In Search of an Illusive View

Some goals take on a life of their own. You fail a few times and, instead of giving up, you just get more and more invested in success.

Piestawa Peak summit trail (#300) is a 1083 foot climb over about a mile rising above the dead center of the Phoenix Metro area. The view from the top is gorgeous and nearly 360 degrees. Which is also pretty close to the temperature on the trail in the dog days of summer, when the monsoons flood the valley with heat and humidity.

At least four times, I’ve made that hike in the height of the afternoon misery, rushing along the shadeless trail as fast I could safely travel, in search of a sight you can’t expect to find anywhere else in the United States, outside of freak events.

A haboob. A massive roiling sandstorm barreling down on the heart of the America’s sixth largest city.  My phone would send me a “Severe Dust Storm Warning” and off I’d go.

Ever since I moved to Phoenix, I’ve been trying to get this one particular shot. Or even just the view would have been enough. It’s become a bit of an obsession, really. A fixation at the least. If I was stuck in the desert, it only made sense that I try to experience this uniquely desert event.

All In for a Chance

Last week, I got home just before sunset, and noticed a smudge on the horizon. Now, there’d been no warning for the NWS, and it’s well outside monsoon season, but somehow I knew what I was seeing, just from the edge of smudge in a gap in the South Mountain foothills.

So I shrugged off my nice shirt inside the door, and took off jogging in jeans, boots, and a t-shirt. The half mile jog to the park by house was surprisingly easy, in spite of the attire, but the run straight up the side of the three hundred foot hill behind it was not. I don’t love running, and there’s nothing that quite prepares you for running up a steep slope.

I had to stop for a breath a photo of a cactus:


And then another short breath and a picture of the gorgeous sunset unfolding:


But I didn’t give myself long. As soon as my muscles felt even slightly ready to get back to it, I kicked myself back into full gear. I wasn’t sure what I’d find at the top. Nothing put a sunset? A diffuse cloud of dust dissipating with the afternoon heat? As hopeful as I was, I was ready for what I found when I got there:


Click for zoom.

I wanted to tell you all of this last Fridau, but I was negotiating the sale of some of the videos to a media company! I ended up making $100 off of it, which is all kinds of exciting.

Anyway, I spliced together the clips I didn’t sell into what I think is still a pretty awesome video!

The Moral of the Stormy

Any day you get paid for something you did for fun is a good day.

I think there’s a lesson in this, beyond that, though, because this wasn’t just a payoff for effort. I put a lot of effort into finally seeing a haboob from on high, not just once, but several miserable times without seeing any reward for it. I only met this goal because I put in a lot of hard work and accepted multiple failures.

Even with all the blisters, sweat, and overheated hikes, watching this storm rolling across the farmlands of the Gila River reservation and crashing into the southern edge of urban Phoenix would been worth it all. Even if I hadn’t had my camera. Even if I hadn’t made a cent off it. One hundred fruitless jogs up mountains would have been an acceptable price to pay for the privilege of watching such a raw and powerful force of nature in action. The fact that it was paired with a beautiful sunset? Gravy.

Haboob swallows Wild Horse Pass Casino Phoenix

It’s hard to give context to the scale of this storm, but I think this shot does it best. About a quarter of the way from the right side of this photo, just to the right of the line of lights, at the very edge of the storm is a tiny rectangular building. That building is the roughly ten story high Wild Horse Pass casino.

We will all fail. It’s true. If we try for anything then, sooner or later–usually sooner–we will fail. But as long as we persist we haven’t failed ourselves. So keep getting out there, keep pushing the limits, pushing for those goals, until you get there.  You never know when you’re just one short run from your destination!


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