Arizona Landscapes

photographing landscapes

From Thumb Riding to Residence

Like some people, my initial jaunt across Arizona landscapes as a young adult was riding my thumb. For that reason, Highway 80 was the road of choice going West. It snaked through the heartland and got me to Berkeley, CA. Because a former girlfriend was living there at the time. She writes children’s books now.

What shocked me on the first trip? Arizona. It was Springtime, and desert flowers were blooming. Standing on the side of the road with only the wind for conversation the landscape pinched my mind and pierced my heart. Consequently, I knew at some point in the future I would call this desolately beautiful country home.

photographing landscapes
A honey bee taking pollen from a prickly pear cactus flower.

Fast Forward 20 Years

So, there I am as a photo-journalist for a small town newspaper. The best kind, by the way, are small-town newspapers. Show Low, Arizona, with a dubious population of about 25,000 starkly independent souls grew on me like moss on rocks. Being a photo-journalist and photographing scenery with the wild, open country to die for was never a dream because it became an internal spirit still carried within this heart.

Show Low, and Pinetop/Lakeside, Arizona are cradled in canyons of the White Mountains in the Northeastern part of Arizona. Driving from Phoenix to the White Mountains is about 180 miles, give or take. Therefore, you have a choice of going through Payson, or up through Globe. Panoramic views of Arizona landscapes are some of the most stunning available in this part of the country. Either way, if it’s your first time you are in for a hell of a ride.

If it’s Spring you might want to take a jacket, gloves, and a hat or cap to warm your ears. It may be 80 degrees in the Valley, but…Show Low’s elevation is 6300′, and Pinetop/Lakeside is closer to 7,000′. Because weather at higher elevations doesn’t care what season it is, or how warm Phoenix happens to be in March.

Shifting Arizona Landscapes

Arizona landscapes change as you climb the distance. Because of these Saguaro cacti of the Sonoran desert will fade away about 40 miles out of Phoenix. If you go through Payson tangled trees called alligator juniper will slowly replace the cactus. Furthermore, Ponderosa pine will dominate the scene by the time you pass through Rye, on your way to Payson.

photographing landscapes
Two saguaro cacti. One dying and one thriving.

If you go through Globe hardscrabble and rocky canyons will poke your eyes out with wonder. This is outlaw country, where you can lose yourself and never find your way back. Some of it looks like country the Lone Ranger of the late 1950s, was filmed in. Anywhere you look magnificent landscapes will captivate your imagination and wonder. But wait…

Have you heard of the Salt River Canyon? Also is known as the mini Grand Canyon of Arizona. Definitely not for the faint, of heart. It’s ten miles from one end to the other. Your first ride will feel like a million miles. As a result, your stomach might not make the trip.

Due to the many trips on Highway 60 through Globe, I truly learned how to drive riding the Salt River Canyon. I loved it from the moment I entered that multitude of hairpin curves, steep drop-offs, and breath-taking views. Not to mention all the wrecked cars and trucks littering the gorges. I have driven the canyon hundreds of times, and this Arizona landscape is always enticing. Inevitably, it is still a major thrill.

photographing landscapes
The Salt River Canyon heading to Globe, AZ.

High Desert Forest

Northeast of Payson on Highway 260 is the Mogollon Rim. Considered one of the most spectacular Arizona landscapes in the state. It rises 1700’ with sheer drop-offs for most of its 200-mile length stretching east and west across Arizona. It is the other major panoramic feature on the way to Show Low. Ponderosa pine populates the landscape as you leave Payson, and head for the White Mountains.

It is the major landmark on your way and climbing its four-lane road to the top quickens your heart. Your neck might get sore from all the stretching you will do attempting to grasp the beauty of this land. And you thought Arizona was just a desert.

Once up the ‘Rim keep your eyes alert for monstrous elk. Ponderosa pine and elk blend together along the road and as a result, sometimes it is difficult to tell one from the other. Basically, there are no shoulders along Highway 260 from the ‘Rim to Show Low, and elk feeding on the side of the road might decide to cross right in front of you. Consequently, “Watch for Elk” signs litter the road like diplomatic warnings. What they mean is: If you hit one, you and your car are toast. Elk do not pay attention to signs. Those are for you.

photographing landscapes
A large bull elk hiding in the trees.

The ponderosa pines are beautiful, stately trees standing tall and firm in this high desert forest. A most note-worthy observation, ponderosas have evolved as fire-resistant trees. That doesn’t mean they don’t burn, it just takes them longer to catch fire.

Once clear of the ‘Rim the Arizona landscape flattens out and you may catch glimpses of the Rodeo-Chediski fire aftermath. Burn sections of the forest muddle the landscape, though the growth of new trees is on the rise. See those dark undulating hills off in the distance? Those are the White Mountains and you have arrived.

photographing landscapes
Sunrise in the White Mountains of Arizona.

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