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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Weekly Post, THE SONORAN DESERT: Visiting with Don Juan by Robert Glenn Ketchum

THE SONORAN DESERT: 
Visiting with Don Juan
by Robert Glenn Ketchum



In 1988, I was contacted by Luther Propst, Director of the Rincon Institute of Tucson, AZ, who asked me if I could help them devise a campaign to protect a part of Saguaro National Monument from a massive real estate development that would disrupt substantial habitat.  I did so, and we not only succeeded in mitigating the development, we added 30,000 acres to the monument, and got it upgraded to National Park status.  While doing this work, I fell in love with the Sonoran Desert, returning to it repeatedly, and visiting the many varied parts of it in Arizona, Mexico, and Baja, CA.  This is the tale of those visits. 
~Robert Glenn Ketchum




Wednesday, November 24, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #84 
Sonora #84:
Some of the islands in the Sea of Cortez had shorelines of sand, others were rock rubble, or shell rubble, and some were just rock ledges. Here is a peculiar island with rock ledges for its shoreline, but I say peculiar because there are so many different rocks involved. The actual ledge is black, and probably basaltic. The orange rocks and walls, are likely sandstone, and the brown, honeycombed rocks in the middle might as well be meteorites. Hey, anything can happen, this is the domain of Don Juan!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #83 
Sonora #83:
Some of the 37 islands in the Sea of Cortez are just rock and vegetation, others offer coves and beaches. All of them provide spectacular views. I often would sit watching the wind shimmering across the surface of the water, frequently punctuated by flights of birds, especially the unmistakeable, flying formations of a pelican armada. Sometimes, as well, the water would churn with the playful porpoising of hundreds of dolphins, or the spouting of whales. As spare as it looks, this sea, and these islands, are a living, breathing ecosystem, that represents some of the most unique wild lands I have ever visited. Of my many days exploring them, none ever seemed to be similar, they were all very different every time, even though, at the outset, I always thought I knew what it was going to be like,..but it never was.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #82 
Sonora #82:
Typical to the diversity of the island habitats, here is a view that contains many elements of that. It is late evening, and and I am looking west, across the Sea of Cortez to the Sierra mountains on the Baja peninsula. On the other side of that range lies the Pacific. This islands supports a bird population, as evidenced by the poop stains on the foreground boulders. The middle ground is a mangrove lagoon, and is probably what attracts the bird population because it is rich with small fish. If you are curious, that is not a smudge in the sky to the left, that is a bird flying through my long exposure. That particular one was sent by Don Juan to check up on me.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, November 3, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #81 
Sonora #81:
The Sonoran desert is vast, 100,000-square-miles, and it stretches from California, through Arizona, and into northern Mexico. Its most southerly reaches are the Baja peninsula, and the 37 islands in the Sea of Cortez. I love this unique spectacle of where the desert meets the Pacific, and I visited many times in the course of my career. With 2,500 miles of coastline, and 62,000-square-miles of water, there is a lot of territory to cover, and it is best done on a boat. Numerous cruise and dive outfitters base in the city of La Paz, which is where I started all of my journeys. At the time, I worked with a group called Baja Expeditions, and because I re-visited them many times, and brought them a lot of customers who accompanied me, they knew I was there to take pictures, and they went out of their way to set me up with guides on board that knew what I was after. All of the islands are relatively different from one another, and thanks to my repeated explorations, I hiked on more than 20 of them. The islands are not the only attraction, however, the Sea of Cortez is thought to be one of the most diverse seas on Earth, and is home to 5,000 species. There are A LOT of things to see!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #80 
Sonora #80:
Crater Elegante, at nearly 1-mile wide, is the largest maar in the El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, so it is fitting to leave this part of the Sonoran desert with a sunset gracing the crater wall with golden late light. Within minutes this show was over, and we all piled back into our 4-wheel, and headed home. However, this is not the end of my Sonoran desert visits with Don Juan. I am now headed for the 37 desert islands in the Sea of Cortez, because, they too, are part of the Sonoran, brushing right up against the Pacific.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #79 
Sonora #79:
As our convoy approaches, El Elegante crater, the setting sun has triggered a maximum glow effect, and that light is beginning to illuminate the crater's vertical walls. The scudding clouds that have been overhead all day, are now sending dancing cloudshadows across the distant Pinacate Mountains, and in the cooler, crystal clear air of the oncoming evening, the entire expanse of this desert reserve seems to be moving, and breathing. Don Juan is clearly here,.. somewhere.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #78 
Sonora #78:
As I surmount the rim of this El Pinacate maar, and look back, the raking light that I projected in the last post, appears. The glow of it is just starting, and there is one more maar that I want to see before we depart, as it the largest, and grandest of them all, El Elegante, so I rally our team to get back in our 4-wheelers, and take the drive over to it, suggesting it may benefit from the oncoming lightshow.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, October 6, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #77 
Sonora #77:
After inspecting the striated gardens of the far side of this maar in El Pinacate (upper, right), I have crossed the crater, and climbed the opposite wall. There are striations of many colors on this side too, and they are punctuated by more of the pumice balls, some of which are considerable in size. The sky has been lightly overcast most of the day, making it less hot, and providing me with excellent lighting to take pictures, but as the sun is setting, the horizon is clear, so I think within the next half hour, we are going to have some brilliant, raking light sweep across the reserve.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #76 
Sonora #76:
The black volcanic rubble on the wall of this maars crater in El Pinacate Reserve is radiating a lot of heat, but it does not seem to keep plants from growing. This section of the slope is also decorated with round balls of white and grey pumice, which are scattered everywhere. It is strange to pick up even a large piece, and then realize, it is so porous, it barely weighs anything at all. I am sure some of these would float, if there was any water in which to float them.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #75 
Sonora #75:
As I walked down a the slope into one of the El Pinacate Reserve’s maars craters, this wall of volcanic rock rubble, layers of striations, and a healthy garden of plants rose on one side. It was a hot day, and this desert is hot on most days. Additionally, the black volcanic rubble must absorb a lot of heat, making the ground even hotter, so it amazes me that anything grows here at all, and yet it does with some profusion. This hillside became increasingly stranger after I reached the bottom of the crater, and began to walk around it to observe more closely.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #74 
Sonora #74:
The numerous craters in El Pinacate Reserve in Mexico are technically known as maars. They were created when groundwater seeped through the soil to reach volcanic magma below the earth’s crust, causing a phreatomagmatic eruption, blowing up a relatively circular crater, and casting debris as far as 15-miles away. Some maars in the reserve are entirely encircled by sheer walls that would require rope protection to descend, but a few have collapsed sections, probably caused by erosion. The interiors of all these craters are graphic, and display many variations of soil, striations, and plants, as you can see in the one above. I took this graduated slope to the crater floor as an opportunity to wander down into it, and look more closely at the strange terrain.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #73 
Sonora #73:
I am currently at the edge of one of the lesser craters in El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve (what a mouthful), and I am looking towards the Pinacate Peaks in the distance. These craters, called maars, were created when groundwater seeping down into the earth, came into contact with magma rising beneath the earth's crust. The hot magma instantly turned the water to steam, and the sudden high pressure triggered a phreato-magmatic explosion, blowing a huge hole in the ground, and blasting out rocks, magma, and ash, called ejecta across the landscape. Ejecta from the larger craters covers the ground for more than 15-miles in some explosions.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #72 
Sonora #72:
For instance, here are some of those irregular sharp edges. This landscape is nearly unnavigable because it so ragged. Fortunately, as you can see from this link, not all of the reserve is volcanic, and there are a few roads that traverse this landscape. If you are in a 4-wheel, you can leave the paved roads and drive anywhere the terrain will allow. I made these pictures during one entire day spent there, and since we did have a 4-wheel, we covered a lot of territory.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, August 25, 2021
THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #71 
Sonora #71:
In the Pinacate Reserve there are many different types of lava fields. Some are deep flows with ragged surfaces, which can be seen in previous posts, but in other places the lava is more like a gravel, such as here. This terrain is much less threatening to traverse, some of the other flow fields are just flat out dangerous, there are so many irregular sharp edges.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #70 
Sonora #70:
A perfect “garden” shot of El Pinacate, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Sonoran vegetation you can identify from previous posts in this blog, include saguaro, and organ pipe cactus, and many different grasses and shrubs. What is different here is that are growing out of gritty volcanic soil, and the background is a rubble wall of a lava flow over 50ft. high. Strange beautiful!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #69 
Sonora #69:
This is El Pinacate, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, a world of Sonoran vegetation, growing up through a vast volcanic shield, marked by extensive red and black lave flows, and 10 enormous Maar, deep craters that are nearly perfectly circular, created by steam blasts. There are no paved roads here, and walking about on the ragged lava floes can be tricky business, but this strange landscape is dramatic to say the least.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #68 
Sonora #68:
This is my parting shot for the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. A late evening sunset REALLY setting off the red rocks, and the Creosotebushes all blooming. Quite a garden wall! The next post is going to take us across the border, just a few miles west of here, where the landscape is completely different, and the red rock has been exchanged for black lava. Stayed tuned for El Pinacate, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #67 
Sonora #67:
In the fading evening light, the low sun makes the red rock mountains even redder, and cast a warm glow on the flowering Creosotebushes in the vegetation wonderland of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Soon the night creatures will be scurrying about. Best to lock up the food in the campground!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #66 
Sonora #66:
I understand that after a decent rainy season Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument puts on a SPECTACULAR wildflower bloom, but it was not visible in the seasons I visited. However, as you can see here, the creosote bushes are going crazy. For being as hot, and arid as it is, the desert floor of the monument supports 643 species of plant life, and the sky islands host another 114 species including sub-tropical oaks, pines, junipers, scrub oaks, and rosewood. To me, an amazing array of biodiversity in a very harsh climate. What a world!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #65 
Sonora #65:
Here is another good example of the differentiation between saguaro and organ pipe cacti. The saguaros stand like trees, and the organ pipes are lower to the ground, and clustered with branches. The surrounding terrain is also quite striking as it is red rock, with red dirt, and the rock forms some very rugged mountains as a backdrop to the cactus gardens. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has a decent campground and is a great place in which to hike around.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #64 
Sonora #64:
West and south of Tucson, literally at the border with Mexico, lies another niche habitat of the Sonoran desert, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The monument is a hot, dry, mountainous terrain that supports many trees and cacti, but obviously most notable, the most profuse species is the organ pipe cactus. In this image you can see both saguaro (upper, left) and organ pipe cactus (foreground), and this clearly illustrates the difference between the two. The saguaro grows a large, tall trunk from which above-ground arms extend as the cactus matures. The organ pipe trunk remains low to the ground, and generates a cluster of arms from ground level. The organ pipe is also VERY slow-growing, and does not reach maturity for 150yrs. Interestingly, the plant only flowers at night, and the flowers close as the sun rises.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #63 
Sonora #63:
Even though the day fades, the Don Juan twilight rages on. Goodbye Vistoso! Next week, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. If it matters, Vistoso corporate got what they wanted from me on this shoot, and commissioned three print editions, totaling 150 prints. They framed them, and used them to decorate the homes that they were building. Naturally, I had to return with the prints, and sign them, staying a few more days to enjoy a home, and the surrounding landscape. It is a tough job, but someone has to do it.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #62 
Sonora #62:
This post, and my next, are my farewell to Vistoso, and the Catalina Mountains, as I am about to move to another amazing part of the Sonoran desert habitat, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Before I do that, however, I will leave you with two more dramatic evening light shots. This, and the image next week, are the same night, just made some minutes apart. It was definitely a Don Juanesque kind of an end to the day. Light me / one up,..or don’t! (Sorry, for the silly nod to Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow.” Hahaha!)

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #61 
Sonora #61:
If the sky doesn’t flame on, the landscape often does that instead. Just another stellar night watching the saguaros have a rave-up, waving their glowsticks to Mezcale's Indian drumming.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #60 
Sonora #60:
Uh, oh! Another one of those nights where the sky has apparently caught fire once again! Nothing to do but sit and stare.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #59 
Sonora #59:
You can’t build an exclusive community of homes with swimming pools and golf courses, and not cause some disruption to the desert. However, the Vistoso developers were very conscientious, and before any bulldozing began, plant biologists were brought in to dig up specimens in the way so they could be relocated. Many were used to enhance the “gardens” that surrounded the golf courses. I am not much of a golfer, but these links are beautiful to walk through.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #58
Sonora #58:
This is my view to the east. Even more stoney. And what is going on with the lighting!? The last rays of direct sun wash over my immediate surroundings, and are stunningly offset by the looming Catalina Mountains in the distance, and the dark clouds. For a lazy day that did not inspire much work from me, the closer is certainly inspirational, and these last two nights (this & post #55) have just been screamers. I love this amazing Sonoran landscape. Flame on!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #57
Sonora #57:
The cloudy sky lasts all day, and I appreciate the overcast, but don’t take many pictures. As evening approaches, however, all of that changes in a big way. I am certain that there will be another skyshow tonight because of the overhead weather, so I find a rocky knob with a view, and seat myself for snacks until the sunset begins. As the sun lowers on the horizon, the warm glow of the angled rays begins to sidelight the terrain, and the saguaro stand like torches against the stony foothills. Very stoney! Hahaha! This is my view to the west.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021
THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #56
Sonora #56:
After the sunset extravaganza of last night (previous post), I am slow to rise. I consume a leisurely breakfast, and spend some time cleaning my equipment, then I wander out to find a warm day with a busy sky. I try to visit different parts of the Vistoso landscape each day, and on this one, I wander into some boulder strewn foothills, offset by the dramatic background of the Catalina Mountains. It is a lazy kind of day, and I am definitely lazy as well, so I stumble around quite a bit until this guy introduces himself. Most saguaro, and their arms, reach skyward, but every once in awhile I discover one that has “wandering” arms that sprawl all over the place. It is a kind of cactus calligraphy.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #55
Sonora #55:
With the sun below the horizon, the angle of the rays is now hitting the upper layers of clouds, and it is setting the sky on fire. Against the silhouette of the hillside crowned by saguaros, the sky blows up into a classic Sonoran who-haw! This is one of the most dramatic twilights I have seen so far, and it is a 360˙ performance, complete with bird noises, and a subtle, warm breeze. I could care less about being back at my house in time for a swim tonight. I am sitting this one until it is dark. Puntia will be proud of my determination.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #54
Sonora #54:
About 1/2 way back to my house in Vistoso, it momentarily looks like there might be a thunderstorm in my immediate future, but it just rolls by without any pyrotechnics, just a great skyshow. It occurs to me there might be an equally dazzling sunset, however, so I unload my equipment, break out some water and snacks, pick a nice boulder, and sit myself down. As the minutes pass, the clouds continue to broil, then there is a brief moment of some raindrops, which passes quickly. Eventually, the angle of rays from the setting sun reach the cloud layers above me. LOOK OUT!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #53
Sonora #53:
I got stoned most of this day. As I walked, I encountered rock formation after rock formation, of colored, and stunningly weather worn piles and boulders. Amazingly, very few were similar, and I am not sure how these all got here because they are SO unrelated. While the day wears on, weather moves in, but it does not rain, the sky just swims with clouds. When evening arrives, and the sun begins to set, I am again immersed in the low, warm light that sets everything around me aglow, including the goofy rock piles. Finally, it is getting late enough to turn towards home, but similarly to last night, the show is far from over.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #52
Sonora #52:
By the time I stop for lunch, the skies have nearly cleared, and it is blazing, so I hide in the shadows and munch, not being in a hurry to be anywhere. About 2p.m., I give up my perch and try to follow the shade line beneath a large rock rubble mountain I have encountered. It is still hot, but not being in the direct sun makes it bearable. The problem is, I have no idea where I am headed. Eventually, I find myself in a narrowing valley between two bouldered summits, and the rock is giving away to dense brush. It is not impassable, but it IS prickly. Then, about 4p.m. the sun lowers on the horizon, a cooler evening breeze picks up, and I enter a garden of many gigantic saguaros. I have not seen saguaro numbers here in Vistoso, like I saw in the national monument, closer to Tucson, so this patch of them is especially surprisingly. As you see, they are not just tall, they have considerable girth as well. They are glowing in the late light, so I work through them taking pictures, and unexpectedly come upon a dirt road. I know which general direction I have come from, and the road heads that way, so I follow it, and with no obstacles in my path to navigate around, in about 1/2-hour, I find myself at the edge of one of the Vistoso golf courses, so I am home in time for a swim.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #51
Sonora #51:
Not far from the pink-white cluster of rocks (last post), I find this. The red rock color is not unique, as there are many red rock outcrops, but none of the others are decorated with many shades of colorful lichen. The more I stare, the more the lichen conforms into some interesting patterns as well. Under these conditions, it is best to just keep moving, and not linger too long in any one spot. So, anon to the next wiggly rocks, and maybe some shade as it seems the clouds are beginning to clear, and I expect when the sun burns through, it is going to be toasty.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2021, @RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #50
Sonora #50:  
My home advisor, the cylindropuntia just across the street from the house in which I am staying, greeted me this morning, and said it was time to get stoned. What? I was then given some very specific instructions about a section of the Vistoso property that punty thought I would find photogenic. Never one to turn down good local advice, I saddle up my gear and head out. It is a hot day, but clouds are scudding through the sky which helps, and after a considerable scramble, I find myself in a valley of strange rocks, that seem to get stranger the longer I stare at them. There are outcrops of different colors, and it seems especially weird that a cluster like the one above is entirely unique. There are no others in the valley that are this pinkish white. It is more like it has fallen out of the sky, than to have emerged from the earth.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #49
Sonora #49:  
The expected skyshow in the clouds after sunset is not particularly amazing, so I continue my ramble homewards to Vistoso. As it is getting darker, I am spending my time watching where I step, so I don’t brush any cholla, and when I finally look up, the skyshow has become a skyglow event with something very different going on. The sun has been down for sometime now, the clouds have run through a gamut of colors, and finally darkened, but the clear sky above the weather has taken on a atmospheric color hue that, once again, is reflecting down, onto the desert landscape. Everything around me has “pinked-up,” and it seems even more so against the blueness of the lingering clouds. It strikes me that this is the desert version of alpineglow, so it turns out I do have one more picture left to make, and the exposure on this one is even longer than the last. As I stand while the seconds click by, I am struck by the stunning silence in this twilight. It is a beautiful night I would have missed, if not for the advice of my puntia-friend. Thank you!

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #48
Sonora #48:  
To my surprise, the razzle-dazzle skyshow does not occur because of some low clouds block the below-the-horizon sun from lighting up the entire sky. Nonetheless, as I watch, it does illuminate some much higher clouds with a hint of pink. Strikingly, that hint in the sky, is picked up in the desert sand , which then glows pink as well. When I get to this little garden patch, the pinkness seems to balance the dark cacti, and radiant thorn shapes rather nicely, so I set up my tripod for a very long exposure, and make what I think is going to be my last shot for the evening. Standing in the fading twilight, I have one more conversation with “Yaqui knowledge,” and then decide that I better get moving while I can still see well enough not to walk into one of those cholla.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #47
Sonora #47:  
Instead of retreating to the swimming pool at Vistoso, I take the advice of my new puntia friend, and find a rock on which to sit and snack, as the sun sets. I have an excellent view of the surrounding landscape, and there is a GREAT skyshow going on overhead. As the sun hits the horizon, the angle of the light sweeps horizontally across the desert floor, and perfectly side-lights everything that stands above it, cactus, boulders, and rocky summits. Puntia knew what she was talking about (I assume it was a she, because she was waving her flowers around). This warm moment of rim lighting last for a few brief minutes, and then the sun dips out of sight. I am in no hurry now, so I slowly collect myself, and start my walk homeward, BUT the evening is not over. Although the sun is now below the horizon, it still has the clouds within the angle of its rays, and they begin to light up. I keep walking, but I am pretty sure, more pictures are still to be had.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #46
Sonora #46:  
After several hours of scrambling around in the rocky foothills, I am worn out. The clouds have now gone, so it is also much hotter. It is getting to be late in the day, and a warm, low light sweeps across the desert as the shadows deepen. I figure I will go back to my house, and throw myself in the pool once again, but I am stopped by another friendly cylindropuntia waving around some glowing red flowers, who tells me to stick around because the show is just about to begin. That sounds intriguing to me, so I find a sunny rock perch, and settle in with some snacks to see what is going to happen. I am glad to be getting local advice.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #45
Sonora #45:  
At the advice of my first puntia of the morning, I head for the rocky foothills. Clouds have started streaming through by the time I arrive, but it does not look like dangerous weather, and so I have no problem about climbing around. This is some ancient, craggy, lichen covered rock, and it amazes me that these cacti seem be growing right out of it with virtually no soil. LOOK at the height of that barrel cactus. This terrain is slow going, and I labor to pick my route up, and through, but the clouds are keeping the day cool, and I am very comfortable. At the top of this rise, I find a vantage point that offers me great views in every direction, so I stop for food and water, and just watch this landscape vibrate around me.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #44
Sonora #44:  
After my day in the desert, I did get my sobering swim in before the lightening started, but the weather definitely took over the evening, and it rained, and thundered, throughout the night. About 4a.m., however, it broke off, and by the time I show up for a salsa omelette, the morning is sunny, warming, and VERY clear. After I eat, and gear-up with my cameras, the sparkly stuff has started to happen, and I am barely out the door when another purplepuntia greets me for the day. This one is smaller than the one last night, but it is excitedly waving around some colorful flower pods, and it suggests that I should go scramble in the rocky foothills, and get off the desert floor. Now that I realize they are trying to help me, I take this one at its word, and jump in my car for a little drive. Foothills here I come!

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #43
Sonora #43:  
I ramble around a bit more after lunch, take a few pictures, and watch the sky as more weather seems to be moving in. Eventually it appears that it might storm, so I turn towards my house and begin my dance back across the desert. I really need to sober myself in a swimming pool, and want to do so before any lightening starts, nonetheless, now that I do not fear them stalking me any longer, I happen upon this purple puntia, and stop to have a conversation. I mean, how could I not? Look how beautiful it is! In my three years of wandering in the Sonoran, I have seen a lot of these, but never one that had such saturated purple arms. At the time, I supposed that might just be me seeing those colors, but then I got the film back, and sure enough, those arms REALLY are purple.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #42
Sonora #42:  
My phone call to Central Casting included my reference to being heat-stroked, so they sent in some weather to give me a bit of shade. It does not look like rain, but it is the perfect time to sit down, and have some lunch. Munching away, I ponder my conversation with Punty, and then it dawns on me that I do not look around carefully enough for scorpions and Mr. Snaky, so immediately I scan the terrain about me, realizing there are no snakes, but a scorpion could be there, and just not be all that visible. Perhaps I should finish my snacks standing up, or perched on a boulder outcrop. No wait! That is where snakes sun themselves. Clearly my paranoia of cylindropuntia has abated, only to be replaced by a whole new set of issues. I really need to get into a swimming pool and calm down!
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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #41
Sonoran #41:  
I knew I should never have started this morning off with a shape-shifting Saguaro, and that random thought about the Cylindropuntia that is stalking me, because in Don Juan land, having that thought is like placing a phone call to Central Casting and asking them to send one over. So they did. With little notice, this arises out of the desert floor before me. It is not only waving around glowing flowers, but the multi-hued skin is in motion and colors are rippling through the stalk arms. I feel heat-stroked and think I should sit down, but the ground has disappeared because all the vegetation has woven itself together to obscure it. There is little left for me to do, so I stand, stare, and finally decide to open up a conversation. “Punty” is pretty friendly, but he does admit that he and his family have been following me around for every visit, and to every place I go. Some relative is always there. He tells me that they are watching over me because the Sonoran can be a dangerous place and they worry that a scorpion, or Mr. Snaky, might find me, so I take comfort that I am in their care. Finally I can stop being so paranoid!

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #40
Sonoran #40:  
In the glow of the morning light (and my own personal glow), I discover this huge saguaro, shape-shifting into an anaconda. I can tell this is going to be a very weird day, and I will need to be on guard for that Cylindropuntia that has been stalking me. God knows what it is up to. The last thing I need in my vulnerable condition is to be approached by a many-armed, multi-hued, prickly, waving around a bunch of glowing flowers. Clearly I am going to have to throw myself in one of the Rancho Vistoso swimming pools when I tire of thrashing around out here.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #39
Sonoran #39:  
In the last post I commented that the ancient mountains around Rancho Vistoso were rugged, rock piles, and I was not kidding. This is difficult terrain to navigate. It has the magical ingredients of the Don Juan dream, but no self-respecting, sandaled, peyote-fueled Yaqui would wander casually in this landscape. I don’t find myself meandering to avoid cactus clusters, so much as just struggling to get from one boulder group to the next. This is a VERY different habitat than Saguaro National Park, and the closer proximity of towering Catalina Mountains makes for a quite dramatic backdrop.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #38
Sonoran #38:  
Another perk of my new commission to photograph the proposed Rancho Vistoso development, was that while there, working, I got to stay in one of the already built model homes. With such a base, I did not have to drive back and forth from Tucson, and it meant I could get up before dawn to be in the field, and stay in the field until the last light was gone. This aspect would prove to be particularly productive for me because late afternoons and evenings from Vistoso offered up some stunning skies and sunsets. This landscape is equally Don Juan-y, with the ancient, rugged, rock-pile mountains, and some specimens in the landscape of unparalleled size. On this early morning hike I came upon this, without a doubt, the biggest barrel cactus I have ever seen. There is that cylindropuntia that has been following me around, as well. Take out your pipe and smoke on it!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #37
Sonoran #37:  
By the time all the who-hah around the creation of Saguaro National Park died down, I had returned to the desert for several more exploratory visits, checking out the diversity of habitats within the 100-square-mile terrain of the Sonoran, and my presence was know to many in the area. One day I was contacted by a developer north of Tucson called Rancho Vistoso. They were building a city of new homes that would feature publicly shared amenities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, and golf courses, and they were doing it at the foot of some of the oldest desert mountains in North America. They hoped to commission me to take pictures of this unique setting, which would then be printed in limited editions by the company, who would frame them, and hang them in the homes they were building. Such a project would give me a lot of time to hang out in a beautiful landscape, and would literally put hundreds of my prints into this community being developed, so of course, I agreed. I am also happy to say, my commission fee was quite generous. That always helps.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #36
Sonoran #36:  
Please excuse the hazy coloration of this image. It is actually a picture of the framed poster hanging on my living room wall, and there are reflections in the glass. This became the mailer in the Rincon Institute’s campaign to protect the Rincon section of the desert adjacent Saguaro National Monument. Going with my idea (last post) that we should use multiple images to describe the diversity of the habitat, this is what I designed. The Rincon Institute had negotiated with the resort developers over the area I photographed, and convinced them to scale back 15,000 acres which the institute would purchase, and place into conservation easement. Congress had already committed to the funding, but the money was locked up in a committee that was trying to punish President Clinton, and the developer was becoming anxious about the agreement, threatening to back out of the deal. The text of this poster explains all of that, and we intended to mail every representative one of these, while simultaneously running stories in two magazines with huge readerships, Sunset and Westways (AAA/Auto Club). Having previously spent a good deal of time in offices of the House, and the Senate, I was also keenly aware that those walls were often filled with paintings, portraits, and family pictures, and I hoped our campaign scroll would get hung up as well, so I designed this form because it fills a small space with its less-than-traditional shape. I personally signed ALL of them, and they were rolled, and shipped, in a short sturdy tubes, so they would not be crushed, or creased. Many months later, on a visit to DC, I was happy to see my strategy worked, and I found framed posters in the offices of Barbara Boxer, and Henry Waxman. More importantly, the campaign worked. The committee relented, and released the appropriated money, which the Rincon Institute used to purchase the easement from the developer. This created a huge amount of press in Arizona newspapers, and in turn, caused a surprising result. At the far southern end of the monument, a rancher was inspired to sell 15,000 more acres of his land to the institute to incorporate into the monument. Again, that set off a press firestorm, which truly heated up public, and legislative enthusiasm. So much so, the Arizona delegates agreed to upgrade Saguaro National Monument, to the more protected status of Saguaro NATIONAL PARK. A little poster in the right place goes a long way!

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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #35
Sonora #35:  
As this amazing day fades, my hike has taken me into several new drainages, so I choose a steep, rocky one to return to the road and my car. Again, I am struck by how different each of these micro-niches are. This cleft does not look like anything else I have seen today. It is a fitting end to my shoot, as my work here is now finished, so I will return to LA, get my film processed, and get back to Luther Propst at the Rincon Institute with my suggestions for what we do with the images I have created, and how we might use them in a campaign to protect this section of the desert from the impact of the proposed development. I am sure there is no single shot that will say it all, as the terrain I have covered has varied greatly, so I begin to conceive of ways we can work with multiple shots, that will describe the diversity of what we hope to preserve.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #34
Sonora #34:  
As the light fades, and the day winds down, my current vantage point affords me a great view of the terrain through which I ascended to get here. I can so the exposed rock, and the openness of those slopes, as they very gradually roll up. Then, as the sun sets, the background of the Rincon Mountains, take on an incredible hue of color. This shot is among the last I would make on this project, and this spectacle is a MOST fitting end to a beautiful day, and a productive shoot. I feel certain among all of the images I have made in the last few days, I will be able to find numerous photographs that will benefit The Rincon Institute in their efforts to persuade the adjacent developers not to allow their proposed project to damage this habitat.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #33
Sonora #33:  
After cresting the dome (last post), I cross a nearly flat expanse of about 1/2 mile which brings me to the base of some vertical rock, and I find I am surrounded by a completely different habitat. There are many more bushes here, a lot of saguaro, and I think even a few organ pipe cactus. The late light is warming the red rock and red soil, and setting the yellow flowering shrubbery aglow. It is a beautiful evening, and still very warm. I can see my van parked below, and have no concerns about walking out in the twilight, so I find a nice vantage point, and sit down to watch the day wane. I am sure Don Juan should appear soon! This is feeling like a pretty magical place.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #32
Sonora #32:  
These upper slopes are the easternmost part of the lands involved in our project to protect this habitat, and they are completely different than any other part I have previously explored It is exhilarating to be able to easily walk about on the exposed rock, without having to wind around gardens of flowers and spiky cacti clusters. I can cover a lot of terrain quickly, and because I have beautiful light at the end of the day, I am hustling about, changing my point-of-view, and I discover numerous micro-niche flash flood arroyos, and spectacular cactus-rock gardens. I am going to walk up the dome to the right, which will carry me over into another drainage. Once again, this will take me a little further from my van, but all of these currently dry streambeds flow down to the road where I am parked, so there is no chance of getting lost. Given the day is clear and the late light glowing, I am going to stick this out until the sun sets.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #31
Sonora #31:  
Finally past the denser vegetation of the lower desert, I reach the exposed rock that runs to the top of these summits. This is unique terrain, and only appears in this section of Saguaro, in part of the area we hope to protect from the impacts of the proposed development. The cacti grow here like island gardens, dotting the smooth rock slope. There is also some very well developed cryptogamic soil patches (dark patches of lichen and moss, upper left) which I must be careful not to disturb in any way. This is an especially exhilarating part of my exploration because there is so much “open” space on which to walk. It is like a desert version of the alpine gardens and exposed granite that I grew so fond of during my summers of backpacking in the Wind River Range

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #30
Sonora #30:  
I have noted in previous posts that some plants seem to prefer specific soil, such as the small purple flowers that grow out of the rock crush. In post #10, I came across a surprising rock formation covered with a lush green moss, and today, while working my way toward the exposed rock slabs that are higher up, I find this (above). Another moss covered rock, AND this is the same kind of rock! I find it amazing as there are NO other rocks around that have these characteristics, and that was true of post #10 as well. I joked then that it seemed to have landed from another planet, and now I am sure of it. There is nothing like this anywhere nearby, nor, as I would discover by the end of this day, will I see another such formation. This is truly a strange desert!

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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #29
Sonora #29:  
After my burrito pig-out, and way too much tequila, I stand outside under a cosmic sky that is crystal clear, and more psychedelic with stars than any amount of Don Juan ju-ju. Hoping that it will stay like that, I rise early to find it has, so I skip breakfast to get any early start on my work before anything changes. I hope to get into the furthest section of the project today, and work my way up through the exposed stone terraces to a view summit. When I arrive at the initial foregarden I must traverse, much of it is still in morning shade, but the sky is clear, and the sun is coming fast. I choose to follow the sandy bed of a flash flood arroyo, and the first character to great me is a very happy cylindroputia variation. (It is probably a distant cousin of the one that has been following me around.) I offer it morning greetings, and it wishes me a productive day, so things seem to be moving in the right direction, and I continue my journey up the creek.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #28
Sonora #28:  
The descending slopes I am now traversing host fewer meadows of blooming flowers, and less small cacti, but they are flush with larger bushes and saguaros. Near the bottom of the slope, an expansive plain reaches out to the highway, and it is a virtual saguaro forest. There are hundreds of them that stretch all the way to the horizon, and the late light has set everything aglow with color and rim lighting. It is a spectacle made even more enjoyable because the evening brings with it a cool breeze. A lovely ending to a long, but fruitful, day. Now it is time for some black beans, and a big burrito.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #27
Sonora #27:  
After and hour, or so, my upward ascent does crest a ridge that offers me an expansive view. I can see my van in the distance, several valleys surrounding me, and some taller rock faces that I would like to climb, but it is getting too late in the afternoon to attempt that. I decide, instead, to sit and let the late light descend on the landscape while I drink it all in. More water, more snacks, and the glow begins. I am still a good distance from my vehicle, but I do not want to descend through the same terrain I have climbed up through all day, so even though it will take me a little farther from where I am parked, I opt to drop back to the road by route of a different valley, and I start my amble downhill.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #26
Sonora #26:  
Uh, oh! More dancing purple flowers growing right out of the rock crush. This is the largest array yet, and as I am now past the middle of a very hot day, I decide to pause for awhile, drink some water, munch some snacks, and watch the performance. The warm, dry breeze creates a lot of wiggling that puts me into a kind of hypnotic trance (as if I am not already dazed enough), so I linger here for quite awhile. I still hope to get to an elevated overview, though, so I am thankful that things begin to cool down by mid-afternoon, and I finally rise to climb some more. I am taken a bit off-course because this flower field is so extensive, and I do not want to walk through, but eventually I find some traversable terrain, and begin to angle upward once again.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #25
Sonora #25:  Another desert question arises in me when I finally summit. On the other side of this mountain, a broad flashflood arroyo runs down, into another part of the park, and the hills on both sides of it are completely different than the terrain through which I have just ascended. The vegetation in this niche is primarily large, green, shrub-like bushes (that like everything else, harbor little thorns on their branches), and although I have had saguaros throughout my hike, none are blooming. In this vail, many of them are. Again, I ponder how the desert mechanisms work - is it the way the water distributes, or perhaps the balance of sunlight and shade. Maybe it is the angle of light, as this side is less directly in the blazing, midday sun. Or, perhaps, the pollinators like it better here, so the saguaro bloom out, because of their presence. Only Mescalito really knows, and he is too busy playing dance music for his garden to answer my stupid human curiosity, so I go with the flow, and quietly start chanting. Hey, Jousef Khanfar, I learned these chants from my visit to you in Oklahoma, and we attended the Red Dirt Festival. There was a LOT of great warrior dance-offs, and we bought a bunch of CD’s from the attending drum groups. Who knew that would come in handy while I am out here wandering “as lonely as a cloud."

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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #24
Sonora #24:  Dense stands of spiny bushes, and saguaros, growing out of every rock crack, force me off of a straight upward climb, so I move laterally for awhile, looking for a way to penetrate the growth. I find a steep arroyo contained by rolling, gravely hills, and again a profusion of purple wildflowers appears, springing forth from the rocky bed. This patch is even more dense than the one I discovered earlier in the day, but the crush rock of the flower bed is the same. I wonder if it is the way these broken rocks trap seeds, and distribute rainwater, or is there a chemical compound in the crush, that makes the habitat so perfect for the wildflowers. Whichever, it is a beautiful display, and I continue my ascent treading carefully through it.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2020


THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #23
Sonora #23:  After joining the purple wildflowers (last post) for a little drum dancing, I realize I must continue with my “mission” to document this specific habit, that is threatened by adjacent development, so I shoulder my Pentax 6x7, and tripod, and continue to pick my way upward through a prickly world. More flowers appear, and a LOT of saguaros show, but other cacti species seem to decline. The profusion of prickly pear, and ocotillo, which I threaded through on the lower slopes is hardly visible from where I now stand. Somehow, however, although I see NO cylindropuntia, I know that one is still stalking me, and it is just hiding somewhere at the moment. In spite of an increasingly hotter day, I am determined to summit this climb, so I can see the entirety of the landscape with which my project is involved, and there is still a lot of up, to go. Excelsior!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #22
Sonora #22:  On the top of my ascended knoll, the dense plant growth thins out a bit, and there are easily navigable outcrops of small rocks, which I can traverse without stomping on anything. It is now getting hot, without a cloud in the sky, but the heat does not seem to dissuade the enthusiasm of the bloom. As you can see above, while not as dense as the field of daisies (last post), I have found a profuse cluster of wildflowers that is growing right out of the rocks - there is no “soil” in sight. It is amazing they are not wilting in the heat, but with an occasional, slight breeze, it is clear that they are dancing to Mescalito’s native drum music. I pretty sure the speakers are hidden in that prickly pear.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #21
Sonora #21:  As I near the top of one of the hills, I encounter a wonderland abloom. There are numerous, young saguaros, some of the tallest, tree-like chollas that I have seen so far, and the hillside between them all, is thick with a blooming yellow plant, I think is a daisy of some kind. This is a dense forest of flowers, and it is actually difficult to walk through. I am trying to do so without stepping on anything, and it takes some serious navigating to accomplish the task. My reward is some great pictures, but my socks and pants are covered with burrs that will take forever to remove. Nonetheless, if you are going to thrash around, this is some VERY GOOD thrashing around. Oh, and did I mention, butterflies are everywhere.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #20
Sonora #20:  In the first section of the territory that we are trying to protect from adjacent development, the terrain is rugged, rocky hills, lush with spiky growth, and punctuated by flash-flood arroyos. There is a staggering array of plant diversity, literally growing EVERYWHERE. Mesquite, saguaros, chollas, prickly pear varieties, and ocotillo abound, and are blooming, as are dense patches of wildflowers. The rains have brought this desert to life, and I am the beneficiary. That cylindropuntia is still following me around, however, and I don’t know how it does it because I know it can’t drive. I want to access some higher viewpoints, so I VERY carefully pick my way through all of this, and slowly ascend the boulder-strewn slopes.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #19
Sonora #19:  Van found, burrito and albondigas downed, the weather does finally break, and the rain pours down once again, with lightening strikes everywhere. Desert thunderstorms are a SPECTACLE! I crash, wondering if I will ever get a break so that I can visit that section of the Rincon Mountain foothills I have been asked to photograph, in hopes of furthering their protection. Then, I awake to bluebird skies, without any clouds. Excited, I woof down a quick breakfast and head out. The destination to which I am headed is about 25-miles outside of Tucson, on the highway to Tanque Verde. The survey markers for the proposed real estate development are staked on the southern side of the road, and the northern side is the domain I expect to explore. The section of interest to me runs adjacent the road for about 10-miles, and it starts out being rocky, rugged foothills, set back from the pavement. The terrain then evolves as you continue on, to where smooth, granite-like slopes, terraced with gardens, run right down the highway’s edge. Figuring I should begin at the beginning, I pull off the road and park where the rocky foothills begin. I camera-up, and launch another day of hiking. I no time at all, I find myself, once again, in Don Juan’s backyard, AND EVERYTHING is blooming. I feel certain that it is going to be a “trippy” day, and Mescalito is out here somewhere waiting to surprise me.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #18
Sonora #18:  More rock outcrops. More cacti buddies, but I think the cylindropuntia has finally stopped stalking me. The day grows darker, and the weather more ominous, but the rain has not yet started, so I am grateful. Although I still have not located my van, I think my mental GPS is starting to unfog, because some of this terrain seems vaguely (VERY vaguely) familiar. It has been hours since this hike began, and I have seen a lot of grass and prickly stuff, but somehow this seems like grass I have known before, so I remain hopeful. Because I feel this way, I scramble up this rise, hoping for an overview that will enlighten me, and when I arrive there, it does. I am about 1/2-mile away from several parked cars, and my van is in the middle of them, waving to me. I need a burrito and some albondigas before the rain moves in.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #17
Sonora #17:  Apparently my mushroom omelette, and that cylindropuntia that has been following me around all day, have thrown of my mental GPS, so I am not exactly finding my van, even though I am hoping to soon. It is getting late in the day, and it appears the rain may start again. I am hungry, and I don’t want to be wet. Along the way to wherever, interesting things keep happening. The lichen covered rock outcrops are radiant after several days of wet weather, and they keep popping up aglow, from the grassy desert floor. It also seems that they have some weird relationship with the desert flora, because cacti, in particular, seem to want to grow out of them, or near them. I mean, above there is a saguaro growing out of this outcrop, and a prickly pear immediately adjacent. Those prickly pear in the distance are situated within another rock group. Perhaps there is some mineral element that leaches from the rocks and feeds the cacti, or perhaps they all just want to be friends. I mean, who wants to just be alone in the middle of that expanse of grass. Well, except for that raging cylindropuntia from post #7. He/she was clearly happy to be standing alone, showing off.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #16
Sonora #16:  Not wanting to disturb Mescalito’s garden that is dancing to tribal drum music, I keep on moving, finally ascending a red rock formation that did allow me to climb upon it. The side I climb up is nearly all rock with very little growth, but when I crest the top, their is no rock on the other side, it is earth that supports a vast cholla-gone-nuts garden. It is a beautiful thing to observe - at a distance - but there is NO way I am going to attempt to walk through it. I know they are just waiting for me to do something so foolish, but I am onto them. Creeping around in the cholla is a new player, scientifically known as cuscuta. The common names cut more to the chase, and include witch's hair, wizard’s net, devil’s guts, strangleweed, and hellbine. So, no offense intended, but I am going avoid that lovely plant as well, even though I do enjoy the addition of its orange color to this spiky valley. I have now been out most of the day, and I am getting a bit goofy, so it is probably time to head back toward my van, wherever that is.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #15
Sonora #15:  My curiosity about the distant rocks is soon resolved, once I evade the guarding cylindropuntia. Sure enough, Mescalito does have a cave there, and before it lies a beautiful, diverse garden, with some colorful, blooming ocotillo. Fouquieria splendens, indeed! Well, EVERYTHING is blooming, but the ocotillo, waving their red flowers around in the breeze, seem especially happy, and they are keeping time to the music to which Mescalito is listening. Interestingly, it is neither rock, nor country western. At this moment, it is Navajo tribal drum music, and the garden is grooving. I must remember to play music for the residents of my garden when I get home,..if I ever get home. This is a huge desert, one could disappear easily.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #14
Sonora #14:  This is definitely not the cylindropuntia that has been following me around all day, but it is without a doubt a cylindropuntia spinosior on steroids, and it does NOT want to be petted. I am not even going to walk near it. Nonetheless, given its aggressive behavior, I assume it is guarding another magical garden, so I pay my respects, skirt widely around, and continue my exploratory of Saguaro National Monument. The various rock formations I have encountered have been so different, one from another, I want to get closer to those distant hills and see what is going on over there. I would not be surprised to find that Mescalito has a cave there, and is inside listening to music. I am curious to know if he is a rocker, or a country western fan?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #13
Sonora #13:  A few feet farther away (last post), I encounter this. Another eye-trap. I am sure the glowing grasses and the marbled rocks are there, but I have to wonder about those purplish things that are dancing around. As this is a still image, they may not look like they are dancing to you, but I assure you they are dancing for me. From where do the emanate? They just seem to be floating about. Then there is a breeze, and the dancing starts all over again. I will bet that Don Juan and Don Genaro are having a good laugh about this one, and I have not even met the coyote yet - LOL!

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #12
Sonora #12:  WHAT! I think this is the mushroom omelette working on me again. I take this picture just to prove all of these colors are really there. The rain and the overcast have certainly given me optimal conditions for my photography, but this is RIDICULOUS. Really! A turquoise rock? A stunningly vivid green tree branch? I better back up, I don’t want to get sucked into this. I am sure I would never recover. Time to go stare at something else.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #11
Sonora #11:  Because the Sonoran desert is one of the hottest and driest in North America, when it does rain, the vegetation takes full advantage of that moisture to grow and bloom. It is my luck to be visiting during a very rainy week, and the bloom is profuse. It brings this world alive with color, fragrance, and the buzz of insects. Just look at this (above)! Not the only thing abloom, the prickly pear has just gone crazy. I never would have imagined that it could have so many flowers. As I will learn in further visits, this moment is a blessing, and a GREAT way to start this new project. I am getting the true sense of what is at stake, and why we hope to reason with the developer to scale back their project, so it won’t impact this remarkable habitat.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #10
Sonora #10:  The Sonoran is considered one of the hottest, driest deserts in the world, so this is clearly an hallucination. Cactus, cactus, cactus, as far as the eye can see, and then, plopped in the middle of it is this huge outcropping of rock, every inch of which is covered with layers of colored lichens, and on the shadiest side, a lush, velvety green moss. What? Clearly that mushroom omelette I had for breakfast has started to kick in. I believe this is what Carlos Castaneda would call “nonordinary reality.” I would like to climb up on this rock, and see it from other perspectives, but I am pretty sure at the present moment it does NOT want me doing that, so I just circumnavigate it in wonder. I am also pretty sure that should I return to revisit it, it will be gone, never to be found again. Such is the surreality of the Sonoran (like that alliteration)?

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #9
Sonora #9:  There is another cylindropuntia (top, center), or maybe it is just the same one following me around. This is a strange, spiky, colorful world under a sullen sky, and it feels magical. I can see why it appealed to Don Juan. Wait, who is this Don Juan guy? I will refer you to the 12 books by Carlos Castaneda, the first of which appeared in 1968. Carlos graduated from UCLA and lived most of his life in Westwood, near to my family home. He also lectured at CalArts while I was there, working for my MFA. An article in Time magazine described Castaneda as "an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a tortilla.” The books have been very controversial, as some believe they are factual accounts, and others believe they are pure fiction. I believe they are about the Sonoran desert being a trippy place to hang out, and the fugue on this hillside, and that cylindropuntia that is following me around are proof of it. You need eyes in the back of your head out here so things don’t sneak up on you. Just ask Hunter Thompson.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #8
Sonora #8:  The more I look around during my walk through Saguaro National Monument, the more I realize there are cylindropuntia spinosior EVERYWHERE! Actually there are many different varieties, and this one may not be a spinosior, as it is greener, has fewer spines, and the branching arms are much thinner. This could be an arbuscula. What do I know? I am a photographer, definitely NOT a desert plant biologist. I just like throwing out some of these wacky names for blog amusement. They are Don Juan jokes. Here is another one for you. Behind the cylindropuntia is a parkinsonia florida, more commonly known as a palo verde tree. I don’t think these grow in Florida either, so what’s up with that? Then, of course, the two big cigars furthest back are the twin towers of a young saguaro. An amazing layering of life, and in a remarkably waterless environment,..well, not last night or today. But hey, I am having fun.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #7
Sonora #7:  BEHOLD Cylindropuntia spinosior! Seriously? Talk about otherworldly, this thing just landed! Here I am out for a lovely walk in the rain saturated Saguaro National Monument, and out of nowhere, this guy comes up to me and asks if I have a light. I am thinking, why do you need one, you are already blazing away. In the last post, I pointed out there is a smaller one of these in the middle of the image, but this one is in the middle of a grassy field, standing alone. It is HUGE, and just exploding with color and flowers. THIS is an incredible creature, and one of my favorite residents of the amazingly diverse Sonoran Desert.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #6
Sonora #6:  It is called Saguaro National Monument and there are definitely numerous saguaro here, but there is SO much more. There are trees, varied grasses, moss covered rocks, lichen covered rocks, and an endless array of cacti. Many cacti also have a large diversity within just one species. There are many different barrel cactus, some of which are HUGE. There are ocotillo. There is a huge array of cholla, not just the “jumping” ones (post #4). Some are tree-like, some, like the teddy-bear, look fuzzy and stay low to the ground. There are several varieties of prickly pear, and also several varieties of cylindropuntia. Say what? (You will see a magnificent one of these in next week’s post.) In the image above there are quite a number of different grasses and trees, several different species of prickly pear, and dead center in this picture IS a cylindropuntia. Can you find it? What beautiful chaos!

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #5
Sonora #5:  After the saturating all-night rain, my morning walk through Saguaro National Monument is not only a color filled feast for the eyes, it also amazingly fragrant. The smell of sage, and the wet grasses is actually heady, and rich. The landscape is a mix of blooming things, and those that have been left from the previous season of growth, now bleached out by the desert sun. There are innumerable textures all mixed with each other that add to the visual feast. There is no rain to drive me away, so I spend several hours enjoying my exploration of this new habitat in which I now have the opportunity to work. This is going to be a great project and I hope we can make a difference with the images I create, and succeed in changing the developer’s original plan.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #4
Sonora #4:  After a lovely evening in the Rincon Mountains section of Saguaro National Monument where a developers proposal will disrupt habitat, the night grows VERY stormy and electric with stunning displays of lightening all around Tucson. The morning presents the same condition continuing, and so there is NO chance I am going to climb up into the rocky foothills of the Rincon section on a day like this. However, the part of the monument closest to town, and widely used by the public, is relatively flat and low, and noted for its beauty, so taking advantage of what I can, I waterproof my Pentax 6x7 (plastic bag), and go for a hike. The rain has saturated all the flowers and grasses, and made the lichens and mosses (Yes, mosses!) vibrant. It does not even rain that much, there is just bright even light, and A LOT of color to be seen, so I have a wonderful day in spite of the less than perfect conditions. The monument is VERY popular with the residents of Tucson, who often come here to hike, and on a day like this, the appeal is obvious. It IS a spiky, scorpion and snake filled world, and I need to be careful navigating off trail, but even the truly dangerous “jumping” cholla have a beautiful glow. Nonetheless, as careful as I am, in my hotel room that evening I spend a good deal of time pulling cholla spines out of the toes of my hiking boots.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #3
Sonora #3:  My first visit to Tucson is to meet with Luther Propst and his staff at the Rincon Institute, learn the purpose of the work they do, view a developer’s initial proposal adjacent Saguaro National Monument, as well as the alternative proposal prepared by the institute, and view the Rincon Mountains section pertinent to the planning. Luther and his staff are very committed to helping maintain the biological integrity of the overall monument, and they think the original development plans threaten substantive parts of the park’s Rincon section. Once I have a chance to view the area of concern, they are hoping I might design a campaign for them that would help move their proposal forward. My visit is in early spring, and it has been a wet year, evident in the banner photo for this blog. That image shows serious, and very electric weather over the Catalina Foothills on a day that I am taking a “get-acquainted” walk through the section of the monument closest to the city. The next day, I drive east to find the Rincon section in question, and Luther goes with me to help me recognize its boundaries. There are no facilities or public signs out here, just a small highway to Tanque Verde and, on one side of the road, numerous red survey flags on stakes. Those flags indicate the reach of the proposed development. The spring has blessed my visit with a SPECTACULAR wildflower bloom, and on the day we drive out, it is also quite sunny. Once Luther shows me the perimeter of the area he hopes can be protected, he returns to Tucson, and leaves me to enjoy the afternoon and evening, wandering in this terrain, presently unfamiliar to me. From the road, it is all uphill, following numerous, now dry stream beds, and the low light of the setting sun sets the Giant Saguaros aglow. I definitely want to work on this project and make a difference.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #2
Sonora #2:  While the pictures in this total blog will cover many different niches within the 100,000 square miles of the Sonoran Desert, including islands in the Sea of Cortez, I will introduce you to this place through the project that brought me here. I am contacted by Luther Propst of the Rincon Institute in Tucson, AZ, because he would like me to design a campaign for them that could help prevent a large real estate development on the border of Saguaro National Monument’s Rincon Mountains section, about 25 miles outside of Tucson to the east. This is an especially rich part of the desert habitat, with a sizable diversity of plants and animals, and if the development is built as proposed, much of this area will be impacted. The Rincon Institute initially appealed to the developer not to proceed with their plans, explaining the value of this habitat section to the overall park, and because the developer was receptive, the institute even offered to design a revision for them, so they could proceed without as much disruption. The proposal the institute has put forward, calls for the developers to reduce the scale of their intentions, reduce the density as well, and to place 15,000 acres into conservation easement. The plan still allows for construction of enough size to be profitable (very) for the developers, but not at the cost of the park habitat and the interconnected riparian corridors. I have been to Tucson and taken brief walks in the monument section closest to the city, but I have never been to the Rincon section, so I visit to view it, because I would like to help forward the proposed alternative plan created by the institute.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2020, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

Follow Robert Glenn Ketchum's Photographic Activism Online:
PINTEREST:  pinterest.com/LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd:  LittleBearProd
Wach Gallery:  Wach Gallery

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

THE SONORAN DESERT:  Visiting with Don Juan #1
Sonora #1:  As you can see from this map provided by the National Park Service, the Sonoran Desert is quite large, spanning parts of several countries, and two North American states. Over 100,000 square miles in size, the Sonoran includes a substantial portion of the southeastern border of California and Arizona, then expands to the east across most of southwest Arizona, and south into Baja, CA, and Mexico. This unique habitat covers a huge portion of the west coast of Mexico, and a majority of the Baja peninsula, as well as the islands in the Sea of Cortez. It is also one of the most bio-diverse deserts in the world containing a stunning variety of unique and endemic plants and animals, including the giant saguaro, and organ pipe cactus. There are a lot of territory and habitat variations to explore, and I revisit this desert again and again trying to enjoy all of its niches. What initially brings me here, however, is to devise a campaign for the Rincon Institute, who would like to prevent a major real estate development from impacting a section of Saguaro National Monument, located near the Rincon Mountains, less than 25-miles from central Tucson.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2020, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

Follow Robert Glenn Ketchum's Photographic Activism Online:
PINTEREST:  pinterest.com/LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd:  LittleBearProd
Wach Gallery:  Wach Gallery

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