Saguaros and Sunsets in Phoenix Arizona

Buggy boondocking in Arizona

The buggy is at home in the desert.

January, 2014 – It was so great to be back in the Arizona desert in Phoenix. Once we got set up and acclimated to life in the rig, we instantly got caught up in the beauty of our surroundings.

Camera on tripod

The cameras got a workout here!

Whether it was sunrise or sunset or sometime in between, we found ourselves running in and out of the trailer to catch this image or that and then pour over it on the computer.

Evening photo from fifth wheel roof

Some pics are best taken from the roof!




During the last few months we have changed all the tools we use for photography. We moved up from Nikon D5100 cameras to D610’s, and we switched our computer software from Apple’s Aperture to Adobe’s Lightroom.

Mark has loved learning post-processing, that is, working with photos on the computer, and he has become very proficient with Lightroom.

View from our RV at sunset

Fire in the sky! Mark loves creating dramatic effects with Lightroom

I, on the other hand, have spent a lot of time being totally lost!

I could never seem to find the buttons I wanted on the camera, and Lightroom was a vast maze of clickable things that generated totally unexpected results in the images on the computer.

This was the beginning of a very long learning curve — for both of us.

Sunset with our RV

We had a few truly stunning sunsets

Whereas Mark had spent the last few years getting to know the mechanics behind photography in a very intimate way, I had been focused entirely on getting the hang of composition.

And each of us was at sea in the other’s territory.

“What buttons do I push?” I would ask.

“Where do I point my camera?” He would respond.

It was very funny — and very enlightening.

We decided that we needed to teach each other all we knew and learn each others’ skills.

I complained bitterly as I fumbled with the knobs on the tripod and missed shot after shot because I couldn’t get the legs, or the head — or any of it, for that matter — to do what I wanted.

Arizona sunset near Phoenix

An Arizona sunset

I’d look over and he would have gotten set up in an instant. But sometimes he didn’t seem to line himself up to get the most exciting image.

“Try moving over this way a bit more,” I said one time, “and zoom in so you get the saguaro, barrel cactus and the mountain balancing each other.”

“Oh WOW!” He said. “Here I was trying to put that pile of dead roots in the foreground and you’ve got this great image…”

Mark with his tripod

Mark is at ease with his tripod.

Very funny! But I was still flummoxed over my own issues. “How do I get the camera on and off of this thing?” I sighed. I felt so silly asking for the umpteenth time. I vowed I’d remember this time as he showed me yet again.

Saguaro skeleton in the Phoenix desert

We came across an old saguaro skeleton

What a miracle it was to discover that we each had something really valuable to give to the other.

Sonoran desert scenery: saguaro, barrel cactus and a mountain

A big saguaro and a little barrel cactus converse

This became apparent again when Mark ran out to get some night shots one balmy evening. I had had enough trouble with the tripod during the day — and now we were going to do it in the dark? Are you kidding?

Saguaro Pair


Saguaro and moon at dusk in Arizona

Mark captures a saguaro with the moon at dusk

He gleefully set up the camera and promptly got a beautiful shot of a saguaro and the moon before I’d even gotten my camera secured on the tripod and turned it on. He made it look so easy.

On another night he said, “I want to do some star shots,” as he dashed out the door. I hurried behind and watched as he effortlessly got set up and hit a few buttons on the camera.

He played with 30 second exposures and 90 second exposures while I looked on trying to memorize which buttons he’d just hit and why. But the images lacked spunk.


Fifth wheel trailer RV under Orion

The Orion constellation rises behind our buggy

“Hey, let’s try to get Orion rising over the rig!!” I suggested.

“Ooooh! I never thought of that!” He came running around to where I was and helped me get some of the settings going: long exposure, fixed ISO, noise reduction, manual focus, self-timer. Yikes! I took a few shots and finally got a keeper.

Collaborative photography. I love it!

Hiking shoes at RV our door

How many people live here?

The next day we decided to go hiking in the desert.

How funny it is now, after living barefoot on a boat in the tropics for so long (to the point where we forgot what shoes felt like on our feet), to look down and see this pile of hiking, running and cycling shoes at our door.

Desert Road near Anthem Arizona




Saguaro conversation

“The trail goes thataway”

We hiked Daisy Mountain trail at the north end of Anthem, a pretty and easy trail that goes through some beautiful desert scenery.

Saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert

This is a hold up!

What I love about the Sonoran desert is the crazy saguaro cactus.

Each one has a unique personality, and some seem to be deep in conversation.

As we tromped around, I felt a little like I was eavesdropping on some of these guys, listening in on what they had to say to each other.

Arizona barrel cactus

A male barrel cactus

Of course, nature has its whimsical side too, and Mark was laughing when he came over to show off his picture of a very male cactus.

Cactus needles in hiking shoe

That’s what you get when you stomp around in the desert

It’s a prickly business, walking in the desert, and when I looked at the bottom of my hiking shoes, they were filled with cactus needles.

Saguaro on a tilt

This reminded me of an intriguing woman we had met a week earlier at a supermarket Starbucks one morning.

She was wearing a bulky, navy blue down-filled snow jacket, the northern states kind that you never see in Phoenix, and she had on grubby, mud-encrusted hiking boots. There were mud splatters on her pants, and her eyes were red-rimmed and tired.

Closeup of Arizona saguaro cactus

She approached me and asked in a strong British accent if she could borrow my cell phone.

She gestured helplessly at her phone and sniffed from the cold. “This English phone can’t get a signal…”

Mark lines up a Sonoran desert photo

Mark lines up a photo of a saguaro…

Standing Saguaro in Phoenix

…his favorite shot was from the other side!

Saguaro cactus, master of the Sonoran desert

Saguaros grow all different ways

This made me laugh, and I explained to her that although I’d be happy to lend her my phone, we were the only people on the planet who don’t have one.

She gave me a lopsided smile and sat down with her coffee, clearly savoring the heat and steam coming from the cup.

Sonoran desert cactus

Classic Sonoran desert

She piqued my curiosity. Where was she from and what was she up to? I got up the nerve to ask.

“I’m here for a week,” she said. “I just flew in yesterday afternoon, and I have been out in the desert all night.”

My jaw dropped.

“Yeah, I was walking in the desert all night long.” She said, seeming not to believe it herself. “I don’t normally look like this. I clean up really well! I had a marvelous time out there.”

She went on: “I’m on a spiritual journey, and I had a series of rituals to do during the night. I saw a lot of animals out there, some javelina and jack rabbits. I saw a cat-like animal too. I don’t know what it was. It had rings on its tail…”

I shook my head in amazement as I listened to her. You don’t hear English accents in Phoenix too often, and I’ve never met a desert night wanderer, especially one who’s been out communing with the desert spirits and running into coatimundi in her meanderings.

Curvy saguaro cactus

Probably this guy’s life history wasn’t quite what he expected!

One of my favorite things about our travels is the people we meet, and especially having the time to talk to them.

“I forgot how cold it is in the desert at night!” She was saying. Brrrr. I can only imagine!

Like the saguaros, we are all so unique.

Some of us grow straight and tall, but others of us have special curves and bends, especially as we get older, because oftentimes life doesn’t turn out quite the way we plan.


Sun star burst effect on a saguaro cactus

The sun peeks out from behind a saguaro

Mark set up a gorgeous photo of the sun peeking around a saguaro in a starburst. Wow!

When I saw a beautiful sunset developing I was bound and determined to get a stunning shot of some kind too.

The clouds looked like they were going to explode in color, and I chose a pretty ocotillo that would make a perfect silhouette spray across the red and orange backdrop.

I set up the tripod so the camera was hanging upside down just above the ground, got it all focused, and then stood and waited.

Ocotillo cactus at sunset in Arizona

The much awaited ocotillo sunset shot… oh well.

This is not my way. When the sun hits the “golden hour” just before sunset, I usually run around like a madwoman shooting everything in sight.

But I wanted to learn more technically, so I folded my arms and bit my lip while I saw miracle photo after miracle photo glowing gold all around me. Arghh!

Then, to my horror, I watched my beautiful cloud pattern completely dissipate. The sun went down, and the clouds vanished! Not fair!

I took a few of my upside down ocotillo shots, with one lone cloud hovering to the side. What a disappointment.

Gathering up my gear, and wondering where in the world Mark had disappeared to, I trudged away.

After a hundred yards or so, I looked up and discovered a brilliant sunset had materialized out of thin air, and off in the distance stood the most perfect saguaro!

I ran full speed down to the cactus hoping to catch it in time, my loaded fanny pack, camera, tripod and Hoodman loupe bouncing around as I ran. With the camera still attached to the tripod, I lifted the whole thing into the air to get my shots, laughing along with the chortling cactus wrens that were scurrying around me.

Classic Phoenix - Saguaro cactus at sunset

My impromptu shot taken with the tripod dangling from the camera

This tripod technique is strictly verboten, totally amateurish, and hopefully in the future I’ll learn to react fast enough to get the composition I want with the legs of the tripod still firmly planted on the ground. But, for now, it worked!

In my excitement, I had set my sunglasses down somewhere, and I searched around but never found them. Meanwhile, Mark was calling me on the radio from the trail head wondering what had happened to me.

Home sweet home - our RV at dusk

Home sweet home.

I was totally elated, totally out of breath, and I chatted away on the radio with him the whole way back down the trail as darkness stole over the desert. By the time I saw his flashlight waving at the trail head, the world was pitch dark around me.

The desert is a magical place at night… and I understand its spiritual lure… but it sure was nice to see our cozy warm buggy waiting for us after being chased down that last bit of the trail by the cold, searching fingers of the night’s icy air.

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