The Edge Complex

Convinced I was going to talk about some strange affliction of the adventure-compelled stormchaser? Well, not tonight 8). I thought I'd put together a brief diary of a wildfire I've been chasing in the Desert Southwest.

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Tangerine Sun and the Red Clay Moon

My lunar calendar was devoid of any eclipses scheduled for tonight. No solar event or aurora borealis was due here at the 34th parallel anytime soon. To my knowledge, no volcano was erupting either, one that could loft a layer of ash into the atmosphere turning the sun into a blood orange and the Moon into a red clay pot.

Nothing like that was happening, yet the desert sun dripped down behind the horizon for the second day in a crimson ball that made it look like an animation. When the full Moon did rise, it was shrouded in brick red veils that would obscure it from shining its usual diamond white cast on the desert floor.

The reason for the color change? The Edge Complex, a desert wildfire burning on the ridges northeast of Phoenix, Arizona. At last check a 22,000-acre blaze in the Four Peaks Wilderness close to my town, the Edge Complex tempted me to chase it Sunday night to the fireline. Saturday night, I was photographing lightning in the McDowell Mountain Park and happened to notice two small brushfires – the birth of a lightning-sparked wildfire which started by multiple ignition. Characteristic dry lightning storms doled out by the annual weather patterns prior to the onset of the monsoon in the Southwestern United States were responsible for yet another amber glow in the night sky.

Despite the sky’s persimmon coloring, during my monthly moonlight hike tonight in the McDowell Mountain Park northeast of Phoenix, Arizona, I could see the path before me. I could make out the hills and undulations in the trail. Any cholla segment laying in wait to lodge in my hiking boot was clearly visible, as were the saguaro cacti, palo verde trees and jojoba bushes laden with fruits. An ambient light bounced off broken thunderstorm anvil tops that had drifted off the Mogollon Rim, the 1000-ft high cliff that runs 2/3 of the way across the state--the edge of the Colorado Plateau.

Lightning still active over the nearby Mazatzal range teased that it might come into the deserts. Storms were still active to the north. The heat was still strong – long past sunset and hovering around 100 degrees. Breezes felt nice to the hiker but sweat evaporated so quickly that I drank 2 bottles of Aquafina and was working on my third. Heat can sneak up on a person so easily in this weather.

Ranger Paul “Crash†Marusich, the park’s interpretive ranger, explained interesting aspects of the park trail’s history, past peoples who traveled it, and the many animals that use it now (interested in hiking? See www.maricopa.gov/parks and click on McDowell). Not so long ago, people of the West used the arroyos as roads to maneuver about in the desert. I stood in the wash’s sands and imagined that arduous journey, even to the crest of the nearby peaks. Tonight, that mountain range to my west lay there like a black velvet cloth that had fallen to the floor, but just 10 years ago, the ridge was ablaze as well. Now, growth and animals have returned.

As quail in the ironwoods nervously fluttered as our small group passed by, I looked to an eastern sky. Where has the Edge Complex meandered to tonight? Did it run into rugged country or yet another overworked squadron of slurry bombers? All that shone tonight was the tangerine sun and the red clay moon. I hiked on, watching again the lightning just off to north, remembering that this weekend heavy rains are due because of Hurricane Emily breaking up in Mexico and influencing the Monsoon - and before too long, the Edge Complex may only be alive in photographs.

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I like it! :)

Though I doubt I'll ever really get a chance to make it back to the Southwest anytime soon, I really liked the story and photos.

I've often thought about attempting to grapb a few shots of the Wheat Stubble burn off's around here with a storm in the background. I say attempted as I have tried a couple of times and never could get it to work out quite right.

I may have to try a two shot deal, one of the fire and combine that with one of the storm. Not a totally seperate thing, but a couple fo photos within minutes of each other. One exposed for the fire and the other for the storm.

Thanks for reminding me of the opportunites out there not always storm related.
 
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