Rincon Peak Summit

Experience the Sky Island view from Rincon Peak

The Rincons are one of 42 Sky Mountain islands isolated from each other by the gradual warming and drying climate changes since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. While this marvelous environment of oak and pine forests only accessible with much effort on foot, it is literally visible from every point of the Tucson valley and million human inhabitants.

Rincon is Spanish for corner, the mountains are called that from their shape enclosing a space on the west, northwest until recently used for ranching and is now falling into use for tract housing. The mountains themselves are reserved as wilderness, parts in the Saguaro National Park and the Coronado National Forest.

In the past 44 years I was lucky enough to visit the Rincon Wilderness interior three times, shouldering different style backpacks onto the mountain, walking different boots. The first, during college the 1970’s, a party of six left from the end of Speedway, up the Douglas Springs trail. The climb was an exercise in desert survival that several friendships did not survive, replace by new friends met on Mica Mountain. I have no photographs from that experience, only memories and the backpack.

Reconnecting with Arizona in 2004, thirty one years after that first experience, I took no chances. My first attempt on Rincon Peak was a success. Risk and effort were reduced, not eliminated by hiring a guide for the four day trip. We made it to Rincon Peak via the Turkey Creek Trail out of Happy Valley, climbing a mountain buttress, views ever widening and lengthening.

These are some photographs from that experience and a landscape photograph of the peak at sunset, taken the following year.

Sego Lilies bloom among a stricken oak and drying grasses on the Turkey Creek trail. This is an overview of the environment, it is the winter rains that trigger the bloom.

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We paused while I unpacked my gear to capture Sego Lilies growing along the Turkey Creek Trail.

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Sego Lilies -- CLICK ME!!!!

Deer Head Spring, at the top of Turkey Creek Trail was a moist spot with no accessible water when we reached it April 27, 2004. With the remains of a gallon of water each we needed to press ahead to Heartbreak Ridge and climb into Happy Valley Saddle were, thankfully, the creek was low and full of algae but usable. Here are my first views of Rincon Peak, looking across the aptly named Heartbreak Ridge and Happy Valley Saddle.

Distant View of Rincon Peak-- CLICK ME!!!!
Telephoto view of Rincon Peak -- CLICK ME!!!!

The view to south from Rincon Peak. The white rocks at lower right forms a Valley of the Moon wall. San Pedro River valley at the root, Mae West Peaks at left margin, Dragoon Mountains with Cochise Stronghold center. Taken around 12:30 on April 28, 2004 as a thunderstorm approached.

View from Rincon Peak -- CLICK ME!!!!

The Rincon Peak view looking south, southwest over the Valley of the Moon to the eastern Tucson Valley and the Sky Islands the Whetstone Mountains (Apache Peak), behind are the Santa Ritas. The works of man are overpowered by sky, rock, distance.

We made a hasty departure in front of the thunderstorm. It was a touch and go decision to attempt the peak that day, we made it with moments to spare.

View from Rincon Peak -- CLICK ME!!!!

April 29, 2004 the morning after reaching Rincon Peak I set up the tripod near our Happy Valley Saddle camp to capture Rincon Peak in early morning sunlight.

Rincon Peak from Happy Valley Saddle, dawn -- CLICK ME!!!!

The day we descended to the X9 Ranch via the Rincon Creek trail. My guide’s grandfather had a homestead at the X9 and his access to the trailhead through private lands opened this route for us. This is a photograph of sunset on Rincon Peak from the X9 ranch. I am looking east from the Rincon (Spanish for corner) made by the massifs Rincon Peak, Mica Mountain and Tanque Verde ridge.

Rincon Peak from the X9 Ranch-- CLICK ME!!!!

The evening of November 2, 2006 I climbed the Saguaro National Park, East, Tanque Verde trail for about 30 minutes to reach this view of Rincon Peak and waited until just before the sun set behind the Tucson Mountains for this shot. Then hiked back to the car in twilight. In my hurry, I tripped on a stepped turn and dove headfirst into a large prickly pear. It was a very painful experience and I regretted damaging the cactus and the loss of and good hiking shirt. There were large spines in my face and tiny, pesky spines covered my chest and back. The large spines are not barbed and come right out. I needed to visit a physician to remove them.

Rincon Peak from the X9 Ranch-- CLICK ME!!!!

Afterglow, Saguaro National Park

The Flag Forms

Here is a postscript for my retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Ocotillo Sunset.” You can visit “Ocotillo Sunset” in my Online Gallery by clicking on any photograph .

In near total darkness, the last sunlight only enough for the far western sky, these are the last shots of this series.

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Afterglow I

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Afterglow II

The final result of the day’s work, “Ocotillo Sunset.”

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Ocotillo Sunset — flag on ocotillo cane poles
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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 7

The Flag Forms

The penultimate posting of my retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Octillo Sunset.” You can see a large version of “Ocotillo Sunset” by clicking on any of my blog photographs.

The Flag in Formation and Realization

Then, for reasons I can only speculate about, a spectacular shape came together in the clouds. In the following photograph I have yet to recognize, to see, this cloud sculpture. Do you see part of “Ocotillo Sunset” coming into shape? As far as I remember, at the time I had only a dim realization of what was forming in my view finder and in front of me.

The Flag Forms

Then, I changed camera orientation and shifted the view a few degrees to the left and there it was: a coherent shape of something. Here it is in full, untethered.

Unanchored, a Flag or Ship

The final result of the day’s work, “Ocotillo Sunset.”

Ocotillo Sunset — flag on ocotillo cane poles
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Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 6

Shooting As The World Turns

This is a retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Ocotillo Sunset.” You can see a large version of “Ocotillo Sunset” by clicking on any of my blog photographs.

Shooting as the World Turns

In Part 5, we enter the final phase of this day’s work with darkening of the land while in the sky sunlight reflects off high clouds. The length of this moment when twilight is over, just before night falls, varies with latitude and time of year. Near the poles (high latitude) this light can last for days while here, at about 32 degrees north, it is less than 15 minutes. As I wrote in Part 4, after this light, the desert is absolutely dark. This is why I chose to set up by the roadside.

In the following two photographs I experimented with camera placement and foreground elements. Starting in Part 4 I became aware of Ocotillo branches, using them for the effect of reaching for and, here, anchoring the clouds.

Saguaro Sunset II

Lead Around by an Ocotillo

These earth-bound Ocotillo branches lead me to the darkened earth. How much to include in the shot? I searched for a balance between the vastness and complete blackness and needed a point of interest. Time was running out.

Saguaro Sunset III

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Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 5

High Altitude Clouds

This is a retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Ocotillo Sunset.” 

Choices of the Evening

The next few blogs are a set of photographs from the developing sunset of that November evening. Once set up, my practice is to stay in place until there is nothing left of capture; all the while evaluating the results and adapting the camera settings, framing and lenses to the environment.

Happening in the Twilight

By this point, twilight is over and only the sky is lit. According to file metadata posted at capture, thirteen minutes passed from the following photograph till the last. I mounted my camera on a simple tripod, purchased from a mall chain store, with the standard controls. I prefer to specify ISO and set it at 160 (the lowest value) throughout. The sky was calm and, with the tripod, I used the aperture setting with higher values. This was f13 / 1/60.

Click photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Saguaro Sunset – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

The clouds are forming up.  I need some foreground.  Vastness on vastness is a bit much. Those are the Tucson Mountains in the distance. If you look closely, on the right the Tucson Mountains dip down, revealing Kitt Peak, at least 60 miles distant. It is the defined peak on the left of that range. In early morning light, the Mayall 4 meter telescope building gleams white on that point.

The sun illuminates different levels of clouds as the earth turns toward night. These are altostratus cloud types, at 6,500 to 20,000 feet, formed by strong winds.

The elements of my print “Ocotillo Sunset” are coming together.  Do you recognize them from this image of my print?

FF6H3057_OctilloSunset_Copyright4Site

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 4

The Nursed Saguaro

This is a retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Ocotillo Sunset.” 

Choices of the Evening

As the Golden Hour approached I had a choice to make.

My perch on Lime Kiln Falls was not safe. As the sunset developed, while I focused on the work, the trail would be lost in the gathering darkness and, even with a headlamp, I decided to avoid picking a way down a 1+ mile pitch dark deserted desert trail. Choosing not to stay, for the second time I packed up and was on the move.

That time of day wildlife is also moving and, in a short time, a rattlesnake, javalina (wild pig of the desert) and jack-rabbit crossed my path. Part of my photography kit is a Sony digital camera with a variable lens carried across the front in a readily accessible “fanny pack.” That day, I walked with the camera out and ready. I needed to be in place for an increasingly promising sunset and so spent a minimum of time with wildlife photography.

Saguaro Sky

I was only half way to the car at the time when the sun was a few degrees above the western horizon and sunlight raked across the desert. The northeast sky lit up. In these perfect moments I captured this personable saguaro on Lime Kiln ridge with a tripod mounted Kodak SLR body with an excellent 50 mm (“portrait”) lens (EF 50mm f/1.2L USM) fitted with a flexible hood. ISO 160, f13 with auto settings choosing 1/5 second.

The ocotillo branches, to the right, caught my eye. “A nice effect”, I thought. There were some high level winds shaping the clouds that evening. The Santa Catalinas are in the distance.

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Saguaro Sky

Nurse Tree

I set up back against the Tanque Verde ridge, the highest point of the road, on the western shoulder.

Front and center was this “adolescent” saguaro still growing in the shelter of a “nurse” Palo Verde tree. This saguaro benefited from the shade and protection of the tree as a seedling and juvenile. It has grown beyond the need for this protection. Eventually, the requirements of the larger cactus will starve the tree and it will be left alone, as you see it in the previous photograph. That is the shoulder of the Rincon Mountains in the distance. The direction if between northeast and east.

I am using the same camera and lens, ISO 160, f13 and auto exposure choosing .6 second. It is twilight.

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Nursed Saguaro and Sunset

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Saguaro Sky

dramatic skies from Saguaro National Park

November is a special time for the ranges and basins of southern Arizona deserts.  Climb a bajada of foothills, face west and wait for the sunset.  That is what I did this day, November 3, 2005.  East of Tucson the Saguaro National Monument at the foot of the Rincon Mountain Wilderness is where I parked, unpacked the photo gear and climbed the side of the Tanque Verde Ridge for a favorable view.  Weather was pushing high level moisture from the west, clouds were developing.

You see here a shot from that session.  In the distance, looking across Tanque Verde, are the Santa Catalina mountains.  Months since the last rainfall, the giant Saguaros are using internal moisture reserves drawn up from a shallow root system, the flesh is less plump, the supporting structure of the ribs, always evident, are more pronounced.  The last light catches these ribs in relief against a dramatic sky.

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Saguaro Sunset -- CLICK ME!!!!

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 3

View from the bajada

 

SaguaroEast20051104-4

This is a retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Octillo Sunset.” You can visit “Octillo Sunset” on my online gallery by clicking on any of my blog photographs.

Choices of the Evening

Angled to the Sun

The following photograph of saguaros and distant Santa Catalina mountains is a similar view from Part 2 of this diary.  Notice the saguaro on the right is also on the left in the Part 2 photo. What is happening is I turned the lens more toward the west and the sun. At this angle the lens hood offers less protection, especially as the sun is lower in the west and the time of day is passing to the best light from the lowering sun that rakes across the landscape.  All this means I can bring the lens further to the west even though the lens hood is less effective.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Catalinas, Finger Rock, and Saguaros – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

Finger Rock!!

One reason why I am offering it, is high on the Catalina mountains, in the distance, you can just see a formation called “Finger Rock”.
This time of day, the lower angle of the sun brings out the canyon-shadows.  Finger Rock canyon has a high western wall, you can see it as a high long shadow starting toward the very center of the picture and building up and to the right.

The following photograph is the view of Finger Rock from the floor of that canyon taken during a Spring 2011 Tucson visit. I started hiking in pre-dawn hours to catch the dawn rays on the finger.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Catalinas, Finger Rock, and Saguaros – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

The Importance of Knowing Topography

Another aspect of this photograph is the landscape. There is a sloping bajada (alluvial fan) formed by water breaking up the mountain (in this case the Rincons) and washing it into the valley. It is the reason the saguaros appear to march into the distance. The same effect is used in movie theaters to allow the people in the rear to see over the head of people in the front.

This bajada and the higher elevation is the reason I moved from Sabino Canyon to here for a better position to view the sunset. Here is a nearly identical view, same 200 mm lens, in landscape format. The sloping land of the bajada is more visible.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Catalinas, Finger Rock, and Saguaros – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

Changing the Lens/Sun Angle

Looking in the opposite direction, back over Lime Kiln Falls to the Rincon (mountain) foothills, the lens hood offers maximum protection. The sun is at my back and, even though it is low in the sky at the beginning of the Golden Hour, this aspect gives great color depth at the expense of loss of shadows losing some depth of field.  Still, this is an interesting photograph.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset NortheastFromLimeKilnsCopyrightSmall – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 2

The creation of a photograph

A retrospective diary of the day I captured “Octillo Sunset, continued from PART 1

 

Moving to a Better Location

On the ground in Sabino Canyon, I rethought my plans for the afternoon, given the potential of an incredible desert sunset, and decided to seek the high ground east of Tucson up against the Rincon Mountains in the Saguaro National Monument. There was still plenty of time to travel there and set up.

On arrival at the monument I took the scenic “loop” road that meandered around the desert. The Lime Kiln Falls trail makes some elevation, so I hiked that to the end. In the 1800’s the rocks in the area were exploited for their mineral content by heating them, on site, to high temperatures that released a highly caustic (chemically reactive) “quick lime” that was in high demand. All that’s left of this work is some ground discoloration.

The Dry Water Fall and former Mining Site

The “Falls” in question were a totally dry rock ledge that I climbed for these views. In the first photo, on the right in the distance, you can see the same mountain peaks I shared in Part One. I used the same 200 mm telephoto lens because that interesting stand of saguaros were over 100 feet away across a steep slope.

Young Saguaros

The saguaros are interesting, to me, because they are all so young and grouped together. As though s clutch of seeds from the same specimen landed together on the same spot. The saguaros are notable for their lack of arms which will form with the passing years.

A View of the Catalinas

Late afternoon is the perfect time to photograph the Catalinas in the distance and the high, thin gathering cloud cover made for dramatic shading of the peaks. I needed to wait for a perfect moment because the light and view changed, literally, second by second. If you look closely, the city of Tucson can be seen among the foothills, to the left.

Why the Distance Stands Out (high contrast)

The lens was fitted with a deep hood. Besides being black, the interior of the hood is surfaced with black felt, the same as used for large telescopes, to capture any stray light. Light falling across the lens surface causes reflections, which is what this hood prevents. The result is the amount of contrast I captured, using the appropriate exposure and other settings. For this photograph I used F14, 1/125 and ISO160.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Young Saguaros and the Catalinas – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

Another Catalina View

A bit further down the same trail, the desert view features an army of saguaros marching into Tucson.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Saguaros and the Catalinas – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

The Catalina Highway runs along the escarpment, in the distance, and to the top of Mount Lemmon, a 9157 foot peak. In season, you can ski in the morning, on the peak, and in an hour or so travel to the desert to sunbathe comfortably. From the trail to the top of the Rincon Mountains this view just keeps opening up farther and farther and farther. My wife, Pam, and I backpacked up there April 2011.

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ocotillo Sunset, a diary

The creation of a photograph

This is a retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Ocotillo Sunset.” You can see “Ocotillo Sunset” by clicking on any of the following photographs.

On a Tucson November 2005 afternoon, after my volunteer work for the University of Arizona, CALS college, alumni board of directors, in the mid-afternoon I headed for Sabino Canyon with my photography kit.

With a 25-pound pack on my back, walking from the parking lot I looked up at the incredible rock formations of the Santa Catalina mountains. It took some time to set up the tripod (at that time I was using a cheap swivel head on adjustable aluminum legs) with a 200mm telephoto lens (Canon L-series EF 200mm USM) I grabbed this shot of the hoodoo fringed peaks beyond the foothills (f16, 1/30, ISO160). The lower sun angle made the formations pop out.

Hoodoos in the Hills

That is Window Peak, at the head of Ventana Canyon. Among the hoodoos is a spectacular rock arch, or window, not visible from this direction. “Ventana” is window in the Spanish language.

You call those strange formations of upright rocks “hoodoos. Some people believe the fantastic shapes were created by spirits, today the explanation is wind, water and time create hoodoos from rock of the right stuff. It is a wonderful experience to wander among hoodoos, though unsettling because some of these large rocks are seemingly in danger of falling over at any moment.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Santa Catalina Hoodoos – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

Moving On

I have a mental list of photographic “to do’s” and the gathering clouds, typical for a Tucson November day, reminded me an awesome desert sunset was on this list, so I packed up to head for the east side of Tucson for a shot looking toward the Tucson Mountains (on the west side).

Clouds gather at sunset above a ridge serrated by saguaros.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Gathering Clouds – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

Sabino Canyon House

Before we move on, this is a fascinating image of a typical southern Arizona house perched on a ridge at the mouth of Sabino Canyon. In this image the viewer sympathizes because the telephoto lens gathers the majestic rocks around the tiny structure.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Desert Foothill Home – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

The house is perched on a Santa Catalina foothill ridge running east west, a wall of picture windows facing south with a view across the Tucson valley toward Mount Wrightson of the Santa Rita mountains, 42 miles distant. Summer thunderstorms gather on this peak, wreathing it with lightening. These times, evenings and night, the view pays for the inconvenience of this distant, hot ridge. Another time to be there is for sunsets.

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved