it was such a difference. Just one more reason to stay away from the East side I suppose. All the flowers I remember, and more. Not many poppies of course, but in the wash where the water table is close to the surface, there were golden clumps of them.
and evidence that there had been more, I’m not sure if I missed the height of the season, but I did miss some blooms. The penstemons were in full display though, and glorious, from afar they look like a pink haze blowing back and forth
The sage filled the air. The plant itself secretes a kind of gum that was collected and used as incense in the old missions, and smells…er…divine. Looks it too
And the phacelia filled the grasses along the wash and beside the trails the way I remember
A couple of times I followed deer trails up into the hills and then back down to the wash, I missed the deer but judging from the trails, only just. And they were incredibly heavily traveled, the volume made me think that javelina must be using them as well, but I found no other evidence…nor could I smell them. I can’t say I was sorry about that. The hillsides are covered with the gold of grass, and fiddleneck and phacelia and wild onion
I also walked amidst the mad fluttering of butterflies
And found a couple of larkspur plants, they have always been the rarest, and one of my favourites
And there were globe mallows, some tiny lupins, jewel flowers, rattlesnake weed, and many others that I did not know.
I love springtime. It is already hot of course, I stopped at the Circle K on the way home and got a thirstbuster…that took me back, way back! I forgot how nice soda tastes after a long hike. And then my dad’s birthday dinner at La Indita followed by my mum’s chocolate cake…mm. I think it is very cool that my dad, Patrick Colum Gibbons, was born today. Of very immeditae Irish descent. And he was named after my grandad, not the day.
This year there are no carpets of golden poppies or sunflowers, there are no giant swaths of color splashed across the Tucson desert, and part of me is disappointed of course. I love glorious abandon.
This is one of the years that requires a closer eye, a delight in the subtle, the ground-hugging, the tiny. I love that too. The desert is still full of flowers, they riot across the stones in perfect blooms the size of a fingernail.
Eriastrim Diffusum or Miniature Woolystar
Monoptilon bellioides, also known as Mojave Desert Star. I think. There’s something about seeing what is usually unseen. there were a couple of phacelias, though I remember years when they have filled the grasses alongside the washes in deep gorgeous blues unfurling.
The flowers have definitely seen better years, and the same goes for the prickly pear. While you’re looking for what is always missed, seeking out the small beauties and the things that are hidden, you also find these guys
The only thing that seemed to be blooming as normal were the mallows.
And when you look up the desert is still wide open, beautiful
You can’t even tell that tiny flowers blanket the hills, and that lizards crouch frozen in the mottled shade of bushes.
Dad and I found this off the beaten trail, beneath a mesquite tree where a small arroyo split into two
It could be a shrine, a joke, a memory. Plastic flowers in the desert almost always commemorate death, marking graves or the sites of accidents where flesh failed and souls left bodies. In the desert death is as present as life, they twine around each other, you see it and traces of it everywhere. Scattered bones, skin, remnants of bodies.
I love life even more beside death. Beauty hidden in an arid landscape and draped around cacti skeletons, or exploding after a good winter of rain in a riotous celebration of color. High arching skies and heat. The smell of creosote and dust. This I understand. I love. I leave it for the world of people and there is so much I don’t understand, though I love there too. I walk through the desert in sandals fearlessly, it is my place. It is a beautiful dangerous place, but I know where the danger lies. The human world? I walk through that in sandals too, but never fearlessly. It hurts much more.
I found them! Eureka!
Well, my dad found them first…and took me too see them out in the desert, we drove and drove, walked and walked…I’m being cagey because I doubt that their exact location should be public knowledge. Because they are just there, you can touch them
It’s extraordinary to touch them, to stand in front of them in the middle of the desert, to search for them under stones. Here’s another, this motif could be seen several times, I don’t know what it means but it has sent my mind imagining of course, mysteries…
There were many more, if you click on the above images you’ll get to my flickr page where you can see all of them, they were truly extraordinary. At one time there were a great deal more, but the rock face is splitting off and falling away, I am sure myriads lie hidden, face down on the earth or crumbled into shards of rock. I happily climbed the cliff faces (not that I need an excuse to climb cliff faces). And the good news is that I can still do it in chanclas, to the right is a steep slope of scree, and myself showing off my powers in flip flops. I suppose I could have more grace and poise, but I am glad I’m still half wild, I worry sometimes that I face incipient and total domestication. Not that sensible footwear means domestication. I hadn’t actually realized the kind of hike we were going on or I might have been tempted into trainers, but I really hate wearing socks if the climate does not absolutely require it.
My brothers and I spent quite a bit of time looking for petroglyphs back in the day, we searched every cliff face within miles of our house I think…little did we know that the internet would soon be along with every location noted, as I have now found out. Still, there’s no real information there on the ancestors who carved them, and no knowledge of what they mean, I suppose they would have had to have been done by the Tohono O’odham, or those who came before? I remember reading a book by Frank Waters years ago about the ancient migrations and how they were tracked on the stone, but it’s been too long for me to remember properly. It was pueblo myth anyway, I doubt the folks down here would agree with it.
It was truly a gorgeous day in the desert today though, and one of the prettiest washes I’ve seen I think. It must be spectacular after the moonsoons, and full of deep pools perfect for swimming.They would collect below the pyroclastic flows of Rhyolite Tuffs like this one
My dad, and my fount of all geological knowledge is at the end of it, an ancient lava flow. The rock is beautiful
There was water there today, left from the rain over Thanksgiving, but there’s definitely more seeping through the rocks in several places. We continued walking down the wash back towards the car
Final views of what I love about this place, saguaros:
Barrel cacti growing out of a rock face
And ocotillos against a blue blue sky