Archive for the ‘desert landscape’ tag
Last year, I wrote about my attempt to ride the Catalina Highway all the way to the little town of Summerhaven on the top of Mt. Lemmon. That attempt — for the record — was unsuccessful.
I attempted this epic climb again this past week-end and — this time — I reached the top! The long climb was quite challenging for several reasons. I plan to write a brief report about this 53-mile climb and descent soon.
Meantime, here is a view along the descent (and oh my, what a descent it is!), which takes you from Conifer forests above 8,000 feet in elevation down to the valley floor in Tucson.
I didn’t get much bicycle riding in during 2011 due to distractions (like my job and other photography projects) and the natural fall-off that came along with moving to an auto-centric city with a hot desert climate. I’m not sure what 2012 will produce. A multi-day bicycle tour would sure be fun. Europe would be great.
One thing that is clear: since I began this blog in early 2009, the so-called bicycling movement has gone from a niche activity to a fully mainstream cultural phenomenon. Core77 has an interesting year-end review titled How the Cycling Movement Gained Momentum in 2011.
Anyhow, today’s landscape image was made while riding through the parking lot of the El Con Mall (home to Target, Home Depot, and a 20-screen cineplex). I didn’t have a reason to post this during 2011, but I enjoy the photo so I’m making it my 2012 New Year’s Day image.
I hope everyone has a year full of joyful bicycle riding with family, friends, and loved ones.
Happy New Year!
The warm glow of the desert at dusk.
I passed one car and one rattlesnake during the ride. Plus, I got to see the sunset.
Many of the pictures posted over the last few months were created with the iPhone’s built-in camera.
The image quality is inferior to my Lumix LX-3, but the LX-3 was itself a compromise. I used it mainly because it was smaller and more convenient to carry on my bicycle than the alternatives.
Now, size and convenience are winning out again — hence the increased use of the iPhone.
Since these images are primarily intended for the web (and never larger than 650 pixels wide) I have some margin for error in terms of image quality. That’s why I can still produce acceptable results even when facing tricky lighting situations like those seen in these desert vistas. (However, for the first shot I had to combine two exposures in order to retain marginal detail in the foreground shadow areas.)
The biggest drawback is that printing larger images for a gallery show or portfolio may not be achievable. For this, I could really use a larger sensor, but still compact, Olympus EP-3 or Fuji X-100 — which are the cameras I’m drooling over currently.
However, at this point, I should remind myself of the unlimited nature of material desire and the profound teachings of the Buddha — especially his “Second Noble Truth.”
This is the end of Sabino Canyon’s paved road. Mosquito’s are biting my forearms and shoulders. Twilight is descending (note: for a twilight ride overlooking the Pacific Ocean see this post).
As I’m heading home, about halfway down the mountain, the light is 85 percent gone. Coasting slightly downhill at about 10-15 mph, I suddenly notice a shape in front of my wheel. Without thinking, I swerve. Actually, there wasn’t enough time to swerve; rather it was just a quick flick of the wrist and handlebars — first right, then left.
I immediately look back over my left shoulder and see a snake falling to the ground, as if recoiling from a near vertical strike.
The part of my brain that processes information informs me that the sensation I felt against my leg a fraction of a second ago was the rattlesnake defending itself against what it perceived as a large, warm-blooded creature (that is, me) bearing down on it.
I stopped my bicycle; went back up the road 20 feet; directed my headlight to illuminate the scene; and snapped this picture!
The encounter reminded me of one of my favorite pieces of writing — Snaketime — an essay originally published in the WildEarth Journal by Charles Bowden (re-printed in this book, which as of August 2011 had copies available for $.01).
Here’s an excerpt where Bowden suggests how a snake perceives the world:
For the snake a few things are obvious: I am large, and this is certain because of my footfall. She can hear the footfall of a mouse. I am rich in odor. She can pick up the faintest scents, identify them, and follow a single strand as clearly as if it were signage on an interstate highway system…And I am irrelevant unless I get too close. She will ignore me if I stay six feet away. She will ignore me if I become motionless for 180 seconds.
If I violate the rules of her culture, she will work through a sequence of four tactics. First, she will pretend to be invisible and hope I do not see her. If that fails, she will try to flee. If that fails, she will rattle in hope of frightening me away. And finally, if I am completely ignorant of simple courtesy and get within a foot or so of her, she will attack me…
She herself is cultured. In her lifetime, she will attack maybe twenty or thirty or forty times. She will never attack any member of her own species. She will never be cruel. She is incapable of evil.
–Charles Bowden, from the essay Snaketime
Note to self: starting at my house — rather than the Sabino trail head – would make this an interesting 30 mile ride.
This trail leads to all kinds of hiking possibilities in and around the Santa Catalina Mountains and Mt. Lemmon. The road is paved for about 4 miles, then ends, after crossing Sabino Creek 7-8 times along the way.
More and more I reach for the Brompton when heading out for short rides. I suppose it was just a matter of time before I took the little folder up the Sabino Canyon Trail.
Just a few weeks ago, the Brompton was transporting me around downtown SF and now here we are out in the desert — such a versatile machine!
Descending the Catalina highway toward Tucson.
With about 10-12 miles of downhill miles remaining, I’m feeling pretty good about the day.
My Mt. Lemmon ride was rather ill-planned, meant only as an exploratory trip to see what this mountain is all about.
It began on a Sunday afternoon, fueled by a morning capuchino and cinnamon roll from Cartel Coffee Lab (which was excellent and made me wish I had snapped a picture for an espresso review — click here for the review archives…but I digress).
Getting off to a late start (about 12:30 with the sun already directly above), I parked at the Safeway on Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway, 2-3 miles away from where the road begins to steepen. I wore wool shorts, some puma shot-putting shoes, a cotton tank-top with a lightweight, long-sleeve polyester shirt over that, a scarf-like buff around my neck, and zinc oxide sun protection on my face. I put a vietnamese-style baguette sandwich in my handlebar bag and a full water bottle in my downtube cage.
I felt great the first 7 miles as I climbed the initial few thousand feet. With each switchback the valley began fading away. I remarked to myself that this was the most comfortable I’ve felt on a bike since coming to Tucson: few cars, scenic views, and to me, the satisfying rhythm of a long, hard hill climb (which is what I was used to in California).
Just after making the above picture of this prickly pear cactus, the sound of rapid gunshots rang out from a pickup truck directly across the road. I quickly ascertained the pistoleros were not aiming their bullets at me, but I still felt vulnerable. I didn’t linger.
As I covered this initial ground, I guzzled water at a rate that naively assumed I could fill-up at the numerous official campgrounds en-route (e.g. at mile 6, 12, 18 etc.). So I rolled into the Molino Basin Campground — at around 1:30pm and well into the heat of the day — with a nearly empty water bottle. It was only then that I learned there would be no more water until the Palisades ranger station (more than 14 miles ahead and 4,000 feet above me).
I gamely rode another mile or so, but began to tire. The hot and extremely windy conditions made for tough riding. At times, it felt as though I was barely moving at all as I hammered my lowest gear into 30-mph gusting headwinds.
The opportunity to take a rest and eat something arrived in the form of the Gordon Hirabayashi recreation site. My energy was mostly spent and I was out of H2O. I ate half a sandwich and thought that this would be the end of my climb….
…TO BE CONTINUED in PART II
This past Sunday I decided to head toward the top of Mt. Lemmon to see how far I could get. It’s a tough 20+ mile ride going from the desert floor (at around 2,000′ of elevation) all the way up to a subalpine forest (around 9,000′).
I hope to have a detailed report and more pictures soon. Suffice it to say: I only made it about half way (around 6,000′ just below Windy Point).
Q: do you notice anything wrong with the picture above?
A: the single water bottle (and lack of water along the route), which proved to be my critical undoing!
I’m still getting settled here in Tucson, but I’m making an effort to sustain my 11-mile, round trip, bicycle commute to work (at least before the temperatures reach the triple digits).
Tucson’s beautiful Sabino Canyon is open to bicyclists after 5:00pm, which is where this image was made.
The subject seen here is my current favorite cactus: the Opuntia bigelovii or Teddy Bear Cholla.
Featured Comment by Laura: “It looks like it was a hard dry winter for that area, so not much of a spring bloom. It’s one of the great joys of the desert to see it in bloom, so if you’re there next year I hope it’s a good one! This site is useful for checking out what’s happening with the fleurs. http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/wildupdates.html (lots of ads, but the info is good.) I have indeed removed teddy bear cactus spines with pliers. Not from my own calf, I’m happy to say–it weren’t pretty.”
Nathan replies: What a great website. It confirmed the two other blooming plants I’ve been seeing around Tucson. One is the Hedgehog (Echinocereus) and the other is the Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), which is my new, new favorite cactus — but it turns out it is not actually a cactus! (P.S. Laura is a talented botanist pursuing her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University. I always appreciate her comments when I attempt to write about the plant kingdom).