Cochise County, Arizona – April 2023 – Cochise Stronghold

What was hoped to be a hike in the mountains at Cochise Stronghold turned out to be a bust because one of the washes had too much water for a safe crossing.

A side trip through a campground that had in previous years had a wildfire showed that nature can make a stunning comeback, with the spring grass bright green with evidence of the previous wildfire still evident.

As we were leaving the area we came across this beautiful setting with some white tail deer frolicking in the tall grasses. Sometimes busts turn out to be winners!

One of my personal favorite photos in a long time, sheer luck with the timing and setting.

Tucson – April 2022 – Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park is one of the most popular hiking locales in all of Southern Arizona. The scenery is spectacular.

A few wildflowers are still in bloom.

Saguaros can live over 150 years, but even when they reach their end, they are impressive, and provide habitat for wildlife.

The Canyon Loop Trail starts out by making your way across a wide wash where you will get your feet a bit wet.

After climbing out of the wash you make your way back towards the mountains for a mile or so, passing a variety of scenic landscapes.

Eventually you make the turn and start heading back, with most of the return route through the washes.

And if you are a beagle the perfect ending is a quick dip in the cool water of the creek.

Pinal County, Arizona – April 2023 – Highway 177

There are lots of scenic highways in Arizona, most far longer than the 31 miles of Arizona Highway 177. The road runs between two small towns, Winkelman and Superior.

While most of the route is very scenic, it does run along the massive Ray Copper Pit (no photos – why ruin the scenery).

The good news is the rest of the route have views like this.

The road drops more than 1000 vertical feet going south from Superior. It is a popular route for motorcycles, as we passed about 50 motorcycles going northbound in the 30 miles.

Many of the hillsides were covered in wildflowers on this early April day.

Once you reach the Gila River basin you find numerous fields of green.

A short line railroad runs up the valley from Winkelman, and ends our great ride along Arizona Highway 177.

San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona – March 2023 – Wildflower Oasis

Peridot Mesa is part of a volcanic field in the San Carlos Apache Tribe Reservation. While it is noted for it’s unique geology as a result of the volcanic activity, each spring it becomes a wildflower oasis.

The weather community seems to have found new terms for old occurrences and then over use them, one being ‘superbloom’. I am not sure if this qualifies as a superbloom, but it was fantastic.

When you look closely you can see the poppies mixed in next to the volcanic rocks.

As you make your way up to the top of the mesa, there are spectacular views for 360 degrees.

Once you crest the top you get a view to the east showing the transition from poppies to desert chicory.

It should be noted that the entire mesa is on Apache land so you must pay a $10 per person permit fee before entering. Once you do you are welcome to roam throughout though.

Well worth the $10.

The roads, while dirt, are passable by cars.

It is also open range grazing for the animals.

Peridot Mesa is an amazing place to see wildflowers. It’s remoteness means it is far less crowded than Picacho Peak, and the others.

Nature’s reward for a cool, rainy winter in the desert.

Tucson – March 2023 – Views from Above South and West Tucson

A beautiful Saturday morning provided the perfect setting for a helicopter tour of the Tucson area.

We chose to fly with Volare Helicopter, with the owner Ryan as our pilot. Having flown in airplanes hundreds of times this was my first ride in a helicopter, but Ryan made us feel at ease from the first moment.

After a few minutes explaining the sounds and feels of the 4 seat Robinson 44 helicopter, we were off.

The first noteworthy view was of the Casino del Sol, backed by the smaller hills in the middle of the shot, with the Santa Catalina’s filling the background.

Just a bit further east revealed this expansive view of the entire valley, with downtown Tucson looking quite small compared to the towering Catalina’s in the background.

The Asarco mine filled the view south. An early visit to this mine is detailed here.

Black Mountain is a lava capped mesa on the San Xavier Reservation. While not visible here, the mountain top is home to ruins of an ancient Hohokam fortification.

The mountain is off limits to the public, so this view from above is the only way to see the saguaros growing out of the lava covered hillside.

The Tohono O’odham Nation owns the somewhat symmetrical Desert Diamond Casino. Clearly a light gambling crowd on this Saturday morning.

The Green Valley Pecan orchards extend as far as you can see to the south. The ponds in the foreground are at a concrete plant.

This simple view of the interstate running through the desert provides a great contrast of nature and development.

This is I 19, which runs 60 miles from Tucson to Nogales. It has for it’s entire existence, been the only interstate in the United States to use kilometers instead of miles for the exit numbers and mileage markers.

The Marriott Starr Pass Resort takes up a huge space at the base of the Tucson Mountains.

A couple of close ups of the mountains as we made our way back west.

The view from 1500′ above the ground shows the varied topography of the area – large expanses of flat desert areas, with some smaller mountains backed by the towering ‘sky islands’.

While this is the first in a series of aerial views of Tucson, our tour ended where it started, at Ryan Field on the far west end of town.

Picacho Peak, Arizona – March 2023 – The Poppies Are Popping

With the abundant rain and snow that has occurred throughout the desert southwest in the 2022-2023 winter it is expected that the wildflower season will be spectacular.

The first show for the Tucson area is at Picacho Peak.

Picacho Peak is about 1/2 between Tucson and Phoenix. For more than 100 years the main forms of transportation have rolled past this uniquely shaped mountain.

The first road was a wagon trail, followed later by the railroad. On this day the railroad served as a backdrop for a great patch of poppies. In the far right center are the tops of the snow covered Catalina Mountains.

As the automobile came into existence Arizona Highway 84 was paved past Picacho Peak. In the 1960s it was replaced by the now 6 lane Interstate 10, yet the poppies continue to thrive.

Because it is directly along the major freeway between the two cities, and is the first in the area to bloom, the crowds were quite large. We opted not to sit in the huge line to get into the park, rather found a space outside the park and walked in.

It was well worth the short walk.

In addition to the poppies the ground cover has a verdant green look.

But it is the poppies that everyone comes for.

The beautiful colors, along with the impressive geological features of Picacho Peak, make the visit a must. Just plan ahead, be patient and enjoy.

Santa Cruz County, Arizona – February 2023 – A Ride up Box Canyon Road

The Santa Rita Mountains are located in the northern portion of Santa Cruz County and southern Pima County, Arizona. They rise as high as 9453′ Mt Wrightson, towering 6000′ above the nearby towns.

As with the other mountains in Southern Arizona, there is snow this time of year above 7000′-8000′ elevation.

While there are highways that circle the mountains, Box Canyon Road rises up and through the shoulder of the northern end of the mountains. This dirt road is fairly well maintained, and an easy drive down in the valley – tricky enough though that all photos for this posting was taken by my co-pilot in life while we bumped along the road.

As you rise up the western side of the pass you get great close ups of the 9300′ Mt Wrightson.

The mountains here have a variety of vegetation growing on them, heavily dependent on which way they face as well as their elevation. The higher up the mountain, the more precipitation, resulting in a much denser coverage of trees clearly seen in these two photos. The close ups were taken with a 400mm Canon lens.

The canyon narrows the further up you go.

A switchback provided a look back to where we had just come from, as well as the entire valley and the Sierrita Mountains in the background.

At it’s narrowest point the road is barely one lane, with one side going nearly vertical above you and the other a very steep drop into the wash – which is why someone other than the driver is taking the photos.

Once you reach the top you do not go back down – you come into the Sonoita Plains – a large grasslands at an elevation over 5000′, so there is none of the desert landscape seen in the lower elevations.

As we continued on east towards Arizona Highway 83 we get one last look at Mt Wrightson up close.

The final portion of the afternoon ride back north on Arizona 83 takes you past the Empire Mountains. We have dropped a bit in elevation so the desert landscaping is starting to return.

As I looked through the photos I found this one – alien? rouge balloon? or more likely a strange reflection?

No flash was used, but we have a perfect circle in the sky 🙂

Regardless of where you live, getting off the main roads can provide great scenery for photography, and sometimes maybe something more.

Tucson – December 2022 – Snow on the Mountain

One of the great things about living in Tucson is you can have a nice warm 60 degree winter day and make the 25 mile drive up Mt Lemmon to snow!

This particular snow has not yet left enough snow for skiing, but it is getting close.

The road to the very top is always closed off for the winter, but it makes a great sledding hill.

The town of Summerhaven does a great business when the snow flies, and the road crews clear the road up the mountain.

As you make your way back down the mountain the snow gets less and less, until once you are under 6000′ elevation it is gone.

And before you know it you are back in the desert and 60 degrees.

Tucson – October 2021 – Late Afternoon on the Mountain

An afternoon trip up Mt Lemmon to check out the leaves.

The late afternoon drive offered numerous shadowing shots.

A climber near Windy Point made her way to the top.

The views towards sunset caused dramatic effects.

We reached the valley floor just before sunset.

A quick trip through Saguaro National Park as the sun finally set.