Following the March Madness of Death Valley, I looked forward to Spring Break. For our spring break Jane and I traveled to Tucson, Arizona, for some photography in the Sonoran Desert. My primary objective was to find and photograph the fragrant white blossoms of the saguaro cactus. By all accounts, I knew that it was early in the season for saguaro blossoms, but early April fit into our overall travel schedule. So we packed our bags (mostly my bags stuffed with photo gear) and headed east to Tucson where Jane had found a quaint, out-of-the-way casita to rent. The location, like the casita itself, turned out to be perfect. We were only ten minutes from the Saguaro National Park visitor center and about fifteen from the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum.
We met some friends from the Photonaturalists Camera Club, Neil and Dali Solomon, who had been photographing birds near Sierra Vista, and spent our first day with them. Together we toured the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum in the morning and enjoyed a night sky program at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Neil is an avid bird photographer and his images can be found at www.nsolomonphoto.com. The program at Kitt Peak was fascinating and was highlighted with night sky observations through a telescope. Pretty neat!
We were definitely too early in the season for saguaro blossoms. The forest of tall, tree-like saguaro cactus with arms growing in all directions, displayed many buds but no flowers. Many other cacti, however, were in bloom, particularly at the desert museum cactus garden. There we found some extraordinary hybrid cactus varieties with huge, colorful flowers. Although disappointed that there were no saguaro blossoms to photograph, Jane and I discovered a tall saguaro with nesting northern flicker woodpeckers. Best of all, this saguaro was located only about a quarter mile from the casita, along the dirt driveway to the main road, and we visited that cactus on several mornings. Another serendipitous discovery was a single blossom on a saguaro located right next to the casita. This blossom was a favorite attraction for gila woodpeckers and we spent a lot of time watching and photographing, with coffee mugs in hand, the comings and goings of these striking birds.
One afternoon we made a day trip to two local, old Spanish missions. The first mission we visited was Tumacácori, a National Historic Park, about an hour south of Tucson. The mission was originally founded in 1691 by a Jesuit missionary from Spain. By 1848, after decades of hardship the mission was abandoned. On our way back to the casita, we stopped at Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic landmark. This mission was founded in 1692 by the same Jesuit missionary as Tumacácori. The current church was completed in 1797 and has been in continuous operation since. Mission San Xavier del Bac is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. The inside of the chapel is exquisitely decorated. The original mural paintings are beautiful and the altar and statues amazingly detailed. Our visit to these old, original national historic places well worth the effort.
This spring break trip was also planned to coincide with the full phase of the moon. I wanted some more practice with night sky photography after only mediocre results in Death Valley. My ability to locate where the full moon would appear in the sky was accurate, but the timing between moonrise and sunset was off. The location I selected had a high mountains ridge in the foreground that resulted in the moon showing its face much later than I had anticipated resulting in a foreground too dark for proper exposure.
Even so, we had a great time and on the way home we decided to put the casita in the pending travel file for a possible future visit. From the casita we were able to make early morning visits to the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum where we were rewarded with some outstanding photo ops with only a few visitors to contend with. One morning, we had the hummingbird aviary almost to ourselves. The woodpeckers flying back and forth to the saguaro next to the casita gave me plenty of opportunities to photograph birds in flight. And last, but not least, was the relaxing atmosphere of this quaint, out-of-the-way casita where we watched the sun come up from the front patio with our morning coffee and go down from the back patio with our glass of wine.
Images from this spring break journey can be found in the National Parks, Monuments & Historic Landmarks gallery. Look for the Mission San Xavier del Bac, Saguaro National Park and Tumacacori National Historic Park sub-galleries.