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!


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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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.


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?


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.


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…


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.


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


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…



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?

Wright On

Since I was a college sophomore in OU’s “intro to design” course, I’ve enjoyed the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. (FLW)

FLW was ahead of his time.



I also enjoyed his followers’ works in the prairie / woods settings of central Oklahoma (Bruce Goff), and other different ecologies around the country. But seeing his work in the desert, where I’ve recently learned of his students’ outdoor learning conducted on-site, I gained a new appreciation.


Not sure one could have such a boulder nowadays, anywhere in NM and AZ. I wonder what the local Salt River-Pima-Maricopa people think of this located here.

I hope they at least get free admission here at any time, and have it closed on days they want to revere what their ancient works are about, and wander in the desert to their heart’s content, just like the pueblos finally get to do at Petroglyph National Monument in ABQ.

As a first generation American, I am quite serious about the first people’s place here.


The wayfinding signage is quite good.



He used extensive turfgrass on one side. I’ve heard mixed things on his landscape designs, but when you see this entire property, then it makes sense.


Great steps leading to another sculptural petroglyph boulder.


The concrete / imbedded rock bands are a nice touch.


Chihuahuan Desert and Madrean yuccas used…now I feel at home.


I liked the narrow paving bands while there; writing this I’m now unsure. #hypercritical


The moon gate for the kids…he had 7+.



My visit was on a pleasant, relatively normal 90F Sunday afternoon in late spring. With AC inside, knowing the third “Mrs. Wright” waited 10 years to get indoor bathrooms and AC installed.


From their bedroom and fireplace (no central heating) to the bathroom. This is about 1/4 the size of my master bath at my home in Las Cruces, but then again, I don’t have stainless steel wall-to-wall.


I do have central heating, which makes Nov-April post-shower drying pleasurable, right to my warm towels.


An outdoor water feature / shallow pool



Then there’s the grand finale to me: a huge, wood-burning fireplace inside the massive, shaded cavern from the low desert sun and glare.


And this view out…


Now change the focus and light exposure, to see that distant view…



His work proves his careful study of form with function, not just form’s dominance.

FLW was apparently a “chick magnet”, not lacking some negative traits that comes with that. Yet, he also seemed down-to-earth, teachable, and approachable, unlike some of the unapproachable divas / divos populating some ranks in architecture and art.

Not that I have had the temptation of offing a few of the above; my former career was just dandy with so much fair, respectful treatment, always both ways. <sarcasm>

In some circles, LAs included, the practice of rubber-stamping a design onto totally different landforms or climates is the bottom of the barrel. Like uppity-hippie contrians who luck into influence in horticulture, please do us a favor before you expire…retire and write fiction, not fiction as fact.

There! I’m more onto you than what you fear others see.

Others who’s works I’ve seen over the decades, actual architects or designers who somehow had the word “architecture” applied to them yet without registration to use that title / act, often miss critical parts of their designs like the land. (think Donald Judd in Marfa or Robert Irwin) They and their teary-eyed disciples miss what any desert designer worth their salt considers as a given: passive water harvesting, habitat, durable materials, economy, and native plant species, especially lower water-use ones.

Dear G*d they miss the importance of the actual land!

FLW got site before site savvy was cool. Compare Falling Water in wet, continental, and mid-latutude forest western Pennsylvania to Talliesen West in arid, southwetern, and subtropical desert Scottsdale.

I can’t wait to read up on him more, including the book on his relationships with his wives over the years. Three Mrs. Wrights may make up for some wrongs?


His foundation preserved this vast foreground of Sonoran Desert perfection, though the new development to the right and far beyond looks much like my part of Las Cruces, houses all with broad porches peering out into the desert valley.



Imagine what FLW would have altered from the above with siting and outdoor environments in arid, warm-temperate Albuquerque and Las Cruces…or sub-humid, subtropical Austin…or semi-arid, continental-bipolar Denver…or arid, continental Reno or Boise…and so on.

I doubt it would be a grid of lollipop trees or succulents in cor-ten in front of an off-white adobe, bought at $30K in ruins then being sold a decade later post-renovation at $750K in minimalist iconagraphy.  (nothing personal, nouvelle Marfans)


Better yet, what would you do? Ponder that whether it was your money, or it was your design expertise with someone else’s money.


Polka dots of palo verdes, everywhere



No turfgrass used anywhere else…brownie points from Dave!


Without the constantly overt desert southwest imagery, his own sculptures are great. I assume they are all his design, as were placement of his boulders with petroglyphs, and he designed many of his furnishings, possibly down to his clothing for all I know.

His sculptures are very influenced by the southwest, yet his own style, too.


Yes, my old friend Opuntia engelmannii




So, there’s yet another semester course digest, and another perfect weather day to savor, before “it” arrives soon enough!


5/1/19 weather:
83F / 60F / 0.00 or 28c / 16c / .00