We've all heard this old proverb
which may have been paraphrased from something Plato said long ago. It's
self-explanatory, succinctly describing the subjectivity of beauty. Whether you're
talking about a beautiful person, scene, object, or concept, what one person considers
"beautiful" can vastly differ from what another person considers "beautiful."
The same goes for "pretty."
Solitary Saguaro on Scenic Trail
I used to use the words synonymously but after a comment Jim made
and looking at the definitions in my American Heritage Dictionary, there are
some subtle differences: "Beautiful," the most comprehensive, applies
to what stirs a heightened response of the senses and of the mind on its
highest level. "Pretty" suggests only sensory appeal of a limited and
The dictionary also gives subtle nuances of other synonyms like
lovely, handsome, comely, and fair. Some appeal more to emotional
responses we have, some to more intellectual ones.
AN EXERCISE IN SEMANTICS
So what brought up the semantics?
Jim's comment that he does not
think McDowell Mountain Regional Park is "pretty" and he doesn't
know if he wants to come back again in the future. (This is the
fourth time we've been here, so the newness has also worn off.)
Barrel Cactus along the Bluff Trail
all the somewhat negative things I had to say
Arizona in general and the Phoenix area in particular (mostly
economic problems and high costs), I had a
surprisingly defensive reaction to that statement! I really
like to visit McDowell Mountain Park.
After some discussion with Jim about what he means by "pretty, " I have to agree with
this area isn't really pretty in the sense that a more lush,
green area with mountains and flowers and water features is pretty. This is a different
kind of beauty than you find in the San Juan Mountains in
The trail to Grant Swamp Pass near
Silverton, CO (July, 2009)
the Beartooth Mountains in Montana, the Appalachian Mountains
and foothills in the East, the rainforests of the Northwest
-- the types of places Jim considers "pretty" and more
desirable to visit/live.
OK, I prefer those places, too. I'll concede that desert terrain
isn't pretty, unless you're talking about White Sands National
Monument in New Mexico or a desert in springtime, when the cacti are in
raucous bloom. But for the sake of variety, I still like to visit
desert areas in the winter.
I think deserts fall under the dictionary definition of "beauty:"
1. a pleasing quality associated with harmony of form or
color . . . or other, often unspecifiable property; 2. appearance .
. . that arouses a strong, contemplative delight.
Top of a Barrel Cactus
There are definitely things I see in the winter desert that
bring me delight.
MY MIND'S EYE
The beauty of the Sonoran Desert is definitely stark, but
I see lots of beauty here. I think I can see that more than
Jim because almost everything I view is with a photographer's eye.
It took his comment about the desert not being "pretty" for me to really think about how I
view the world.
When I go for a walk, run, or ride (even in a motorized vehicle),
I usually see things through a figurative, and sometimes
literal, camera lens.
I'm pretty sure my perspective is different than
most other people's perspective! I've always been like that, composing
photographs in my mind as I observe everything from sweeping
landscapes to minute details. There is always the thought of how
to best photograph a particular image with pleasing composition in mind --
even when I don't have my camera with me!
View from Bluff Trail toward the Goldfield
I've never discussed this with other amateur or professional
landscape photographers, but I bet they often do the same
It's just something my brain automatically does when I'm outdoors.
It's second nature. I've always been more interested in photographing scenery and
things than people. I'm not anti-social; I like people,
but photographing them is more complex in so many ways. I don't
care for indoor photography, either. I seldom see something
indoors and think about how I'd want to photograph it. It's an
outdoors thing with me.
Rock Knob from the intersection of Bluff
and Pemberton Trails
Now that I'm doing a lot more walking than running it's even
easier to see these compositions as I'm moving through the
landscape. But even when I've been running the past thirty years I've often stopped dead in my
tracks if something interesting or "beautiful" catches my
McDowell Mountain Park is full of colorful
rocks. This one is on the Scenic Trail.
Teddy Bear Chollas in the low afternoon sun
Mama Bear and cubs; they are also called
Jumping Cactus because the "babies" drop off
and blow around in the wind. You do NOT
want to come into contact with one of these spiny balls!
I've stopped abruptly to take pictures at McDowell Mountain Park
many times, especially since Jim and I had this discussion.
of the photos in this entry are examples of desert "beauty" in
my mind's eye.
Others simply caught my attention because they were unusual,
like this dead cactus that almost looks like an animal carcass:
In fact, some of my favorite landscape shots at McDowell
Mountain Park feature the bare branches of dead trees or shrubs
juxtaposed against distant views of desert, mountains, and/or
Above and below: views from a ridge on the Scenic Trail
Similar shot from two years ago on the same
trail, different location
NEW VANTAGE POINT
Now Jim and I both have a literal new perspective from
our campsite in McDowell Mountain Park.
We discovered a new wrinkle in the park's
procedures since our visit earlier in the year: campers
can still extend their 14-day "maximum" stay if there are
campsites available, but they must move to the other loop. They
can't remain in the same site, like we've done previously.
This was in response to complaints by local residents who had
difficulty finding the most desirable sites (particularly the
ones on the periphery of the two loops) when they'd come to the
campground for a few days. They'd see the same RVs in the same
spots for weeks on end, and they didn't like it. (Not that their
property taxes are paying for it, apparently. One of the
campground hosts who's been here the last ten winters says only
25¢ per household per year goes to
the Maricopa County park system. He says the parks are primarily
sustained by user fees.)
There are no undesirable campsites at
McDowell Mtn. Park.
OK, as long as everyone plays by
the same rules, we'll move. At least we don't have to leave the
park entirely after 14 days. Some parks are that hard-nosed even
if they have empty spots. (Really dumb, if you ask me.)
So after we'd been in the north loop for 14 days, we had to move
to the nearby south loop Sunday morning. I had some concerns about that because
the south loop was usually about three-fourths full while "our"
loop was only one-fourth to one-half full. Would we be able to
find a suitable spot?
The good news was that we could move to
another spot in our loop if the south loop was full
when we had to move. (Who makes up these rules, anyway??)
Our new campsite, with the McDowell Range
The good news is that we did find a nice site in the other loop.
It took about two hours for us to batten down the hatches, use
the dump station, and get set up again in our new location,
another periphery site.
We have some shade from the low winter
Although we're sitting closer to the
road in our current roadside (not back-in) site, there are some
advantages: a great view of the fountain in Fountain
a different range of mountains to look at,
proximity to another part of the trail system,
and more coyote activity.
CODY AND THE COYOTES
Forget what I said a few days ago about Cody's lack of interest
in coyotes. Now that he's had some recent close encounters, he's
alternatively very curious (let's play!) and very territorial
(this is my turf!).
Yeah, like it's his territory! Not.
Boulders near Rock Knob silhouetted against
the sky: coyote territory
One day as Cody and I were returning to the camper about 200 feet cross-country
from the Granite Trail we surprised a coyote that was near our
picnic table. Cody saw it first and ran like a streak toward it.
He didn't get far. I commanded him to "leave it" and he
immediately came back to me (good boy!).
The coyote scurried off but remained within sight out the window
after we went inside. The coyotes are used to people in the
campground and have probably gotten snacks from some of them.
They are still wild and fearful, though. It's not like you can
(or should) pet them. And I certainly don't want one of them
biting Cody in self-defense if he got too close.
Photo of "our" coyote from inside the camper;
he runs away when I try to photograph him outside.
Another time a coyote walked to within about twenty feet of Cody
while he was tied outside the camper. I was inside working on my
computer. Jim was gone,
running some errands. I heard Cody bark with some
authority; the coyote responded with its distinctive
bark/yelp, followed by a high-pitched howl. They went back and
forth like this several times, each vocally defending his turf, until I
opened the door to make Cody be quiet and the coyote ran off into the shrubs
(next picture below).
Wonder how long they would have kept that up if I hadn't
Sometimes Cody will growl or bark when he's inside and
hears/smells a coyote (or another dog) near the camper. In
full defense mode, the fur on his shoulders stands on end and he
tenses up, ready to protect us. Occasionally we elicit the same
response out of him by excitedly saying, "Cody, there's a
coyote!!" We really shouldn't tease him but his
reaction is so
comical that we just can't help acting like juvenile delinquents sometimes.
I got better coyote
pictures two years ago than
I haven't been able to get any good shots of the coyote(s) that
have been visiting our new campsite, just the fuzzy picture above
and this "coyote butt" photo as he ran away:
Tail end of an elusive coyote at our
We've seen only one coyote at a
time; we don't know if it's the same one each time or more
than one. We hear more coyote choruses during both the day and
night in this location
than our other campsite. I don't know if it's the location or
the near-full moon right now. Do coyotes really howl more when
the moon is full?
We still haven't had any close
encounters this time with a
javelina, doggone it.
See why I like visiting the desert in the winter? There's the
chance of seeing things like javelinas and cool cacti that we'll
never see in a "prettier" place like the Tetons!
GETTING BACK UP ON THE HORSE THAT THREW ME
After checking out a trail on foot today that's new to me (Rock
Knob Trail, in the western part of the park),
I finally took Jim's mountain bike for a spin -- the first time since
my memorable crash on
For various reasons I've been riding my road bike since the
crash -- not because I'm afraid to get back on Jim's bike
but because I just don't like it much and the gears don't all
work properly. I really want my own new mountain bike that fits
me as well as my Terry road bike; that isn't going to
happen until sometime next year (I'm not talking about a $300
Two bikes, ready to ride
After Jim assured me he'd thoroughly checked the gears and
I rode his bike a couple miles around the campground roads to
get a feel for it, then ventured out on nine miles of
undulating, curvy, hilly, but fairly smooth trails (Wagner,
And guess what?
Two cyclists enjoy a smooth part of the
I think I had more fun doing that than anything else I've done
so far on this trip!!
It's definitely more fun than riding on pavement. I'm not very
skilled at trail riding but each ride gives me a little more
confidence to tackle a more difficult trail the next time. There
are so many great trails to ride at McDowell Mountain Park that
I just wish I'd gotten out there two weeks ago, and not on our
next-to-last day here.
Tomorrow we're on the move again: across town to the Victory
Lane sports complex in Glendale, a northern Phoenix 'burb.
We're taking advantage of the invitation for runners to park
their RVs in the large parking lot near the course for
the Arizona Road Racers' "Run to the Future 24-Hour Race." Steve
Finkelstein and the club are graciously providing runners with
an alternate venue while Across the Years (ATY) is on hiatus.
I took this picture of one part of the course when we checked
out the venue a couple weeks ago:
Jim's running as long as he can in the race, depending on
whether/when his plantar faciitis flares up. I'm volunteering off and
on in the aid station as needed, crewing for Jim, taking
pictures, hanging out with friends like Anne Watts who aren't
running this time, and trying not to whine about not being able
to be out there, too.
Actually, I'm a little surprised lately that I've pretty much
come to accept this "no more ultra running" situation as I
approach my 30th running anniversary on January 1. No more races
(probably) takes a whole lot of pressure off of me! I wasn't
expecting that. I'll write more about it in January.
Happy New Year,
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil