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Mount Wrightston, Madera Canyon and Saguaro National Park

telepathic stuntman

Creative Visualization by Keven Siegert

telepathic stuntman header image 2

Mount Wrightston, Madera Canyon and Saguaro National Park

August 14th, 2016 · 4 Comments

The clouds were hanging low to the ground and everything was soaking wet from the frequent storms during the past few days. The sky was dark and heavy with moisture. I walked silently along a trail, thickly padded with layers of pine needles. There wasn’t a breath of wind or noise of any kind and I had the entire mountain to myself.

cloudy hills

pine needles

After a few hours of hiking, I sat down on a low hill for a rest and water. When I heard the branch snapping behind me, I thought perhaps it could be a Coatimundi or Ringtail… so I was excited to creep around for a better look and hopefully a photograph. Then I heard the loud CRACK of a big branch and I knew it had to be a pretty large animal. Through the branches I could see him – a massive Black Bear!

black bear

Black Bear (hidden behind the tree)

I couldn’t get a clear shot, so I moved around the tree and that’s when he saw me. He turned from the tree and stood up on his hind legs – his head was the size of a garbage can lid and he stood a good seven or eight feet tall! My brain had an instant battle between “get the hell out of here!” and “shoot a photo now!”. The size of him was unnerving and “get the hell out of here” won – I backed away slowly and continued down the trail, glancing over my shoulder every ten paces and stopping frequently to listen.

trail to florida saddle




side blotched lizard

Side Blotched Lizard


This starts a challenging and beautiful (and unnerving) trek into the Santa Rita Mountains in southern Arizona, starting in the high desert at around 4,000 feet and ascending through Madera Canyon to the summit of Mount Wrightston (9,452 feet).

chaparral yuccaYucca

cholla flowerCholla Flower

I began the morning at Saguaro National Park to scout out a location for a photo shoot I wanted to do later in the week. I hiked around the park, exploring Signal Hill and found a fantastic site of ancient rock art, created by the Hohokam people more than a thousand years ago. There are dozens of petroglyphs on the rocky hill and I found the perfect angle for a sunrise and sunset shot. I walked through the Sonoran Desert Museum as a thunderstorm moved across the desert floor and hammered the valley with a torrential rain. The scent of Desert Sage hung heavy in the air and the cool moisture felt great.

desert ramblerThe Desert Rambler!

backlit cholla



baja loop road

agave heartAgave

agave kaleidoscopeAgave

agave stalk

Agave Stalk


barrel cactus flowersBarrel Cactus

buckhorn cholla

Buckhorn Cholla



desert storm

coville barrel cactusCoville Barrel Cactus


diamond cholla

Diamond Cholla


Engelmann Hedgehog CactusEngelmann Hedgehog Cactus


fishhook budsFishhook

fishhook cactusFishhook


fishhook flower

Fishhook Flower


golden agaveGolden Agave


huachuca agaveHuachuca Agave


ocotillo backlight

ocotillo cuOcotillo





organ pipe cactusOrgan Pipe Cactus


prickly pear fruit

Prickly Pear Cactus


prickly pear long spikes

Prickly Pear Cactus


prickly pearPrickly Pear Cactus



After a short drive just south of Tucson, I reach the Santa Rita Mountains. Mount Wrightston is completely shrouded in clouds and the range looks ominous indeed. It’s a Tuesday and it’s been raining all day so there was absolutely no one around at all. I spent three days in the mountains there and didn’t see a single person.

santa rita mountains

santa rita range

The trail starts in Madera Canyon, a habitat that’s world famous for the variety of flora and fauna here, especially birds. Between the desert floor and the high mountain peaks, there are four distinct life and climate zones.

purple clump


The Super Trail is a wonderfully graded trail that follows a creek and provides many scenic vistas on the way to the halfway point of Josephine Saddle. I reach it late in the afternoon, and decide to camp there. A porcupine shuffles into the brush as I walk around looking for a suitable site for the tent. I’m still a bit nervous about the bear and so every noise signals an alert.


flowing water

I build a nice fire, cook up a bit of dinner and settle in with a book for the night. The rain drizzled on and off and it was too cloudy to see stars, so I crashed early and slept soundly all night.


Dark threatening clouds enveloped the mountain as I ate breakfast and packed up my gear. I continued along the Super trail, aiming for Baldy Saddle, and then the summit of Mount Wrightston. I was carrying a lot of photography gear and everything was wet, so my pack was really heavy. The ground was slick in muddy in places, so I moved fairly slowly up the mountainside. Again, there was not a bit of wind and even the birds were quiet. It was sublimely peaceful, but also just a bit disconcerting… where was everyone? Am I missing something and I’m not supposed to be here?

super path

super trailhead



I sat down for a rest and the quietness was actually aching. I could hear the clicking of the tendons in my neck when I turned from side to side. It felt like I was in some kind of peaceful, semi-meditative state. Now at about 7,500 feet, I could see clouds below me, and thunderstorms moving across the desert floor.

fuzzy six leaf


As I continued ascending, I spied a few black lizards, rock squirrels, a number of unusual birds (I wish I knew my birds better), and a couple of Whitetail deer. I came to a point in the trail that was covered in spider webs – now I knew no one had been here for a while! I knocked the webs down with a stick and trudged upward. Each time the rain started up, I would hunker down under a tree with full rain gear on and wait it out. A couple times I just threw my tent up (which only takes about three minutes) and waited the storm out with my book.


western pine

white mushroooms

wild garlicWild Garlic


wood fern

Wood Fern


yucca w podsYucca


I made it to Baldy Saddle by mid day and the peak was still heavily shrouded in dark clouds. There would be no chance for any kind of photography up there, so I decided to make camp and wait for the clouds to clear. I napped, wandered and generally spent a really relaxed day just hanging out in the shadow of this impressive peak.



delicate center

desert willowsDesert Willows

false acacias

False Acacias



firecracker penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon



foggy valley

At this point I’d like to acknowledge a great set of photography products by Peak Design! I’ve tried a variety of harnesses, holsters, straps, etc., but have never found a comfortable way to carry my full size camera while backpacking. Well the Peak Design Capture Camera Clip is the answer. I’ve used it on a couple trips now and I really like it! I allows you to mount the camera to your chest, so there’s no swinging around, and it works fine with the Peak Design Rain Shell. I also carry the strap for day hikes and side trips, which clips on and off quickly. Nice work guys!


pd 1

pd 2

pd 3

pd 4


pd 6

pd 5

Finally at about 5pm, I decided it was now or never. Even If I got to the top and couldn’t see anything, I still wanted to do it. The final mile to the top was a bit steep but really nicely graded and fairly easy. I could hear and see thunderstorms all around me, and that was certainly scary. I almost quit and turned around three or four times, but it never came close enough to put me in serious danger.


It was a joyous feeling to finally reach the top! Sure enough, visibility was almost zero. I signed the book, hydrated and took a few shots of the clouds and then…


log book

baldy marker

Stunningly, the clouds started to dissipate and separate! I could now see spectacular epic views in all directions as puffy clouds floated through. I scampered around joyously shooting photos and shaking my head in disbelief of my good fortune! I could see a really cool thunderhead moving across the desert floor from Mexico towards Tucson. I saw bits of rainbows trying to peak through. At one point I saw a small circular rainbow with my shadow in the center of it, on the side of a mountain a good five miles away. I have no idea what causes this phenomena, and I tried to capture it with the camera, but couldn’t really get it.

sky starts to open

small rainbowUpdate: This is actually a phenomena called a “Brocken Spectre”:

A Brocken spectre (German Brockengespenst), also called Brocken bow or mountain spectre, is the apparently enormous and magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun. The head of the figure is often surrounded by the glowing halo-like rings of a glory—rings of coloured light that appear directly opposite the sun when sunlight meets a cloud of uniformly-sized water droplets.

The phenomenon can appear on any misty mountainside or cloud bank, even when seen from an aeroplane, but the frequent fogs and low-altitude accessibility of the Brocken, a peak in the Harz Mountains in Germany, have created a local legend from which the phenomenon draws its name. The Brocken spectre was observed and described by Johann Silberschlag in 1780, and has since been recorded often in literature about the region.


cool sky

desert storm from summit

hazy mountains

panaromic 3

panoramic 1

panoramic 2

Then after about twenty minutes, I was again shrouded in clouds again, this time even darker as the sun started to set below the horizon and the thunder seemed louder and closer. Time to get down from here!

north view from top


clouds below

kev on wrightston

I had another restful night from this very nice campsite, one of the nicest I ever seen, with views to the east and west.


sunset from camp

The next day I hiked down to the Florida Saddle, then across to Madera Road and back to my truck. I returned to Saguaro National Park West and setup for the sunrise photo shoot at Signal Hill. It was hot and steamy on the desert floor and again, no people to be seen anywhere.

richardsons geraniumRichardsons Geranium



green beetleBeetle


indian paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush








mushroom with caterpillar

A nice collection of clouds gathered on the horizon as the sun set, and I captured a really great image of the rock art. It was fairly dark when I made my way back to my campsite and I cooked up a bit of dinner and then just sat still in the darkness and listened to the coyotes – about a dozen of them, yipping and yowling and crying in the distance.

abundant wildflowers

This night was a peak night for the Perseid Meteor shower, so I set up my camera for some star photography, set my alarm for 11:30pm and caught some sleep. I shot stars from 11:30 to about 1:30am and the shooting stars gave me a fantastic show! I saw about a dozen of them, including one that went the full length of the sky. Unfortunately none of the photos caught even one shooter (bummer).

Back awake at 4:30, I headed back to Signal Hill for the final shoot – a spectacular sunrise that unfolded exactly as I had hoped! The position of the sun, the clouds, everything was really great and I scored another cool photo.

pencil cholla catepillar

Pencil Cholla


signal hill sunrise

signal hill sunset 2


pincusion cactusPincushion Cactus

rock art alt sunset

rock art deer vert

rock art deer ws


rock art four

rock art two deer

rock art wheels

rock art ws

rock art ws2

rock squirrel 2

From there I packed up my gear and called it good. A wonderful trek in the spectacular wilderness playground of Arizona!


four spheres

artists conkArtist’s Conk



pineapple cactus

Pineapple Cactus


range below

rattlesnake area

red spine barrel



saguaro forest on mountain

saguaro forest

saguaro national park ws 1

saguaro upshot

Saguaro Cactus




spiky nodes

spiky symetry

spiny center

spiral rock art

storm coming in from the west

sunflower dark bkgd



sunflower with miteSunflower (with a mite or spider)





tiny purple flowers

top of truck landscape





unknown blue mineral

velvetpod mimosa

Velvetpod Mimosa




view from campsite 2

view to the north








Tags: Camping · fauna · flora · Landscapes · Uncategorized · Weather · wildlife

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Paul Watkins // Aug 14, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    Love’em all! Awesome work!

  • 2 George // Aug 14, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Great photos Keven. I wish I had been along.

  • 3 Amol // Aug 15, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Thanks for sharing these amazing trips with us, Keven. Always look forward to your trip reports.

  • 4 admin // Aug 15, 2016 at 11:25 am

    Thanks Guys!

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