(Published November 2007 in Murray Bolesta's "The Borderlands Photographer" in Tubac Villager.)
In last month’s column we discussed borderlands Arizona nature photography as it pertained to backyard nature. Much is to be said about opportunities in your backyard for those who are camera-enthused.
A backyard has many of the photography benefits, and few of the risks. Natural habitat in many of the local developed neighborhoods is plentiful enough to attract many plants and animals of southern Arizona’s native and visiting species alike. Indeed, the super-natural care and watering that many of our backyards enjoy can attract even more of southern Arizona’s denizens than elsewhere.
But from time to time, the call of the wild entices the borderlands photographer to venture beyond the home and into the surrounding untouched lands that still exist nearby. This call to venture forth comes from our proximity to many great wild places, one of the enticing features of this place. A venturesome new resident, eager to put a camera through the paces, often will research nearby spots that have superb opportunities for outdoor photography due to their status as a desert oasis.
One rule of photography is to surround yourself with multiple opportunities, which watery areas can provide. No matter how good a photographer you are, your chances improve in these places that a frame or two will be truly special.
Reputation and a map may lead a borderlands photographer to well-known area spots such as Sabino Canyon in the Catalinas, Patagonia Lake near Nogales, the cienega at Arivaca, Ramsey Canyon near Sierra Vista, Agua Caliente Park in east Tucson, or Brown Canyon beneath Baboquivari Peak where the water is often just below the surface, and where exists one of only two natural rock bridges over a waterway in southern Arizona.
The quarry for this intrepid photo-trekker often will be birds, since southern Arizona is such fertile ground for sighting hundreds of species which converge or live here. Water attracts all other types of critters, of course, as well as wildflowers and everything else which makes a picture even more special than a typical desert landscape shot. When you encounter cattails, fish, and frogs, you know that you’ve found a source of year-around desert water.
Watery spots for photography are just about everywhere after a rainfall, or snowfall. Often the best time to go out is right after a storm passes. The aroma of wet earth and flora are enough to entice most people outdoors by itself.
Rainfall, of course, often brings out the best in the land and borderlands Arizona is no exception to this rule. Ocotillos sprout leaves almost immediately and wildflowers can spring up quickly, given the right overall conditions.
For many of my images, borderland Arizona’s precious, fragile spring waters are the lifeblood. They give birth to the hue and substance of the area’s natural beauty. A vestige of their earlier forms, southern Arizona’s spring waters often sink into the parched ground within a short distance of their surface origin. But these tiny and charming wild waters of Arizona continue to sustain vibrant wild life, enchanting those who discover these hidden spots.
What a major topic water is! It is Arizona’s most important topic, and is the West’s most important topic, and is fast becoming the most urgent one for the planet.
Some local watery places, such as Sonoita Creek or the Santa Cruz River, are now flowing above ground mostly due to the effluent from wastewater treatment plants. Most of the natural flow of the Santa Cruz River, and that of many other Arizona rivers, disappeared decades ago due to the lowered underground water table from increased agriculture, mining, and urban development. Along with that flow went much of the riparian habitat supporting the plants and critters that borderlands photographers now seek. Even CAP water, brought here by canal all the way from the Colorado River, robs this habitat: the lower Colorado riparian areas and delta have been mostly decimated to provide this water to us and millions of others.
|Wild yellow Columbine at Sycamore |
Creek near the Arizona-Mexico border.
But engineering and good science often is able to stabilize or re-create small patches of watery habitat necessary for wild things to flourish. An example is the Sweetwater Wetland in Tucson. Some even argue that old ranch stock-tanks support more wildlife than simply letting things go back to nature.
Discovering watery spots in the borderlands area can sometimes require a very arduous hike involving no trails whatsoever. Prior research is needed to determine how tough things are going to be, in relation to your capabilities. Many readers might not be able or willing to reach such places. Preparation must be made, too, for a safe journey for yourself and for your camera equipment. Many rules exist and you should follow them, including the foremost rule: always carry plenty of water. Second, always watch for rattlesnakes and become paranoid about where you put your hands and feet at all times. Always tell someone where you’re going.
Other rules are to carry a cell-phone, which may or may not work in some of these places. Carry a knife, toilet paper, a first-aid kit, a GPS or topographical map, and for your camera, a container easy for protecting it and retrieving it when needed. Also take cleaning equipment for your camera. Multiple camera lenses may be necessary for birds versus landscapes. Finally, I’ve found that in addition to sturdy boots or wet/dry trekking sandals, your best buddy is a small clean towel, to use with some water to freshen up in the field.
Threats to these places are, bluntly, staggering, and I’ve included references to some groups waging the battle.
Sorry, I’m not going to make it too easy on you by divulging exact directions. Finding places builds character. Men love to ask directions, don’t they?