Arizona – Not What You Would Expect

I thought I would use this post to illustrate one of the many things that I enjoy about living in Arizona.  To those who have never visited the state, the word “Arizona” probably conjures up  visions of the stately saguaro cactus, towering over a rocky desert landscape where rattlesnakes and scorpions scuttle around in the sand. (These days, it probably conjures up other visions as well, but this is a non-political blog!)

But the desert and “dry heat” are only part of Arizona’s rich wealth of scenery and landscape.  Our state is also home to the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine in the United States.  In the higher elevations along the Mogollon Rim, in the White Mountains, and stretching north through Flagstaff, the landscape is dotted with lakes which are meccas for fishermen and sportsmen.

On our recent camping trip, we left the desert floor in Phoenix and traveled northeast to the Mogollon Rim to where the altitude was around 7,200′ and the temperatures were about 30° cooler. As we drove up the Beeline Highway to Payson and then turned east on Highway 260, we once again marveled at how quickly the scenery can change here in Arizona as you travel relatively short distances.

This first photograph was taken just south of Payson, near a small town called Gisela, off the Beeline Highway.  The altitude here is about 3,000′, just about the top of the desert range and well out of range of the saguaros:

Arizona - Rugged Desert

This next shot was taken at Woods Canyon Lake, east of Payson, but at an altitude around 7,500′:

Arizona - Mountain Lakes

These two sites are about 54 miles apart (driving), but as you can see, they are worlds apart in landscape, foliage and scenery. This is why the highways leading north out of Phoenix are packed solid every Friday afternoon during the summer months as Phoenicians head for the cooler recreational opportunities in the high country.

Both of these images are HDR’s created in Photomatix from three bracketed exposures (-2.0/0.0/+2.0), post-processed in Paintshop Pro.

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Prickly Pear in HDR

We had a wetter-than-usual spring this year, and as a result the prickly pear cacti are loaded with fruit that is just now starting to ripen.

Prickly Pear 001

As we were driving north on the Beeline Highway last week, headed toward our camping spot, we stopped just south of Rye, AZ on Gisela Road to look for some Indian ruins.  The map indicated that the ruins were about two miles off the highway, but we never did find them.  Instead we found a gravel road that led to the top of a hill that provided a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains as the summer storm clouds moved in.  When we stepped out of the truck to look around, we found these beautiful prickly pear cactus plants.  The fruit is edible and delicious, but of course you have to be extremely careful when handling it.  The juice makes great jellies, jams, and margaritas.

Prickly Pear 002

All of these images are HDR’s composed from three bracketed photos (+2.0/0.0/-2.0), processed in Photomatix, and then post-processed in Paintshop Pro X3. They were shot with my Nikon D5000 and the kit lens (18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 AF), tripod mounted.

Prickly Pear 003