Holy Cacti & Succulents, Batman!

We spent the last day of our trip in the Phoenix area before heading back to home base in Colorado.  We weren’t sure what we’d do with the day, that is until my husband got on the interwebs as the trip got closer and found the Desert Botanical Gardens were not far from where we were staying.  Since he’s a desert/cactus/succulent/nature nerd (and I mean that in the best and most loving way!), it seemed like a good way to spend our day.

We arrived at the gardens not long after they opened, only expecting to spend a couple of hours there and then head off to do something else.  Boy, were we wrong!  The Gardens were so much bigger than we realized with tons to see, starting from the get-go with a gorgeous mix of cacti and succulents greeting you just after the entrance.

Cactus Wonderland Awaits

Admittedly, I screwed up a little by not checking out their camera & tripod policies prior to arriving.  Knowing that many botanical gardens have restrictions on cameras – especially with tripods – I played it safe and only brought my phone.  To say I started kicking myself for that mistake immediately is an understatement!  Not long after we arrived, I was seeing all kinds of macro shots I wanted to take.  Then I saw folks coming in with tripod setups!  Blerg!  I did what I could with the camera on my phone during the day.  Guess we’ll just have to go back!  (Oh darn.)

Putting my camera mis-planning aside, we dove in.  There were so many cool things to see.  There’s gobs of variety – a lot of the species of plants in the complex are native to Arizona and they have a lot of non-native species too.  The Gardens are setup as a central hub with desert plants, then 4 or 5 different loop trails shoot off of that main hub.  One loop takes you through wildflowers native to the area (though we were a few weeks too early for the bloom), another takes you on a nature trail, etc.  It was a really nice setup that lent itself to leisurely wandering and taking it all in at our own pace.

Along the way we ran into several awesome docents who filled us in on the different plants around us, how the plants function in the desert, and so on.  It also happened to be a bird watching day at the Gardens, so there were a lot of folks running around with binoculars trying to spot what types of birds were passing through.  A few of the birders chatted us up, adding to our knowledge of the creatures in this part of the southwestern desert.

The Gardens did have a few art pieces mixed in along the way.  My 2 favorites were representations of cacti.  The first piece was a sculpture made of the iron spikes that are part of a cactus transplant system developed back in the 30s (if I recall correctly) that’s still in use today to preserve native cacti when they need to be relocated due to construction.  The other piece was a Chihuly glass sculpture near the entrance that was sparkling brilliantly as we left.  My mother-in-law makes stained glass and fused glass pieces as a hobby, and generally loves anything related to glass.  Thanks to her, I knew those had to be Chihuly pieces because it fit both in style and placement when I think of his work.

We spent a considerable part of our day at the Desert Botanic Gardens, so there wasn’t much time to do anything else in Phoenix other than to grab a bite and try some more of the local beer before going home.  That’s when I happened upon a near-match of an all-time favorite beer of mine that’s been out of production for 2 years now, so the beer quest was a massive success in my book!  (Thank you McFate’s for ending our trip on that tasty note!!)

– JC

Pursuit of Petroglyphs

Before we left Mesa Verde National Park for the last stop on our trip in Durango, we had time for one quick morning spin to Petroglyph Point.  We hadn’t done that hike since the first time my husband took me to Mesa Verde back in 2007.  (In fact, this may be the very first hike I ever went on in Mesa Verde!)  Ten years later seemed like a good time to check it out, and the length of the hike certainly fit our itinerary for the day.

We decided to hit the trail as soon as it opened.  Since the trail starts near the popular Spruce Tree House site and the museum, access to the trail is controlled by a locked gate that’s only open during daylight hours.  We thought the gate opened at 8am.  Surprise!  It wasn’t going to open until 8:30.  What to do with time to kill and good morning light?  Take pictures of yucca, of course!

Eventually 8:30 came, so we schlepped down to the gate to start our day and it was still locked.  Huh?  We waited a few minutes, figuring maybe the rangers were running late, yet still no signs of it opening.  I hiked back up to the museum at the top of the trail to ask the rangers was up and it turned out there was some sort of coverage miscommunication, so one of the rangers came back down with me and opened it for us.  Sweet!  That guaranteed we were the first ones on the trail for the day so we could set our own pace and have some peace and quiet along the way.

I took some pictures along the way out to Petroglyph Point, but much of the trail was in shade since the sun wasn’t very high in the sky yet.  I tried not to slow our pace too much with picture-taking, but there was one exception…

We came upon a rock along the trail that had some huge holes eroded in it.  The way the light was coming through the holes, it looked like mini caverns or slot canyons.  The lighting was so delicate that it took some time to get the exposure dialed in, and then a little more time in post processing to bring out the light the way my eyes saw it.  I think it was time well spent based on the results.

A couple of miles down the trail, we reached Petroglyph Point and still hadn’t seen or heard another soul on the trail.  It was wonderful!  We took quite a bit of time at the petroglyph panel itself because it’s really interesting to study in detail when you have the opportunity to do so.

Petroglyph Point

Only mere yards after you reach the petroglyphs, you start your ascent up some ladders back to the mesa top to walk back around to the trailhead through some pinyon and juniper forest.  Before we climbed out, we turned around and found that the canyon was lit up beautifully in the morning sun.  Picture time!

Around the Bends

Turns out that wasn’t the only cool view.  There was a tiny one right next to us as we were looking out across the canyons – a cluster of cacti thriving in a crack on one of the big boulders next to us.

Prickly Rock

Once we returned to the car, it was time to leave the park.  Always a bittersweet feeling, but we still had an afternoon and a night in Durango to look forward to before the long drive home.

Since we couldn’t check into our hotel quite that early, we went directly to Ska Brewing in Durango.  We’ve enjoyed their beer many times, but had never managed to make it to the brewery itself to check it out.  I was sold the second I saw what might be one of the best traffic control signs ever in their parking lot (complete with aspens changing color in the background)…

Best Brewery Parking Lot Sign (Ska Brewing)

Wonderful brews and a tasty lunch were had by all.

The melancholy of our trip coming rapidly to a close was starting to set in, but we enjoyed our short stay in Durango.  It was a whirlwind week in Utah and southwest Colorado, but a really fun one.  Can’t wait to do it again!!

– JC

Macro Mania – Cactus Edition

With the new camera, I’m finding a rekindled interest in shots I used to mess with all the time.  In this particular case, it’s macros.  I haven’t done a lot of them in recent years, but I’ve been hunkered down with the tripod in the backyard each of the last two weekends grabbing shots.  What’s caught my eye lately?  Cactus.

My husband started a little cactus garden a couple of years ago not long after we moved into our new house.  We had a nook over the TV area that we didn’t know what to do with, so he started filling it with potted succulents a little at a time.  The first year or two they did great, but this winter they didn’t like it so much.  (I blame my black thumb presence simply being near them.)

Come spring, outside they went for “rehab”.  Luckily for us, they’re coming back like champs and growing like gangbusters!  Better for me that their growth spurt is creating all kinds of funky-ness for macro photography.

Below are a few shots I captured – some spines from a barrel cactus, and some sprouting additions on a paddle cactus.  I may be adding to the photographic collection as these guys continue to (hopefully) flourish during the summer!

– JC