Desert Photography—Push Your Creativity to New Heights at Catalina State Park, Arizona’s Island in the Sky
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Arizona offers a wonderful desert photography adventure, but the state is not entirely covered by desert. There are many small mountain ranges throughout the state that are “islands in the sky.” The Santa Catalina Mountains just outside Tucson is one of these oases. The Santa Catalinas like other Arizona mountain ranges abruptly thrust themselves from the desert plain and, in this case, to the height of 2,650 feet, with Mt. Lemmon the tallest peak at 9,157 feet. These isolated mountain environments have been named “sky islands” because the ecosystem suddenly changes from desert to a cool, more moist climate at higher altitudes. Water, from rain and snow, flow down the mountains to irrigate the lower, desert-like areas, creating picturesque canyons and small, verdant valleys.
Of the plants and animals that live in Catalina State Park, the saguaro cactus may be the park’s icon, with almost 5,000 of them standing like silent guardians of this spectacular landscape. As part of the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is teeming with life and incredible natural scenery for you to capture for your desert photography collection. The Lower Sonoran Life Zone is how the park and adjacent areas are described by the botanists, with mesquite; Palo Verde and acacia trees; crucifixion thorn, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear; and Saguaro Cactus, as beautiful accents throughout the park. Desert Willow, Arizona Sycamore, Arizona Ash and native walnut grow beside the washes.
Be patient and follow the tips of the wildlife photography experts and you may capture jack and cottontail rabbits, mule deer, javelina, coyotes, ground squirrels, packrats, a variety of lizards and snakes, plus more than 150 species of birds. If you’re particularly stealthy and have the time to wait, a mountain lion, bighorn sheep or black bear may wander into your viewfinder, although their sightings are rare.
Traveling Catalina State Park’s many hiking and horseback riding trails adds to your enjoyment of photographing the amazing scenery and great diversity of wildlife. Some trails are short, but significant, such as the Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail at only three-quarters of a mile. It leads to the site of a prehistoric, Native American village, a Hohokam pueblo and its ball court. It was originally occupied approximately 550–600 AD and became a major population center during 1000–1100 AD, but its inhabitants left between 1300-1450 AD. The Bridle Trail (1.4 miles) and Fifty-Year Trail (7.8 miles) are well suited for horseback riding, and mountain bikers also take to the Fifty-Year.
Other trails are more challenging, but guide you even further into the backcountry where your photography opportunities will multiply. You can hike into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area from Catalina State Park, and access the Romero Canyon Trail (7.2 miles) and the Sutherland Trail (10.5 miles). You’ll experience the entire range of ecosystems as you climb ever higher; and if you’re especially adventurous, then you can continue for fourteen miles farther to reach the peak of Mt. Lemmon.
There are few greater opportunities to broaden your photography experience and improve your technical skills than a visit to Catalina State Park and the surrounding Santa Clara Mountains, Arizona’s island in the sky. What you learn and the desert photography you take home can be incredibly enhanced when you enroll in Visionary Wild’s exclusive January 2012 workshop in Catalina State Park. This will be your spectacular outdoor classroom for this Vision series workshop for you and just nine other photographers. It’s a special program of advanced instruction designed and presented by world-renowned photographers Jack Dykinga and John Shaw.
Jack will focus on advanced seeing and ways to unlock creativity in situations that require conceptual and compositional ingenuity on the part of the photographer. John will teach you a logical, effective workflow that ensures the highest quality for your work, as well as an image archive that is stable, consistent and retrievable, during the long term, and ultimately liberates you rather than becoming a burden. For complete information, please visit http://visionarywild.com/workshops/vision-catalina-mountains-arizona/.
Photos by John Shaw/Visionary Wild
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