Inspiration on the Trail

A few left and right turns for several miles takes you off Thompson Peak Parkway, and into a well-considered trailhead approach and parking area at the Gateway Trailhead of the vast McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

First, you drive by one of a pair of attractive walls along the parkway, a generously wide walking path of decomposed granite (DG) in front.

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3,974 foot elevation Thompson Peak, with the antennas on top, is distant center. That late “winter” view is stunning, even from the Google Van’s street view!

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Once parked, you walk through the open, breezy shelter that was awarded LEED Platinum for the design. The design team included a landscape architect, who had their desert eyes on. They had sensitivity for what makes the Sonoran Desert or any arid land great! It’s so harmonious with the natural place.

The upward swoop of the roof line soars into the blue, the sound of crunchy DG walking.

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The use of concrete for seat and other walls, plus structural elements for the rammed earth in columns, works well.

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The gap in this wall is probably for drainage out.

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What a cool spot for a mini ampitheater, as it defines “only go off the trail here” using the seat walls. The curved forms are a good contrast to the angular mountains and verticals of saguaros.

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Onward!

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That smooth DG  gives way to the majority of the trail system I saw, small desert rocks left. While not a trail designer, my years of mountain biking the ABQ foothills saw a few places where the small rock was removed, called “sanitizing”.

While smoothing out riding, that sanitizing practice mostly takes away from riders developing technical skills, and it can cause increased erosion of the trail surface.

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Until I’m ready to go home, I’ll gradually get better at hiking through rockier sections of trail, though I have to be careful. The small elevation gains are what I can handle, though I might be able to increase those in the next 2 months. I’ll still seek out more smooth trail lengths, as I build back my strength, balance, and stamina.

Some of that may be at the Phoenix Mountains Preserve instead of here.

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Expansive views into North Scottsdale are made better across a larger stand of Teddy Bear or Jumping Cholla / Cylindropuntia biglovii. Leafy low desert shrubs like Jojoba / Simondsia chinensis grow more often along arroyos at the drier end of their range.

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Notice the differences in the ribs on Saguaro / Carnegia gigantea vs. ribs on their large Compass Barrel / Ferocactus cylindraceus

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Mountain bike tracks…

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Good to emphasize these warnings…

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Their trail signage is among the best I’ve seen in public open space.

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“Hyper-summer” began late in the low desert, but it’s here until I return home with lows about to stay around 80-85F. I intend to continue hiking different trails, though starting at sunrise.

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Do you have natural areas you can easily access, which inspire your person and gardening instincts, for your immediate climate and vegetation?

Or do you have that but plan ahead to avoid dangerous weather conditions like here?

Saguaro-Inspired

I forget who recommended I visit the landscape outside Scottsdale’s Museum of the West in Old Town. Maybe it was Danger?

Saguaro cactus ribs seemed to have inspired parts of the museum and its landscape design, at least to this New Mexico resident’s guess. Photos from 4/26/19.

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From my explorations near Camelback Road, it was only a 1-1/2 mile round trip walk in a rather pleasant, dry 100 degrees, with plenty of design-worthy window shopping and landscapes on the way, as I clung to shady areas.

Then my epiphany: Scottsdale is almost a cross of New Mexico and Beverly Hills!

I was drawn to the above by seeing the below. Multiple focal points, yet all related. Living sculptures with created sculptures, shadow patterns of multi-trunk desert trees…

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More sculptures in the dappled sunlight…

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In the shade, walking back to my car…

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Another sculpture within plant sculptures, playing off the saguaro rib walls…

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The yuccas look like Blue Yucca / Yucca rigida, often bluer than prom queen du jour Y. rostrata.

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More sidewalk patterns I’ve never seen before, at least outside the Valley of the Sun…

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Those intricate patterns might spall (fracture into adjacent concrete) in cooler winter climates, where there is some moisture with freeze / thaw. Even slight amounts of the above can limit the finishes practical on concrete paving.

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Any questions why Deergrass / Muhlenbergia rigens was used in the parkway strip?

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Deergrass looks tougher than even in the Rio Grande Valley.

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The curb cuts for storm water infiltration into plant root zones is great to see. Believe it or not, some municipalities forbid such bioswales involving street runoff, even when their own codes or guidelines imply or encourage it.

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Different, large rock chunks mixed with smaller rock line those swales, while the incredible rock slab mulch covers this spare planting of Datil or Banana Yucca / Yucca baccata. Though yet another statue steals the show.

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This ground plane cover is very unique and really compliments these bulletproof plantings. I’ve seen something similar in past wild places I’ve explored in the west.

A mesa top near Cubero NM and this morning’s hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve come to mind.

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More of my rewarding walk to / from the museum…

Duck season! Wabbit Season! I’m not sure about ducks in Scottsdale, but they sure like (jack)wabbits here. Even if my visit was actually Palo Verde season…

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“Bye bye, tomorrow, Jody’s gone to the rodeo,
And you know some good old boys are getting ready to ride,
‘Cause it’s almost Saturday night.” – Dave Edmunds

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This small but lush garden entry to a salon is appealing, even if the fountain isn’t running.

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The sweet scent of the Star Jasmine / Trachelospermum jasminoides was gently intoxicating. Mixed with more mesic agaves and yuccas, it is even better.

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After passing a tapas restaurant I should have stopped at…

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Yucca rostrata that remain from some initial plantings; they seem to do almost as well here as in their home in the high, Chihuahuan Desert borderlands.

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The Arizona Canal and some new buildings offered seeing water that wasn’t coming from spray heads midday to water token turf areas…

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I missed getting a closer look at the Soleri Bridge, barely seen in the distance, right of the canal.

An interesting shade structure north of the canal…

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I’ll follow-up the first, museum landscape portion of this post with another post, if I’m able to ask the museum’s landscape architect a few questions I have of their design. Not many questions, since their firm’s project narrative covers many details of their design.

Though I rarely ask much of anyone, preferring to figure out things for myself. But since I’m nearby and one of the LAs commented on my Instagram post, why not?

Low Desert Light

In the low desert, there’s more atmosphere to hold in moisture and absorb heat than in the high desert, such as my home at 4,100 feet elevation. And in adjacent areas, most know that increasing elevation generally lowers the temperature.

There are other effects on the garden from elevation, too.

Bright, sunny days have more glare with more atmosphere to scatter light and dust. That’s in contrast to days with dense cloud cover and lower or heavier cloud bases than in the high desert, with less light available to scatter. It would be interesting to study and document this more scientifically.

Here it is in a public garden by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects in Scottsdale, the elevation about 1,300 feet.

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The yellow blooms on the Parkinsonia trees do a good job of brightening an otherwise gloomy afternoon, including the gray Leucophyllum shrubs and dark gabion walls.

But there’s no mistaking the day’s moody light in that space.

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At this park, a talented design team used gray and brown but with skill; they also understand the art of plant massing and pops of color. This showcases water harvesting, uses desert succulents as more than curiosities, and uses boulders well.

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The fleshy, bodacious, and blue foliage of Agave spp. really pops with the golden blossoms already fallen or still on the branches, to enliven the grays and cloudy light.

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Do you have your own list of plants that take advantage of low or special lighting? If not, I recommend creating such a list, or finding a good one showcasing native species.

For 15 years, I enjoyed the moon garden I designed at least monthly, created in my former courtyard.