Roadrunner Rush

I moved to Arizona from Eugene, Oregon, also known as Track Town USA.  Road runners were everywhere—streets, sidewalks, and trails.  Funny that the collegiate athletes are called “Ducks.”

Here in Arizona, ducks are limited to rare wetlands in the desert.  Roadrunners, on the other hand, thrive in the deserts and chaparral of the Southwest, and it is always a special treat to encounter this bizarre member of the cuckoo family.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

I live in Granite Dells, a wonderland of granite outcrops with clearings (“dells”) nestled among the boulders and peaks.  This is roadrunner country.  Continue reading

Wildlife Wonders of Tanzania

My first experience of East Africa was in 1979, and it changed my life profoundly.  The wildlife and people of Kenya and Tanzania have become “family” to me–not replacing kinship but adding to it.  After the tremendous success of the June 2015 safari, I have set up two exciting and very different safaris in order to renew my connections there and give others the chance to experience the very best that an African safari can offer.

The next safari takes us off the beaten path using small planes to get us to wilderness parks few people are even aware of: Selous, Ruaha, Katavi, Mahale.  Here are details: Tanzania WILD: Explore the Exceptional (July 25-August 8, 2016).

The next will be in January-February 2017 when we can expect the Great Migration to be in the shortgrass plains of the southern Serengeti.  It also coincides with green landscapes, wildflowers, and tremendous bird populations as winged visitors for Europe and Asia join the African residents.  I hope you can join us! Tanzania Herds & Birds, Nature & Culture (January 25-Feb. 6, 2017).

A few months ago, I gave a presentation at Prescott College, and they video-taped it so that if you were not there, you can now, through the wonders of technology, experience that presentation and vicariously go on safari.

Thoughts on J. Henri Fabre

Plains Lubber, Brachstola magna

Sitting in a burlap blind at the edge of the vast Malheur marsh in SE Oregon, my camera on my lap, I knew I might have hours to wait before some creature appeared within range of my lens.  I was new to wildlife photography, but I was aware that constant vigilance was a price the photographer must assume for success.  Continue reading

Hope has Wings

Hope has Wings

A Monarch & a College PresidentMonarch 102814

It’s late October here in Prescott, Arizona, and summer seems to be lingering, maybe loitering, as if it had nothing better to do.  Frost has yet to visit, and the warm afternoons invite shorts and light shirts, somewhat to the delight of the mosquitoes, who have not given up on summer either.

But the birds are not fooled.  Bald Eagles are showing up at the lakes, where the swallows are long gone.  Sparrows and juncos visit the feeders, far from their breeding grounds, while orioles and grosbeaks are likely sipping the avian equivalent of margaritas south of the border. Continue reading

Landscape Lunacy: Chaparral on Fire

29 June 2013.  Prescott, Arizona.  At Granite Mountain, eleven days after the eruption of the big Doce Fire, the smoke has cleared—mostly.  There are still hot pockets (inedible ones) with potential for flames to rise from the ashes and run amok again.  Mother Nature teases us with clouds trailing virga—and even a few drops of liquid that reach the ground—but the hot winds accompanying the clouds continue their mischief, and dry lightning ignites new blazes around the county.  A microburst (sorry, not an artisan brew) takes down trees in town and starts a fire.  The firefighters are still out there at the mountain, and aircraft drone overhead on their missions of attempted control.  But for most of us, the adrenalin has subsided; our fears have receded.

30 June 2013.  One of those fires started two days ago happened to be in Yarnell, and today it erupted into the disastrous fire that took the lives of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the same folks who fought the Doce Fire and, in the process, saved the sacred ancient juniper that may have watched the comings and goings of wildfire for millennia.  I was photographing the aftermath of the Doce Fire when I saw the terrible black cloud rising to the south, so I raced down there and watched from a safe distance as the flames engaged in the chaotic dance of pyrotechnics triggered by an advancing monsoonal cell.  I heard and saw the screaming influx of ambulances and feared for the worst—but it was even worse than my greatest fears.

Two major local disasters by fire in Yavapai County within two weeks.  Sorrow and grieving for beloved Granite Mountain (clearly personified in the emotions of many) and the brave firefighters dominate discussion.

28 July 2013.  Now a month later, our wounds healing with time, we can look at the context of these fires with a bit more rationality—or at least we should.  “Don’t mess with Mother Nature” is a common phrase, and it exemplifies our tacit willingness to shift responsibility to a perceived natural deity rather than accepting an obligation to live our lives as informed citizens of Planet Earth. Continue reading

Drought and Dry Humor

A weather forecast of “fair” or “dry and sunny” can get away with a lot.  Rain or snow quickly call attention to themselves, but “another sunny day” can hide the cumulative stresses of drought to those of us whose technology provides us with the water and other resources we need.  The recent fires remind us how stressed the plants are—ready to burst into flame when provoked.

No one can deny the magic of water.  After months of prolonged drought, the plants are so dry that you hesitate to touch them for fear they will disintegrate in your hand.  Rub your hand over a patch of moss, and it flakes off like dust.  Lizards look parched, desiccated, skeletal.  Frogs are nothing but a vague memory.  Leaves have dropped from some of the oaks, a necessary sacrifice if they are to make it through the period of stress.

Drought is worse than it generally cracked up to be.

Drought is worse than it is generally cracked up to be.

When drought persists for months, you stop expecting rain.  Your skin cracks, your nostrils crust with blood, and there is a constant taste of salt on your lips.   The sun moves across the sky each day, and the shadows echo its passing.  Your own shadow appears less substantial, as if life everywhere has backed off, been reduced to its minimum.  Your cracked lips can barely smile at dry humor. Continue reading

When Verde Means Gold

Autumn on Upper Verde River

Just as a migratory bird feels an irresistible inner urge teach fall, so do I experience a powerful restlessness satisfied only by ignoring my in-box, pushing aside the endless piles of papers begging to be shuffled, and taking off to some quiet corner of nature when I can embrace the changing of the seasons with full attention.

Autumn hasn’t been waiting for me—the aspens have scattered their yellow coins already up at Mt. Francis, and the maples have displayed their crimson badges at Mingus Mountain without my approval.  I am not teaching my Interpreting Nature class this fall, which usually provides me a legitimate excuse to get out there.   Thus, if I am not to miss the whole gaudy show of carotenoids, anthocyanins, and other pigments, I have to seize the moment, and yesterday afternoon I did just that. Continue reading

In Defense of Tumbleweeds

Dried tumbleweed

Tumbling Tumbleweed

Drifting along, like a tumbling tumbleweed.  That catchy tune warbled by the Sons of the Pioneers somehow epitomizes nostalgia for the Old West.  Never mind that the tumbleweed is a carpetbagger, an interloper, an émigré otherwise known as Russian thistle.  I’ve heard tell that the Russkies sent it here as a kind of biological weapon, a plague on our plains, a prickly infestation designed to lay waste to our grasslands, to overwhelm us with its ability to take any of our attacks against it and come back stronger than ever.  Where is the real truth here?  Continue reading

Granite Dells & the Lakes

Granite Dells and the Lakes—Central to Arizona

In Arizona, a state noted for natural wonders, Yavapai County stands out.  Prescott’s physical environment—pine forests, chaparral, pinyon-juniper woodlands, grasslands, dramatic rock formations, and wetlands—is one of the reasons it is called “Everybody’s Hometown.”  Watson and Willow Lakes in the Granite Dells dominate this landscape.

For the entire month of June, the Prescott Public Library Viewerie will display more than thirty large (some up to six feet in length) photographs in professional gallery mounts of Granite Dells and the Lakes (Watson & Willow) that stand as the centerpiece of the Tri-city area of Prescott, Prescott Valley, and Chino Valley in Yavapai County, Arizona.  They represent the work of Walt Anderson, acclaimed nature photographer, and Joe Phillips, master printer.  A reception open to the public is set for Wednesday, June 6, from 5:30-7:30 pm at the library.

This site presents an expanded tour of the content and images, with bonus photos and text added, but it cannot replace the impact of seeing the images in live time.  Please try to visit the exhibition.  Images are for sale from the photographer (geolobo@cableone.net or 928-445-7470), and other images and sizes, individually and lovingly printed by Joe, can be created for your needs.  Here is the price list with images.

This exhibit celebrates our natural heritage and urges all citizens, including decision-makers, to prioritize protection and wise stewardship of our great natural assets.  Right here, right now, in the heart of this watershed, we must act to keep what we love. Continue reading