The valley of San Rafael

The grassy San Rafael Valley sits right along the Mexican border in Santa Cruz County, Arizona. It is a high, intermontane valley that, because of the excellent stewardship of the local ranchers over the years, survives largely intact as a grassland ecosystem. The range has not suffered the degradation often seen elsewhere, such as invasion of exotic weeds or cactus, and has not been overgrazed. This photograph shows where the eastern reaches of the valley meet the western slopes of the Huachuca Mountains.

The unanticipated spectacle

After an endless succession of dry, cloudless days, the occasional cloudy day brings a welcome break in the monotony. On one recent October day, it remained sunless until just before the very end, but as the day drew to a close, the sun staged this unanticipated spectacle over the high desert grassland near Mescal in Cochise County, Arizona.

The lay of the land

With a bit of elevation, the complexity of the Southwestern landscape becomes more apparent. Given enough time, it’s possible to gain some sense of the lay of the land. It’s only a generalized sense however; the intricacies of the mountain ranges, the maze of canyons, and the web of draws, washes, and arroyos defy the mind’s ability to grasp. The land does not reveal its mystery, and it remains ultimately unknowable. The photo was taken at Windy Point in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona, facing east.

Focused intensity

The summer rains, locally called the monsoons, are quite different from the widespread and gentle rains of winter. Summer rain events usually arrive in the form of violent thunderstorms, and can be highly localized. They can produce torrential downpours and flash floods over a relatively small area while other areas nearby remain parched. These small yet potent storm cells can deliver severe downpours with a focused intensity, leaving the perfectly dry neighbors to enjoy the visual spectacle. This one was a late summer storm just to the southwest of the J-Six Ranch area of Cochise County, Arizona.

A “wonderland of rocks” indeed

Countless columns and spires of rock fill the landscape below Massai Point in Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona. The product of explosive volcanism, wind and water erosion, and eons of time, this area was dubbed “The Wonderland of Rocks” by the early settlers.