Late August, 2018
The lower Sonoran Desert near the Mexican border can be a “hotbed” for both reptiles and landscapes in August. It’s monsoon season and the intermittent deluge of wet weather creates not only a lush green vibrance on the desert floor but also stunning sunsets and thunder storms with incredible lightning displays.
We visited Saguaro National Park south of Tucson in late August with the primary objective of photographing reptiles during the day and sunsets in the evening. At this time of year, working in the intense heat requires a wide brim hat and lots of water to keep your body hydrated. This is on your knees and belly photography where cactus spines and rocky dirt are constant hazards. Lizards are relatively easy to find, best caught in early morning light as they emerge from the cooler night temperatures to warm their bodies. We drove the Bajada Loop Drive and photographed many species roadside from the car window. Snakes are another matter. They tend to be nocturnal and hunker down during the heat of the day in rocky crevices or under low-lying plants that provide shade and a good place to hide. For the inexperienced, this makes them very difficult to find. Moreover, disturbing them in-habit in a National Park is verboten. As such, finding a snake sunning on a rock while digesting a night’s kill is not likely to happen. We decided to scour the desert in area’s known for snake activity such as the Avra Valley road. We were joined by a local biologist/herpetologist who helped ferret out several species and place them in a quick “set-piece” on site using local habitat such as colored rocks, small ground cactus or a decayed cholla branch.
We also scouted sunset locations during the day. Our preference was single Saguaro cactus as foreground objects that would act as a dark silhouette against the red and yellow night sky. Although we weren’t blessed with a lot of thunder storms, one of the best locations to photograph lightning is the Kitt Peak Observatory roughly an hour west of Tucson. We revisited the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument where the Ajo Mountain Loop Drive features not only some of the most stunning desert vistas but also many opportunities to hike off-road and capture the intimacy of this parched and desolate landscape. A word of caution, however - this is a known drug smuggling and illegal immigration route and heavily policed by the US Border Patrol. There are posted warning signs regarding personal safety while visiting this area.