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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Sometimes the BCB falls behind. You think we are in Joshua or Village of Oak Creek when, in reality, we are far down the road. But this is a realtime post! We are coming to you live, right here, right now.  Why? Because we had such an awe-inspiring Sonoran Desert hike yesterday that it couldn't wait, I needed to tell someone. 

Where is "here," you ask? Look at the lead photo and take a guess. Saguaro National Park? No. Tortolita Mountains? Nope. A Botanical Gardens… Sonoran Desert Museum??? Not even close. The next photo (below) is a panorama shot. Sweep left to right; I've never seen a place so gorgeously lush, so proliferated with granite boulders, and treed by stately saguaro cacti. It must be some sort of park, right? Nope. But I it should be. 

Treading this sensory inspiring landscape drubs up déjà vu moments of childhood—the fragrance of damp creosote bush after rain, "wait-a-minute" fish hook stabs from mesquite limbs, stacks of gently curved boulders, and the steady chorus of cactus wrens, happily bathing in puddles and courting potential spring mates. 

Flowers break on south facing slopes; a steady drone of worker bees is pervasive.  

We are boondocking near an old corral, from which a network of trails emanate and crisscross impressive landscapes. They provide unlimited access for hikers and bikers and horseback riders, and the notable 50 Year Trail is among them.

To the north, eyes are freed and run wild across expansive desert plains; clouds seem stacked in layers in such wide-angled horizons. 

To the south, eyes are stalled by undulating foothills—stepping stones to prodigious dragon-backed mountains—a peaceful resting place.

Cholla grows like trees and saguaros are plump from copious winter rains.

I breathe and drink through eyes in such landscapes, deep breaths and gulps brimming with childhood memories of playing stick-gun cowboy and hide-n-seek from a rather high-strung mother. "Mark. You watch out for snakes now. Do you hear me young man?" 

Trails are wet but not muddy, thanks to decomposing granite. It's layered with tracks of those who've gone before… walkers with dogs, runners, mountain bikers, horses. 

My eyes feast, yet never fill. Vegetation is profuse—everything has a thorn, needle, or spline, itching to prick the unwary trespasser. Bizarre shapes run amuck, challenging the brain to make order and sense of it all.  

An unlikely granite boulder balances on top of another, sphere meeting sphere. Climbing for a better look, my leg brushes a boulder. A stream of bright red blood trickles downward, absorbed and diffused by a dirty sock on its third day of use. Unlike kitchen countertops, raw granite is quite abrasive—like shards of broken glass all fused together.  Like everything else in this desert, it wants a piece of you. 

Stroking the balanced boulder, I'm possessed by an inquisitive juvenile compulsion to give it a gentle push, to test the strength of its invisible attachment. But it towers overhead and the "adult" side of my brain (or was it mom?) screams "Best leave it alone." This isn't Disneyland. I'm in the real world where nothing is reinforced—boulders are not attached and fall, rattlesnakes are real and bite. One careless move is all it takes to land a trespasser like me in the ER… or morgue. 

Déjà vu is everywhere… flashback glimpses into a long lost Arid-zona childhood. Buried memories rise from the grave, unearthed by sensory pick and shovel. I'm 5 years old, then 7, 10, 13. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" plays on my new tinny sounding transistor radio. Suddenly, my sister Sally Jo and I are on horseback, headed off on a trail ride to spend the night on top of South Mountain. A rattler spooks our overburdened packhorse; she rears and tumbles awkwardly off the steep downhill side of the trail—rolling, kicking, snorting—eyes wide with fear. 

Sally Jo leaps from her saddle and flails to the rescue. She locks her arms around the struggling horse's head and slowly calms her down. I'm frozen in my saddle, useless and afraid. Another young buck cowboy comes to the rescue. He helps Sally Jo get the packhorse back on its feet and settled. She is grateful and invites him to join our outing. 

Coyotes yip and howl at the moon. I'm awake as Sally Jo sneaks from our tent to his. She is gone for hours. I hear laughter and giggling, and I'm angered and sickened by the cowboy marauder who went from savior to saboteer.   


  1. Well, at least you probably had some beers with you on this excursion unlike the previous one.....


  2. Most excellent photos! I am in love with the Sonoran desert.

  3. What an exceptional year of desert that is currently painted green. The outback unexpected places can hold the best adventures. Great pics!

  4. Such beauty must be shared! How wonderful to see the (almost) spring desert through your lens.

  5. Nice pics, never saw a water bottle fastened like Bobbi's. A special holster with a belt loop? Leave the Lion asleep!

  6. The most beautiful pictures of the desert I have ever seen!

  7. The rains this year have awakened the desert in a way I haven't seen before. It's glorious.


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