Inspiration Elsewhere on a Hike

Scottsdale and Phoenix have a fitness and hiking culture to accompany their polished, go-getter attitude, racing down broad arterial streets and smooth freeways in cars like Maserati, Porsche, Lotus, or Bentley.

And there’s garden design inspiration, notably arid regions

This is the trailhead I access a few quick, workout hikes when I’m up there, in fitting with their preferred vehicles.  Photos from 4/15/20:

Lexus or Mercedes are as common there as Ford or Chevy monster pickup trucks are where I live.

The Gateway Trailhead at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is more than just several parking spaces along a residential street. It was designed to be in harmony with the functional forms of the Sonoran Desert, earning LEED Platinum certification!

Ignore the Covid-19 era, six foot tape on the floor, a sign of the times

What rules here? Rammed earth columns, an arroyo spanned by a steel bridge to begin most trails, and some focal points.

Small mountain ranges or individual peaks and buttes offer low relief but are visible from the Valley of the Sun’s flat terrain. Miles of desert hills, arroyos, and a mountain range have been preserved for outdoor recreation, including hiking and mountain biking – 56 square miles or 36,400 acres, actually.

Partnership and consideration show between the owner, the conservancy, and the entire architect-led design team including the landscape architect. I could even do a post or two on the parking lot design!


“Stick ’em up”, Sheriff Saguaro said to the Barrel Bandit.

Meanwhile, I continued the start of my hike – in a long-sleeve tee. I can’t imagine that now!

Though I was and am limited on where I can hike, with no mountain biking, by doctor’s orders, there’s much to see on variations to my 2 mile loop. That’s like the similar loop trails near my home in Las Cruces.

The Compass Barrel / Ferocactus cylindraceus right and the Foothills Palo Verde / Parkinsonia microphylla left, combine to frame the view and direct one where to walk.


This large grouping or mass of Cylindropuntia bigelovii / Teddybear Cholla has plenty of space and softer shrubs surrounding. This hike-mountain bike trail was sited back from the flowering Engelmann Hedgehog / Echinocereus engelmannii, nicely separated by the more daunting chollas by a low swale and scattered woody shrubs.

That natural scene is similar to how one would use this viciously-spined cholla cactus. Not crowded into a too-small space and too close to walkers.


Though their Sonoran Desert is hotter with few freezes compared to my Chihuahuan Desert, both are bold landscapes with similar processes and patterns unique to arid regions.

Any client or designer worth their salt embraces such a difference as an opportunity, not loathes it as a limit or ignores it to blindly copy it elsewhere.

Adapt the use to the environment, then skillfully adapt the environment to the use.

Land ethic and informed design meet!

Another view…


The foothills palo verdes are still flowering with their more understated yellow color than Parkinsonia florida display. They provide a pleasant backdrop to some young saguaros and a barrel in front. While older, taller saguaros stand sentinel on the hillside beyond.

Another design vignette for a large space, but that could also be scaled into a tighter area though perhaps not a small property.


That’s the foothills of the Sonoran Desert.

If you live elsewhere, what design effects and locally-native plants in the wild could be used well but aren’t? Which plants do you have that resemble or are from similar genera?

The Drive: Exit into Tucson

I’ve admired many landscape designs along the freeways and arterial streets in Arizona’s two largest cities for decades.

A critical mass in their horticultural community gets sense, place, and designing for traffic speeds. Photos from 12/22/19:

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This is the first time I exited onto West St. Mary’s Road. Always informative and fun, colleague and friend Scott Calhoun suggested meeting at a parked food truck for lunch.

Since I arrived early and Scott was riding from afar, I had extra time. Burger King was good for a free parking space, so I walked the rest of the way.

ADOT designed some attractive concrete accents at the bridges.

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There’s no shortage of cyclists in Tucson. One cyclist on a mountain bike…

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Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis above a mass of Beargrass / Nolina microcarpa makes a pleasing vignette while waiting for the light to change. Both are seriously bulletproof species in a wide part of the southwest.

And the other cyclist on a road bike…

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I’ll work back to how I exited I-10. Room for plants to mature.

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Regarding a request to see more Las Cruces pics on my blog, which I’ve shown many, I replied, “I have more to post on Arizona because there is more good arid-region design and plantsmanship in a few blocks of Tucson or Phoenix than in a mile of Las Cruces and El Paso or 2-3 miles of Albuquerque.”

These huge, almost trailing gray shrubs are…Texas Ranger / Leucophyllum spp. During the monsoon season, I’m sure many locals or visitors are very impressed.

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They are spaced well for rhythm, as are their masses for structure. No need to design 3 times as many plants for immediate effect, only to later remove half or more. Or shear into muffins, cylinders, boxes, …

Occasional accents were tucked in, but one must be stopped to appreciate them. Or rolling the dice by walking along the right shoulder, protected only by a curb.

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A minor detail, but some different massing of plants away from the yuccas, then placement of the occasional yucca further from those masses, especially from the drivers’ direction, would have shown off the planting better.

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A few Texas Olive / Cordia boissierii were used, but those were off to the right side and not too visible.

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It’s time to walk back, to join my cyclist / plant nerd friend for some lonche.

This ocotillo had a hard night, yet it’s still trying to hang on by blooming.

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Now, I’m stumped…

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The color combos work, but I’m stumped at the tallish Dasylirion mass in front of the interesting design motif at the corner.

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The plants appear to protect the artistry from taggers, yet they block a large portion of it from view.

I’m standing taking this, so that’s not far off the height of a typical pickup truck or SUV driver. Though perhaps the art is more visible from a Bubba Truck height?

No matter it’s still very appealing.


An inlet shows where passive water harvesting was employed, to allow storm water from the street to soak into the median plantings.

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Both of us showed up for lunch for one of the best tortas I’ve had. And we’re wearing short sleeves in late December!

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Inspiration: Las Cruces – Alpine – Marfa

What a great time! It started with a hike and ended with a drive, and there were more than a few stops. There’s usually landscape inspiration if you know what to look for.

Photos from Feb. 14-15, 2020:

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I shared one of my 3-times-weekly hikes with Gayle: a few national monument trails behind the neighborhood. Soft, gentle sand in the arroyos, firmly packed desert pavement on level areas, and slight elevation gains between the arroyos and my car.

In late winter, one can see the legibility found in good design. Green vs. dormant, negative space vs. mass, and flowers-optional.

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Always a surprise. Flowers on this old cactus clump this summer!

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A quick link from Kevin in Sweden on how creosote bush isn’t poisonous to many species including cacti or grasses, a common misconception in my state, perpetuated by range science courses and those who believe deserts are just dry holes in some vast grassland.

Countless examples occur around the Chihuahuan Desert.

It’s an easier, more fulfilling choice to learn from such examples of companion plants, than to be a contrarian.

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A few hours later, the serene hike then chaotic El Paso driving are far behind. The annual Valentine in Valentine event must require a 4 pm arrival to get the secret code, so we checked out something I drive by almost every trip to that area.

Pictures were taken but were not needed at that event.

Since this faux boutique’s commissioners are ignoring their original mission – something like ‘decay back to the earth from which adobe is made’ – I choose to return its name to the place it’s actually near, 1 mile away. Prada Valentine!

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After another 40 minutes on the road and no deer carnage, it’s Marfa! Even a coffee roaster has a mini gallery in their lobby to enjoy some artists’ works.

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That was followed by a refreshing Ranch Water drink from the Capri, a block away. The Capri stop was about the best experience in their town this trip: hospitality, atmosphere, or patronage.

But we were on the way to a serene room in another town, Alpine. It’s larger yet more like a small town.

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It was even more welcoming than that photo implies. Seriously deep sleep in southwestern comfort, only to shower, dress, and walk out into this light and scene! 

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A good coyote fence / step railing detail to employ some day

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Who tires of native plants when bold specimens are not just regional but local natives? Only those without their desert eyes on.

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I’ve learned that July 2013 in downtown Alpine was a “month of murals”, including these below showing their sense-of-place.

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Wild west serenity

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Now, we’re back in Marfa by daylight, when one can see it.

That after the usual start following my last visit a year earlier. “What happened to that restaurant?”, or “they were open as of 2 days ago on Instagram, so what’s with the ‘for sale’ sign?”, or …

Gayle and I found an OK breakfast where I’ve had great lunches other times. Then, a few blocks away to join our breakfast burritos, excellent coffees were had from a refreshingly quiet Frama.

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Chinati! Here one can see and be inspired more each visit. It’s a special place and always great to escape all the vibe-seeking from trendy visitors that much of Marfa has become.

Gladly, the opposite personalities are also found, if one knows where to look.

Pre-Covid-19 by a month, there are still so few people.

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Unfinished projects, too

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For now, interior photos from several buildings are posted…I’ll probably delete these. Deleted!

You can visit the Chinati Foundation website for Dan Flavin’s work – here

Walking towards other works… Judd’s 100 Works in Mill Aluminum are different each visit. In the light of thickening cloud cover, it’s subdued into almost black and white.

Just don’t use “sculpture”, or “minimalist” or “reductive” art to describe his works. Judd didn’t like such terms for his specific objects.

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From the enclosed to the expansive, Judd’s 15 Works in Concrete

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Waves, repetition…get it? That’s only the start. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen these works, always with a mindset that’s open to learning more.

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That distant row of trees has me pondering what species were there before being choked out by volunteers of that invasive non-native Siberian elm. They line the arroyo that soon joins in with Alamito Creek.

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It reminds me of similar areas on the great plains, especially where those lower into the prairies east of the famous 100 degree meridian. Those have elm, hackberry, walnut, cottonwood, and even some redbud.

No clue what once grew here


Before the 4 hour drive back to Las Cruces, we walked the area just beyond the Presidio County Courthouse for glimpses of the iconic water tower and some of their architectural entropy.

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Marfa has even more examples of entropy than where I live.

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Plus, well-tended properties

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Hopes for the present and future

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Earlier and then later in the day, this spot always shines. The row planting of Desert Candle / Dasylirion leiophyllum by Chinati’s Chamberlain building proves that mass and abstraction with a space is powerful.

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As opposed to, “Who needs so many plants of one species. I mean twenty?” – nameless and without her desert eyes on.

In line with the above quote, our attempt to catch a good, pre-return drive meal and drink failed miserably. Photos for that are unnecessary to post, too.


The drive back including the seemingly endless sunset were too good to photograph!