It is said that you should write about what you know. A corollary to thatmight be to photograph what you love. I love the scenic beauty and diverse wildlife of Arizona. I have lived in Arizona most of my life and during that time I have had the opportunity to explore our beautiful state. I have developed a deep appreciation for all that Arizona has to offer. We possess a rich historical and prehistorical culture, spectacular scenery, mild climate, and diverse flora and fauna.

For the past 14 years I have lived in the Tucson metro area. During that time I have developed a love of our “sky islands”. Sky islands are rugged mountain ranges that rise precipitously from the surrounding desert seas.
It is not uncommon to start in the desert at 2,000 ft elevation and reach over 9,000 ft at the top. You can make this trip in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson in less than an hour. Temperatures can be as much as 20 degrees lower amid the pine forests at the top of the mountain.

Catalina State Park is one of two state parks that are situated in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. (The other is Oracle State Park.) It features a seasonal riparian habitat, Hohokam ruins, camping, interpretive programs, and a network of hiking trails that extend towards the pine forests of the Coronado National Forest. Recently the Arizona Game and Fish Department released a population of Desert Bighorn Sheep into the park, restoring this species to the mountains for the first time since the late 1990s. All of these assets create a rich setting for the creative photographer.

Since the park is located just a few miles from where I live, I have the opportunity to explore its many trails during different times of the year and weather conditions. Light is key to the photographer, so I am drawn to the park during the golden hours of early morning and late afternoon. Monsoon storms provide dramatic light and beautiful skies, although much care should be taken to ensure safety during this time of the year. Spring is another magical time in the park, one that draws the lens down toward the microcosm of flowers and small animals. It is also a time when water is flowing in the canyons and opportunities for riparian photography abound.

The park has some very dense stands of saguaros which make the perfect setting for an iconic Arizona sunset. This is the subject of my photo Catalina Sunset.

Dennis Swena is the June photo contest winner. Read more about Dennis’s work at: desertskyisland.com.