Category Archives: Arizona Photos

Pursuing Truth and Beauty


When I saw this cactus in Green Valley Arizona, south of Tucson and near the Mexican border I thought it might be the most beautiful cactus I had ever seen. I was on a church yard, so I thought I could walk and photograph it without fear of being shot.


When I first retired I said I wanted to stop spending my time in order to make a living and feed my family, I wanted now to pursue “truth and beauty” as John Keats said. I have done that. And it has been great fun.

When I went to university, in my first English literature course, taught by Jack Woodbury, one of the best professors I ever had, the first poet we studied was John Keats. English poet. He published only 54 poems before he died at the age of 25.  That is 54 more than I have published. And many of them were great poems.

John Keats was an English Romantic poet, along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and others. His poems had been in publication for less than four years when in 1821 he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Talk about brief beauty!


One of the poems we read was “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”  This might have been the 3rd or 4th poem I studied in university. The poem describes an urn with an image of  a young shepherd pursuing a beautiful young woman who he wants to kiss. But of course, in the image he never catches her. She is forever, a “still unravished bride of quietness.” She never speaks. Their love is never consummated, but their love never turns stale either. It is a love that never withers. The shepherd is also a piper whose song is never heard.  But this too is fine. As Keats says in the poem, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”

The last two lines of that poem go as follows:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.


There has been much critical debate about what those words mean. Many, including me, have puzzled over the meaning of those words. I think they make sense in the context of the whole poem. In a way it is a summation of the poet’s thinking expressed by the previous 48 lines.

By beauty I think he means beauty in a wide sense. Beauty basically is art. And art is true or it is not art. So beauty is truth and truth is beauty. Some cactuses bloom only for a day. What a dreadful pity.

So a beautiful cactus flower, caught in a silent moment by a camera, is a work of art (beauty)  that never withers. It  is an eternal thing of beauty. If is it good, it is good forever.  It never changes. That is truth which also is truth forever.



Harris Hawk: The Cooperators


Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)

At the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum the last raptors we saw in flight were Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)  which I have seen a number of times before.  I was very lucky to have captured an image of this wonderful bird in flight,


This bird is unusual because it is one of the few birds of prey that hunts in packs. As a result, Harris Hawks  are more successful at capturing prey than individuals that hunt alone, but, of course, that means they have to share.

Harris’s are one of only two truly cooperative hunters in the raptor world. They will live in pairs in the tropical areas, or places where prey is abundant. In areas such as the Sonoran desert where prey has a lot of good cover because this desert contains a lot of vegetation,  they have been documented in groups as large as 9 birds.

That is why they are sometimes called ‘wolves of the air‘ taking their turns harrying a rabbit or squirrel and then chasing it out of cover towards other members that catch it. Here at the Museum they did not have to harry prey because the food was laid out for them. Briefly, the commentator giving us information through a loudspeaker tried to trick us into thinking they had found some prey were trying to pursue it into a corner. She soon acknowledged that this was not the case.

Sometimes Harris Hawks have been electrocuted by hydro lines, but sometimes other members of the group will return to help the injured hawk.  Thus, they carry their cooperating to extremes.  This cooperative view of species is sometimes controversial, as some evolutionists believe there is no cooperation in nature, just competition, but I think the better view is that cooperation is real, and Harris Hawks are an example of that.

They also nest in social groups that allows them to bond before they venture out together on hunting raids.


A silent hunter



The Great Horned owls fly extremely quietly to avoid giving themselves away to their prey. I learned this personally and directly when I was at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum one came up from behind me and flew right over my head and I never heard it. It was so close I could have touched it. I did hear excited people gasping near to me and I did not why until it had flown by . It was so close I could have touched it. I pretended to be brave. It gave me a personal feeling of what it must be like to be a prey of such a magnificent raptor. It was thrilling.

These owls have very good low-light eyesight, and hearing that allows them to spot prey in difficult circumstances. I don’t think they saw an old fat guy like me as prey.

These owls don’t actually have horns. They have tufts near the ears that gives them their names. They also have deep yellow eyes

They will eat a great variety of prey including large insects, reptiles, amphibians, other birds, and small mammals such as skunks and jackrabbits. I don’t know about you but I have no intent to add skunk to my diet.

The Great Horned Owl is a generalist raptor that captures a very wide range of prey, including reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and birds and can be found throughout the U.S. and even Canada in many different all habitats.

Owls do not build their own nests; because they lay eggs earlier in the year than most other species, they use old raven and hawk nests to raise their young. As a result, in Manitoba I have managed to see them early in the year where their young must battle the cold.

 These owls sometimes fall prey to Golden eagles or Northern goshawks.

Today was the first time I managed to capture a photo of these magnificent birds in flight. It was a great experience for which I was very grateful .


Mass Extinction Events

Cactus on front lawn in San Tan Valley near where we lived this year

Though there have been awesome changes in the Grand Canyon, they pale in comparison to what happened around the world.

As if these changes in the Grand Canyon  were not enough, 5 times in the past, nearly all of life was destroyed. These are called the 5 mass extinction events. The last mass extinction event occurred about 65 million years ago.

This was much earlier than the carving of the Grand Canyon. In that event the dinosaurs who had been ruling the earth met their match and became extinct.  Although there is more than one theory that has been advanced to explain this event, the one most widely accepted by scientists, is the one where it is believed after an asteroid hit the surface of the earth, exploding on impact, creating at first sudden radical changes on our planet, and raising ash and dust that blackened the sky, causing massive loss of lives.  75% of all species living on the earth vanished as a result of this mass extinction, but it was not the most destructive.  That event brought an end to the dominance of the planet by dinosaurs.

Some earlier mass extinction events resulted in an even greater loss of life. One wiped out about 95% of all species on earth. But each time life rebuilt itself as a result of evolution. That is what life does. During those 65 million years some astonishing forms of life were created such as orchids and cactuses.

Orchids (a clump of yellow lady’s-slippers. Manitoba’s most common orchid

Nature always bats last. Thank goodness for evolution.


Visible Changes




There is no doubt about it, the Grand Canyon is grand. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I is also fascinating because it makes long history visible before your eyes. We did not visit it this  year when we were in Arizona, but we have visited it many times. Some places brag about being worth the trip even though the claims are dubious. The Grand Canyon has a right to brag.

You can see some of the history of such astounding changes in places like the Grand Canyon of Arizona. The geological history of the American Southwest revealed there makes visible what has happened in the last 1.7 billion or so years. That is long before there was any human life on the planet.

Each layer of rock is displayed in different colours. It may be the best record of the earth’s formation anywhere in the world. Almost 2 billion years of history are recorded there although the most dramatic changes occurred recently about 5-6 million years ago when the mighty Colorado River began to carve its astonishing path through the canyon walls. Even that  relatively recent history, includes no history of human life, because there was none.

The fossils found in each layer tell the story of the development of life on earth. The Vishnu Schist which is one of the oldest layers, near the bottom of the canyon, was formed when the first life on the planet, bacteria like creatures and algae first emerged.

Many of the other layers were created by billions of small marine animals, when this area was submerged by ocean. Their shells eventually accumulated to such an extent over hundreds of millions of years that they built up into thick layers of limestone that we can see today from the top of the canyon, looking a mile down. I am always amazed to think that a sea covered this incredible land.



As far as plant life goes, since I self-identify as a flower guy, they have been around for at least a 125 million years or so.  During that time, they evolved astonishingly from tiny barely visible flowers to glorious huge dahlias, from nearly inconspicuous grasses to majestic Redwood trees. All of those are flowering plants!

Life really is grand.  We must learn to appreciate all life. Not just human life. That is part of what I call a new attitude to nature.


A History of Environmental Catastrophes


Monument Valley on Arizona-Utah border

These photos were all taken on an earlier trip to Arizona.

David Attenborough in his documentary summing up his life abandoned his traditional approach of nature documentaries where he carefully avoided making personal statements. This time he made exactly those statements he had avoided in the past.

Attenborough had travelled to every part of the globe. Sadly, I have not, but I have travelled extensively and have seen some remarkable things too and have given some modest thought to the same issues that have been bothering him. Like him I have been to some extraordinary places as well. Perhaps I have a little something useful to contribute as well. I have been around for 74 years and likely will not be lucky enough to live another 20 years like he has done. As he showed in his film, I will also include in these posts to follow some photographs of where I have been and creatures and organisms I have been lucky enough to see.

North Window Monument Valley

When Attenborough was very young, in 1937, the human population was “only” 2.3 billion, there was “only” 280 parts per million of carbon in our atmosphere and 66%n of the world’s wilderness remained intact. Since then, things have changed dramatically and our species is largely responsible for that. Today there are more than 400 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere.

Artist’s point was a favorite spot of the director John Ford who shot many of his westerns starring John Wayne in Monument Valley

Scientists have learned that over the nearly 4 billion years that life has lived on this planet, life has changed dramatically. Usually it has changed slowly, but it has always changed and given millions of more years the changes are likely to be astounding.

Over time, some species die out. New species evolve after organisms adapt to changes on earth. It is an amazing process. After about 4 billion years bacteria can evolve into humans. Think about that.  Our earliest ancestor was something in the nature of bacteria! Life has evolved from microscopic organisms to giant creatures. Some creatures on the other hand, like crocodiles have hardly evolved at all.


Totem Pole at Monument Valley

About once every 100 million years or so, planet earth has experienced truly catastrophic losses of species. These are called extinction events.  There have been 5 such extinction events. One of them led to the loss of about 95% of the species on earth. And what remained have evolved into the incredible array of biodiversity we have today. An enormous number of organisms have died out. An enormous number of species have died out too.

Great natural forces have also impacted the earth and the creative organisms on it. For example, one of my favorite places on earth is Monument Valley in northern Arizona. I am constantly amazed by the large number of people that come regularly to Arizona like we do but have never visited this place of such astounding beauty. I think it might be the most beautiful place on the planet yet far more people I meet here have been to Las Vegas than Monument Valley even though both are similar distances from Phoenix. The powers of erosion by wind, water, and ice applied to geological forces that created the enormous changes to the landscape including carved mesas and buttes.

Change is a relentless part of life. The only thing constant is change. We must live with it or die. No matter how much some us hate change we cannot avoid it. Mother Nature never stands still.

Far from the Maddening Crowd


These are not great photos because they were taken directly into the sun but I have tried to capture the crowds that came to look at wildflowers at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona. I estimated there were about 250 flower lovers.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to see such crowds coming to look at wildflowers.

The people were of all ages. Old Codgers like me to young bright and eager kids. It was spectacular. Wonders never cease.



If you click on the photo and make it bigger I think you will see what the park is usually like. Finally I was far from the Maddening crowd after I lost them. I took a wrong turn.   How can you lose 250 people?


Hawk’s nest in a Saguaro


There was nest of a hawk or eagle in the crotch of this Saguaro butwas empty.  It might be that no bird was occupying it, but also it could be that the crowds were spooking the birds and not able to nest.  I hate to think that eggs in the nest were not being attended to because of the crowds.

This is another shot of the saguaro with an empty nest. Somebody ought to have warned the birds that this would be a super bloom year and hence they would be plagued by flower children.



A Flower Child arrives in Heaven




When I was a young lad going to University, it was the time of hippies and flower children. I always considered myself as on the fringes of this group. The term we liked to refer to ourselves was “freaks.”  But I always liked the expression “flower children.”  It called to mind these crazy kids at the Kent State  University Vietnam War Protest, and other places, who stood in front of the national guard members that were pointing their rifles at them and they smiled at the guards and placed flowers in the barrels of the gun.  How crazy is that?   Much to my surprise I actually became a flower child of sorts many years later when as an adult of sorts I became interested in wildflowers. I remember my mother was amazed. How could this happen?  Well, my answer to her was, “How could it not happen?” What is there not to like about wildflowers?

It was a very windy day, so I gave up on trying to freeze images of flowering blowing in the breeze.

One afternoon this winter in Arizona Christiane and I went for a jaunt on Red Mountain Road and Saguaro Lake and then headed south to complete a loop to Busch Highway and then Usery Pass Road.  We saw many wildflowers along the way. But we were really shocked at Usery Pass Road  where there was a long line of cars parked beside the road. What was happening we wondered? It was the wildflower children going crazy photographing flowers. My sport has been turned over to the rabble! And there was good reason for that. The flowers were outstanding.


There was a traffic jam of sorts in the countryside where we saw these wild flowers. Everyone, it seemed wanted to see these gems. Who can blame them?


Super Bloom



Everyone in Arizona this year, as in many other places in the southern USA, complained a lot about the bad weather. I admit it—I was one of them.  Everyone complained. Some told me it was the worst winter in 40 years.  It was awful. But it was also great!


From the perspective of a wildflower guy—like me—it was fantastic. Conditions were great.  I learned from Ranger B an interpreter at the Maricopa Parks where we often attended his talks, that the ideal conditions for wildflower growth were a wet autumn followed by consistent occasional rain from January to March. This is exactly what happened this past year. He said it happened about once every 11 years. Well it happened this year. Life is good.


I had been hoping to experience one of those years ever since I heard about it.  Ranger B says it was fantastic to see. He was right.


The result of these ideal conditions is called by local “a Super Bloom.”  And that was what we experienced this year. Now I say it was the best weather ever in Arizona.  Though, I admit, I also complained about it. Some of us are never happy and are never satisfied.