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Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Another one of the fantastic state parks we discovered in Arizona this year is Picacho Peak State Park, which is just south of Tucson. It’s a landmark we noticed last year when we were driving by and we made a point of exploring it this year. It has a beautiful campground with huge sites and some nice hiking trails.

You can actually hike right up to the top of the peak with the help of some cables! I’ve heard it’s the best hike in Arizona. But I wouldn’t really know, I didn’t go up there :)

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona by Anne McKinnell

I was too early for the wildflowers, but I managed to find a teddy bear cholla cactus to put in the foreground. You can see how it’s little pieces fall off and if you step anywhere near them they will gleefully attach themselves to you.

I’ve learned to always wear long pants and step carefully when searching for my perfect photo location in the desert.

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Superstition Mountains

One of the best things about RVing is that you meet people along the way who tell you their stories of places they have been. It’s not hard to discover the best places to go because they keep coming up in conversation.

The Superstition Mountains in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona, is one of the places that kept coming up, so we decided to pay it a visit. We didn’t stay there though because looking on their website I could see that all 130 campsites were full! We just did a day trip, which I was treating as a scouting trip for a future photography expedition because I thought it would be full of people.

I don’t know where all those campers went! The campsites were indeed full, but there were hardly any people in the park.

The wildflowers were just starting so it was a great opportunity for me to capture the wildflowers in the foreground with the incredible mountain range in the background.

Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

Now we’re planning on camping there next year since the campsites were beautiful and you can see this scene right from the sites.

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Bandon Beach Seascape

A seascape is like a breath of fresh salty air isn’t it?

I am a little tired of the cactus photos, and thought maybe you were too, so I dug up this seascape from earlier this snowbird season.

I made it in one of my favourite places in the world, Bandon Beach, Oregon.

Bandon Beach, Oregon, by Anne McKinnell

Sorry I haven’t had very many new blog posts lately. I have the worst internet connection! But I also have one of the best views I’ve ever had out my window so I can’t complain ;) Hoping to share it with you soon!

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The Organ Pipe Cactus

I like going to new places.

Of course, there are favourite spots from previous trips that are impossible to drive past, places I could visit again and again like Joshua Tree National Park. But as much as possible I like to discover new things, blaze new trails, and explore places previous unexplored (at least by me).

And it’s even better if those places are quiet wilderness locations away from the crowds of people.

One of my favourite new discoveries from this snow bird season is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona, the only place in the USA where the Organ Pipe Cactus grows.

The cactus gets its name from the many slender, narrow stems which rise vertically and resemble a pipe organ. A very, very big pipe organ! They can be 16 feet high and as much as 12 feet wide and live to be 150 years old.

There is a lot to see in the park and so I spent my days driving around, exploring, scouting locations, and finding perfect specimens to photograph during the good light. But one can only look at so many photos of a cactus, so I decided to pick out four of my favourites and share them all in today’s post.

The first photo I actually made in mid-afternoon. But as you can see, the shade was already creeping up the valley so the light was quite soft and golden even at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell
Please click on any of the images to view larger versions.

One evening, just before the sunset, I found one of the craziest Organ Pipes I saw in the park! I liked how the golden rays fell on the Organ Pipe, lit up the red rock in the mountain in the background, and made the leaves on the Ocotillo glow orange.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell

Later the same evening when the twilight skies turned pink and purple, I found a young one with a nice clean design that I could isolate from other cacti and shrubs by using a low angle perspective.

Organ Pipe Cactus at twilight by Anne McKinnell

And of course, I just had to create one with a sunburst because I love sunbursts so much. The desert sun has been a theme for me this winter since we’ve had incredibly good weather. I think I could do a whole book of sunburst photos after this trip! This one I made at sunrise in the campground inside the park.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell

It was worth paying to stay at the campground in the park to be there for sunrise since there are lots of great photo opportunities right in the campground. Here is a photo of the RVs at sunrise, just in case you are considering staying at this unique campground.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Campground by Anne McKinnell

I made all of these photos with my Sony NEX6.

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Sunset on a Sleeping Princess

Our favourite new campsite is a BLM site called Gunsight Wash near Organ Pipe Catus National Monument.

In the distant hills is a formation known as the sleeping princess, and we had a great view of her right from our site as the sun set behind her.

Imagine her lying on her back, the sun setting behind her head on the left, and the rest of her body on the right.

Sunset on Sleeping Princess by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

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A Typical Desert Scene

As a landscape photographer, one of the things you’ll find yourself doing a lot is waiting.

Once you find your perfect location, you must wait for the light to be just right. While you’re waiting, take a good look around. The light might not be perfect on the scene you’ve planned, but it might be perfect just behind you.

On the evening I was waiting for the last light on a Saguaro Cactus, I turned and looked behind me and saw this typical desert scene. There’s nothing particularly unique about it. Just a Chain Fruit Cholla and a bunch of scrubby brush (that’s my name for all the miscellaneous shrubs like creosote bush and brittle bush). But what was special was the light.

It’s always about the light.

Even when the subject might be considered boring, the light can make the most ordinary scene become beautiful.

A typical desert scene in Organ Pipe National Monument by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

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Gila Woodpeckers and Saguaro Cactus

I always see Gila Woodpeckers on the Saguaros everywhere we go in Arizona. I don’t know how they manage to perch themselves against so many spiny needles! You even see them standing on the very top of the cactus as if they are smooth telephone poles. Believe me, they are anything but smooth!

Saguaro Cactus Birds Nest by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

I came across this Saguaro in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where there are more Saguaros than in Saguaro National Park. With the bird’s nest cradled in its arms, the birds must feel quite protected from any predators. Still, they peck holes in the cactus and make homes inside!

I saw one of them go in a hole and I waited for a long time hoping to get a photo of the woodpecker looking out, but it wasn’t to be.

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Ocotillo Abstract

At our BLM campsite in Gunsight Wash, near Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona, it was one of those sunsets where there is just a tiny strip of colour next to the horizon.

To make the most of it, I decided to use my telephoto lens so the colours would fill the frame and then I got behind an Ocotillo cactus and used its spiny stems to make an interesting graphic design which would form a silhouette against the sky.

Ocotillo Abstract by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

This is my attempt at coming up with a unique composition in the desert!

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The Lush Desert in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Last year we missed visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, during our snowbird season. It lies in southern Arizona right against the border with Mexico. We weren’t too sure about it since we had been warned that there are lots of “illegals” crossing the border there and it can be dangerous.

After doing some research of our own, we decided to pay it a visit, and we’re so glad we did!!

First of all, we didn’t encounter a single person trying to cross into the USA. We stayed at a beautiful boondocking site on BLM land, and the camp host who has been going there for 8 years said he has only encountered one Mexican who was crossing over and they were just looking for water.

There were lots of border guards though. We were stopped every time we left our campsite. Lots of helicopters too. But that’s okay, it wasn’t a problem at all.

Another thing there were lots of … cacti!! A LOT!!! It is the lushest desert I have ever seen. It was more like a jungle than a desert.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

Where else can you get Saguaro, Organ Pipe, Teddy Bear Cholla, Chain Fruit Cholla, Barrel and Ocotillo cactci as well as other plants like the Brittle Bush and Creosote Bush all in one frame? Not to mention the gorgeous colours in the mountain side.

I have many more images of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to share with you coming up on the blog.

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Last Light on Saguaro Cactus

On one of our first nights visiting Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona some clouds rolled in. It was quite unusual! So Ray and I drove into the park and found an area with lots of Saguaros to photograph. There are actually more Saguaros here than in Saguaro National Park!

The light was grey, but I could see a strip of open sky near the horizon where the sun would set, so I knew that when the sun was low enough, it would light up the mountains if only for a few seconds.

In my post earlier this week, I made it sound like finding a good Saguaro was easy. Sometimes it is – it will be right there in your campsite. Other times you have to look a little harder to find a good specimen – one that you can isolate from the others and doesn’t have a bunch of scrubby brush around it.

On this night Ray and I went hiking out into a field only to find that all the Saguaros were in little gullies making it difficult to capture both the Saguaro and the mountains. Ray found a hill to scamper up on for a higher perspective.

I decided to put my butt in gear and hike off on a mission to find a good Saguaro to put in front of those mountains. Once I found one, I had to wait for awhile hoping the light would come, and it did, literally for just a few seconds.

This is a 2.5 second exposure made with my Sony NEX6. Please click the image to view a larger version.

Afterwards the problem became how far did I hike? I wasn’t paying attention. And how close are those coyotes anyway? I decided to head the road and walk back that way so at least I knew where I was. I was kind of hoping I would get picked up by a border guard and delivered to my truck, but alas, no, I had to walk all the way back.

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