Storm Chasing at Organ Pipe Cactus NM
Tucked away in a sparse, dusty corner of Arizona lies the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, named after the sprouting, banana like succulent that exclusively resides there (US). Once infamously regarded as America’s most dangerous national park, this quiet, out-of-the-way spot gets its rep from its southern location just miles from the border. Regardless of its “illegal” hazards, the land here is especially fertile and a veritable display of iconic desert plants showcase its beauty. Hence the park’s National Biosphere Reserve designation…one of just 47 in the nation.
Earlier this month I consummated my fourth visit to the park in the last 7 years. As usual, it occurred at the beginning of March, which is peak for wildflowers. Despite an unusually dry winter, my timing was optimal as it coincided with a rare, early spring rainstorm. I made the two hour sojourn, from the western edge of Phoenix in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday. By this time, the storm was full force although the drive down did not produce as much rain.
It was after 4 pm by the time I reached the park and the clouds were swirling as I noticed a couple of fleeting rainbows in the distance. The wind was blowing and the light was dancing when I finally set up my tripod for the first time this year.
I settled in on a composition and then took various shots as the light playfully changed. This was one of my favorites.
“Freedom” Gorgeous storm clouds drape Tillotson Peak (3374 ft.) on a beautiful spring afternoon
Perhaps overstaying my welcome, the final moments of sunlight were waning as I returned to my vehicle to continue my journey on the 21 mile Ajo Loop road. I quickly grabbed this fleeting shot near the base of the majestic Ajo Mountains.
“Light of the World” A spot-lit view of the Ajo Mountains reveals an otherworldy scene
Later that night, I opted to sleep in the back of my vehicle as the skies varied erratically between partly clear and ominously cloudy. Lucky break. About 10 pm, the park was hammered by a driving rainstorm that last nearly two hours. Awoken by the heavy rains, I couldn’t help but smile realizing the misfortune of those scattered about in tents, there was no way they could stay dry.
“Internal Essence” Rare light captured from a prolific garden of flowering brittle brush
Fog occurred overnight, but I awoke to the realization of a clear, starry sky. Sunrise was uneventful, but the mood quickly changed as large swaths of low lying clouds eerily formed near the mountains placating the harsh light of the day.
The unobstructed views of my location afforded me with at least an hour and half of solid photography. As usual, I locked in on compositions and watched the light change minute by minute.
“The Illuminated Ones” Dappled side light dresses this stately stand of saguaro cacti
This was the most special time of my brief trip. I was enchanted by the condensation on the flowers, delighted in the chirping of birds as well as distant, beckoning howling of the coyotes. I internalized essence of the crisp, cool air and its placid stillness. As the clouds engulfed the mountains and speckled sunlight dappled the scenery – the desert was at peace and all of its residents were enjoying the splendid weather. Glory to God!
Photography resumed after lunch, but the skies had grown mysteriously cloudier. Almost too cloudy. I wandered the desert in search of meaning, which seemed to come naturally on this day.
“Garden of the Blessing” Deep views into Mexico are afforded in parts of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Several more shots ushered in the late afternoon, which was crowded with clouds. However, the sky eventually started clearing and I climbed a petite, rock butte in hopes of a grand finale.
“Empire” Last light on the Diaz Spire (3892 ft.)
As the sun touched the horizon, the warm, glowing rays of last light burst fourth in splendor brilliantly illuminating the scenery. I opted for a filter stack, stopping my camera down, and opening the shutter for as long as possible to blur the swirling clouds.
Until next time Organ Pipe, the intimacy I share with this desert is near to my heart. It’s moments like these that are quintessential to the landscape photographer.