Symphony of Light on the Sacred Mountain

The mountains are calling,

and I must go!

~ John Muir

The December sky on the mountain gave a magnificent performance, constantly changing from soft grey mist to thick cloud cover, to gentle white wisps, and then to an occasional separation, revealing a blue so intense I could almost taste it. The air temperature was 23 degrees and I felt warm, captivated as I was by the glorious symphony at play around me.

Whenever I am blessed to spend time in the San Francisco Peaks, I am reminded that they are considered sacred by 13 Native American tribes, including the Navajo and Hopi. I personally find that there is a sense of the sacred here, and I can feel God’s presence. When I was on the mountain last week, I stood still. I watched. I listened. I was renewed.

The Peaks are located in the Coconino National Forest and are therefore managed by the USDA Forest Service, who permitted a ski resort (Arizona Snowbowl) to be built on the west side of Mount Humphreys in 1979. In addition to down-hill and cross-country skiing, the San Francisco Peaks provide a place where nature enthusiasts can camp, hike, bike, explore, or simply connect with nature. I have hiked (more rambling than hiking) the peaks in the fall, embracing and photographing the brilliant gold of the aspen and in the spring and summer, allowing the mountain to wrap me in the cool forests of Ponderosa Pine. I have driven the forest roads around the mountain, exploring this home to elk, bobcat, mountain lion, gray fox, mule deer, porcupine, tarantula, javelina, and of course, rattlesnake and the raucous raven.

The San Francisco Peaks are known by different names; the following are two of many. The Navajo call the mountain Dook’o’oosłííd, “the summit which never melts” or “the mountain which peak never thaws.” (History of the San Francisco Peaks and howthey got their names); the Hopi call the Peaks Nuvatukaovi, “The Place of Snow on the Very Top.” The Hopi believe that Nuvatukaovi is home for half of the year to the ancestral kachina spirits who live among the clouds around the summit and bring “gentle rains to thirsty corn plants.” (San Francisco Peaks)

Like many lands in the U.S., the Peaks have been entangled in conflict for decades over land use and mining rights. More recently, Native Americans, environmental groups, and activists have battled the Snowbowl Ski Resort in the courts and in the streets, claiming that when the resort received permission to use reclaimed water to make artificial snow, it was a desecration of the sacred slopes. (Snowbowl project made of wastewater on Indigenous sacred lands, San Francisco Peaks, Arizona, US)

I highly recommend The Arizona Republic article published on August 20, 2021, which presents an in-depth look at “the battleground between tribal cultural values and developers.” (San Francisco Peaks: A sacred place is imperiled by snow made with recycled sewage)

Silence

December 30, 2021 / Mount Humphreys in the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff, Arizona

My Midwest relatives do not share my excitement over a forecast of snow, but when I saw the weather report last week, I was eager to drive 2 1/2 hours north to fill my senses with this magical phenomenon. When I look at this image, I am immediately transported to the mountain, feeling the cold (23 degrees) wind on my face and listening to the silence of fresh snowfall.

Bear Canyon Lake

Twilight in the High Country

It’s not all dry, hot desert in Arizona. Bear Canyon Lake, one of several fishing lakes built by Arizona Game and Fish, is nestled back a series of dirt roads on the Mogollon Rim. The lake, with a depth of 50 feet and set at an elevation of 7600 feet, is accessible only by foot trail from the undeveloped campgrounds above.

Summer Peace at Bear Canyon Lake

Bear Canyon Lake is located just a few hours northeast of Phoenix, Arizona.

As if the earth reflects our lives …

The harshness of the desert landscape with the flat grey sky, dried grass, and formidable, imposing boulders hit me hard while I hiked through Boyce Thompson Arboretum a few days ago. This image is a visual representation of the relentless record-breaking soul-sucking heat (34 days of 110+ temps) and drought in Arizona, the bizarre nature of our world with pandemic isolation, unemployment, and online classrooms, raging wildfires, and the endless vitriol of this election cycle. I pray for rain, for healing, and for peace.

A bit further along the trail, I noticed this desert tree softening the jagged edges of the landscape. I stopped and gazed on the tree a while, taking into my mind and spirit the refreshing green life, and I was reminded to be grateful for all of creation … to be grateful for all that life offers. Without the difficult times, how would we recognize the good times? Without the sad times, how would we recognize the happy times?

While it shows evidence of Arizona’s drought, the arboretum is still a treasure of plants and trees from the Arizona and Sonoran desert as well as from around the world.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum is located east of Phoenix, AZ on Hwy 60.

Respite

It’s Friday evening after work and I need some quiet space. I am blessed to have the Desert Botanical Gardens, a small piece of nature amidst the concrete and glass and noise, just a few miles from my house.

IMG_3378The cacti are in various stages of blooming here in Arizona.

IMG_3367Fragile blossoms atop such dangerous spikes

IMG_3311The Palo Verde in full bloom presents a soft contrast to the majestic saguaro. Soon the blossoms will drop and blow away and we will see the green tree with its ever so tiny leaves. The Palo Verde relies on its green trunk and branches for photosynthesis because the leaves are too small to produce enough nourishment for the tree.

 

IMG_3335The sun begins to set on our day.

Butterfly or Dragon

She reminds me of one of Dany’s Dragons. That could be because I just finished watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones (and audibly gasped as I watched the last 30 seconds). Can you see it? 

Salt River Wild Horses

This herd of about 40 wild horses has captured quite a bit of media attention lately because of a federal proposal to remove them from their Salt River home near Phoenix. Howard-9179

I felt blessed to spend a few hours with these breathtakingly magnificent animals.Howard-9350 Howard-0408

It’s easy to forget that the Salt River Wild Horses are just that … wild. I got this closeup using a 100mm lens, which means that I was very close to the horse, who had approached me. Within a few minutes, the horse got bored and moved on.

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Most of them have deep gashes and cuts, evidence of their power and strength. They fight. They bite. They jostle for dominance. They are pure beauty.

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Majestic Canyon Lights

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I took a friend from Shanghai to photograph our state’s treasure, The Grand Canyon. I was disappointed that I could not “give” her one of Arizona’s fabulous sunsets which would paint the canyon in a riot of colors and hues. When I viewed my images later, I realized that what we had captured might be as good as, or better than, the typical sunset photograph that is ubiquitous throughout the gift shops in Arizona and on the Internet.

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We had waited patiently for sunset, just sure that the clouds would shift ever so slightly to allow the sun to give us a show. We watched the rain as it moved around the butte to form a soft curtain which made its path steadily toward us.

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I’m sure that we looked absurd when we donned rain ponchos and held umbrellas above our cameras as we stubbornly stayed to capture the last bit of light and shadow in The Grand Canyon (and before the last shuttle departed).

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Throughout the day, I had wished for a break in the clouds for the dance of light in the canyon. We got a few glorious moments.

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