Subtle Desert Beauty

Here are a few “leftover” desert impressions from the earlier months of 2022, all made in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how landscape photos, even the intimate ones, always appear to, or perhaps even have to, carry some element to “wow” people — through subject, color, light, atmospheric conditions, and so on. I feel this is too limiting.

It’s not so important to know the true origin and motivation of these thoughts (I’m not sure) — what mattered to me more in this instance was the realization that so much subtle, “normal” and everyday beauty remains unseen (unshown, unshared?) because we (or I) think that the normal, more mundane things and scenes wouldn’t be able to capture an audience, or the judge of a photo contest, in the few seconds of attention we get to our images, on social media or otherwise. To make this point, I’m sharing some “unepic” photographs that hopefully transport the desert’s subtle beauty to you, nevertheless… or perhaps, even more?

The first two are from a hike into Hornblende Canyon. This canyon is on the eastern side of the Granite Mountain massif, and at relatively high elevation still. Because of its close proximity to the Laguna Crest, it seems to get a little more rain than parts of the desert that are further east. It was nice and green in the middle of February, when I hiked it with my friends Lisa and Kevin.

Some narrow curves and corners of Hornblende Canyon are more sheltered from the sun, allowing for greater growth and blooms of shrubs. The Desert Apricot bloom was at its peak and those parts of the canyon were redolent with an almost overwhelmingly intense floral scent. I really like the subtlety of the various sidelit and backlit, ephemeral greens amidst the barren rocks:

The next photo is also from Hornblende Canyon. I returned a week later because I wanted Shuwen to also see and smell the Desert Apricot bloom but alas, it had already faded, a lot. The weather was also very, very different: cold and windy. Another hiker, wearing shorts and t-shirt, turned around and went back not long after he started. Luckily, our clothing was a little more adequate.

Some rain actually made it across the Laguna Crest that day, and the combination of sunlight and clouds created some beautiful scenes. This is minimally higher in the canyon — the above photo is from the slope on the right side, in the photo below. :) You can see how nice and green everything was in those precious moments of spring in the desert.

Then, after a first unsuccessful attempt to hike Moonlight Canyon at the end of March (it was too hot, I had mentioned it in my End Notes for March 2022 I think; we just went to soak in the hot springs at Agua Caliente Park instead), I returned, once more with Lisa and Kevin. This time we hiked all the way into the Inner Pasture — an absolutely stunning place that I now have on my list of places to return to for sure, and a bit earlier in spring too. I made a lot of detail/close-up photos of flowers and plants which already appear here and there and in my archives.

Of the few more landscape-ish photos that I made, these two capture the essence of one of the Inner Pasture’s many charming features well: big, varnished granite boulders with blooms in between them:

It’s a bit of a walk back from these rock features to Moonlight Canyon, which itself is also ~2.5 miles one way, and not without charms on its own (the very rare and very beautiful Lyrocarpa coulteri grows there, for example). By the time we were on our way back, a good part of the canyon was in the shade already as the sun got lower.

In the higher reaches of the canyon one gets some partial views to the east, which I had completely missed on our way in, when we hiked west and uphill. You can see that this area is much drier and more barren than Hornblende Canyon, because it lies further south and east.

I hope that you like the photos and that they’re able to transport the subtle beauty of the desert and what’s so attractive about hiking in the desert to you. Have a nice Sunday!


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3 thoughts on “Subtle Desert Beauty”

  1. Thank you for talking about and sharing your “unepic” photographs, Alex. Even though I know that I am appreciating the beauty because of and through your artistic eye, I feel as if I could really be there in Hornblende Canyon, the Laguna Crest, the Inner Pasture, or Moonlight Canyon. It’s easier without the wow factor. But keep posting both! Wow and unepic each have high value in your hands.

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  2. So often it depends on the viewer. I was once asked by a friend what I was looking at out the window. I mentioned the trees as I tend to spend a lot of time just staring at trees. His response, “oh great…. trees…” Some folks will just never appreciate subtle landscapes, much less photos of them. But plenty of others will. As someone who could spend hours staring at common, everyday trees (-:, I find myself very much appreciating those you’ve shared here. Right away I saw those light greens the sun was lighting up. They really do something special in those first two photos, similar to the Bloom in Boulders. I’m glad you posted these, Alex.

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  3. Since am a lover of nature always adore beautiful landscapes covering trees, shrubs , tiny wild flowers which always find in your blogs and love to see through your great images . Good wishes my friend for your wonderful passion.

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