Tuesday, August 23, 2011
A Photo Highway
Route 89 carves its way through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Western U.S. It’s a landscape photographer’s dream road trip.
The topography of southern Arizona is composed of jagged mountains, some as high as 10,000 feet, widely separated by level valleys. The vegetation in the Sonoran Desert is characterized by the giant saguaro cactus. The best place to photograph this landscape is Saguaro National Park. The image that comes to mind with the word “desert” is of a desolate, dry place of sand dunes and little else. When you visit Saguaro, however, you enter a lush world filled with plants and animals that have evolved to live in a dry, hot climate.
The park is divided into two districts 30 miles apart on the east and west sides of Tucson. If your time is limited, concentrate on one district. They both offer ample opportunities to explore. And there’s much to see—58 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, 74 different mammals and 187 types of birds living among 600-plus species of plants.
South of Tucson there are several opportunities to explore America’s Spanish heritage. Tumacácori National Historical Park preserves the ruins of a mission church established in 1691. Nearby is the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, a military fort built to protect the missionaries. Most beautiful of all is San Xavier del Bac, a still-active mission church that has undergone extensive restoration recently.
The northern edge of the Basin and Range shades into the Colorado Plateau through a mountainous transition zone. This is particularly evident on State Route 89A between Prescott and Sedona, one of the most scenic parts of the entire highway. Going north, you climb to the summit of Mingus Mountain and then plunge down into the Verde Valley through the historic towns of Jerome, Clarkdale and Cottonwood. As you cross the Verde River, the red rocks that mark the edge of the Colorado Plateau come into view.
There are numerous roads and trails that penetrate the wilderness around Sedona. One of the most photographed scenes is the view of Cathedral Rock from Red Rock State Park. If you want to get into the backcountry without too much effort, I recommend a visit to two prehistoric Indian ruins, Palatki and Honanki. Turn west on Red Canyon Road (FR 525) a half mile north of mile marker 364. Drive seven miles to Palatki and then another four and a half miles to Honanki. The cliff dwellings and rock art are special places to photograph, but you may find yourself stopping often along the road to shoot the colorful red rock formations.
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