This week we had the opportunity to see some old friends who had gradually dispersed from the Salt Lake City area to locales around the West. Our meeting place was Phoenix and with an extra morning before heading back to the grey, inverted valleys of northern Utah, I decided to check out Tonto National Monument to continue my project of visiting all 400+ locales of the National Park System and take a couple pictures. My timeline being rather compressed due to an early afternoon flight, I left the Scottsdale area around 5:30 AM. As I arrived in the general area of the Monument, the sunrise began to come up over Theodore Roosevelt Lake (really a large reservoir). With the Monument not opening until 8, I decided to leave the car along the side of the road and take some pics of the sunrise. The towering saguaros really caught my eye, and I wanted to incorporate them into the picture somehow. As has been my experience since taking up this hobby a few weeks ago, this was much easier said than done. I really liked the color in the wisps of clouds, but capturing that and making the cacti more than amorphous blobs was a struggle, and the lower ground cover of shrubs and smaller cactus varieties continually blocked the detail of the lake I was going for. There was a ton of potential there, but a lack of prescouting and skill made it elusive. This was my favorite shot of the bunch:
As the sun began to climb higher, I ended up being far more interested in the area directly behind me (compared to the lake), as the mountain called Four Peaks was steadily illuminated. The peak had a dusting of snow, which I thought contrasted nicely with the Saguaros and otherwise stark desert foreground. I began bouncing around looking for a good way to from the mountain using cacti relatively close to me, and turned out a steady stream of awkward angles, weird lighting and oddly focused shots. As I worked my way back to my car (which was much further away than I realized), I threw on my cheaper 40-150 lens as a last resort. Ended up getting my favorite pictures of the peak out of this set, shooting cacti on a more distant ridgeline. Nothing incredible, but this was my favorite of the bunch…
I cruised the last few miles over to Tonto National Monument (and still waited at the gate a few minutes for them to open up) for. This park protects and preserves ruins of the Salado people, a culture that thrived in the area for a few hundred years until approximately 1450 CE. Some of them built dwellings in the cliffs overlooking the Salt River Valley of excellent manufacture. I unfortunately only had time to visit one of the dwellings, but cherished the opportunity nonetheless. This being my 165th NPS site visit, I obviously have a thing for these places. One of the cool things compared to many of the cliff-dwelling sites I’ve visited is that you had a solid view of some of the dwellings from the parking lot. Since I still had my long(er)-range lens on, I shot a couple off the roof of my rental Nissan which I thought turned out pretty well. The very healthy saguaro population, soft morning light and blue skies in the background allowed even my inexperienced eye to be all like “ooh, that’s nice”.
I checked in at the visitor center, and being the first park goer of the day, walked up the trail to the cliff-dwelling with a park volunteer named Kenny who was to open the site for the day and interpret. Had a nice conversation with the guy who was (in my opinion) living the dream retirement life of traveling the country in his RV and volunteering at National Parks. I had the dwelling to myself, except for Kenny who got to answer my pestering questions as I tromped around in and through the ancient structure. Didn’t take too many pictures up there, mostly feeling inadequate to capturing the architectural details which make the site so interesting. Did take a couple to try to take in the view the Salado people would have had (save the early 20th-century reservoir) 600 years ago.
With that, time was up. Yogged back down to the car and cruised back to Phoenix for a flight home.