In March, my wife and I attended the wedding of one of her cousins in Phoenix, Arizona. While there, we decided that we would take in some sights and sounds. Some were planned, some unplanned. Since our honeymoon in the Redwoods four years ago, we have made it a point to try and visit a national park every year, usually in September. Last year’s fully reserved trip to Yosemite was terminated when we suddenly found ourselves owners of a new house (after a year and a half of looking and seven rejected offers).
So, when this trip to Phoenix came up, I suggested that we take in the Grand Canyon. It had been a long, long time since I had been there and Lisa had not been at all. So off we went. The wedding was quick and sweet, and we were able to take in the Desert Botanical Garden on a very hot day beforehand. After the wedding we took the two and a half hour drive north to the south rim, only to find ourselves in the middle of a mini blizzard when we arrived at dark. However, we were quickly inside the century old dining room with a window seat to all the frosty fireworks.
When we arose the next morning, it was sunny, so I was quickly out the door to capture the snow on the trees before it melted. The air and colors were crisp and clean. I took tons of photos. Of course, I took as many pics of trees as I did the canyon, and usually both together. I had greatly anticipated the chance to see these trees up close. My memory was of twisted specimens hugging the cliffs with just a thin wisp of a life-line showing. I reflected on the last time that I had stood on that spot. It was with my grandparents on their annual Fourth of July jaunt to the park. The year was 1983 and I was spending my college summer with them in Phoenix. It was nice and hot, especially staying in tents.
But there was another reason to remember that trip. It was the beginning of my bonsai career. You see, my grandfather Mark had practiced bonsai for many years, both in Phoenix and Beaverton. In high school, I poured over his John Naka books and by the time that summer came along, I was ready to jump in. So on the return trip home to Phoenix, we drove off the road into the hills somewhere and dug my first two bonsai. Yes, I started with collected trees. I was never able to positively identify the two trees, but on this trip, 33 years later, I finally had satisfaction. They were a Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) and Colorado Pinyon Pine (Pinus edulis). The trees were small, maybe a foot to two feet at the tips. The Pinyon was only a half inch in diameter, and the Juniper older at two inches.
They made the trip home with me at the end of the summer, but languished in the buckets we had unceremoniously dumped them into. The buckets didn’t even have drainage holes. I don’t know how they survived. It was not until 1989 and six years later that I actually started working with them. Those trees are gone now, as I moved on to other treats. With the skills I have now, I might have been able to do something with them, but they were really of very poor quality. They did the job and got me started.
If you get a chance to make it to the Grand Canyon, I highly recommend it. The canyon is really like nothing else. Its vastness cannot be overstated. I got to see it from the air, both coming and going and it’s beeeeg. It’s almost seven thousand feet in elevation on the south rim, which is where timberline is here. That means it can be a bit nippy at night, and snowy and cold in the off season. What you will find startling as a bonsai person, are the twisted and curvy deciduous trees. That’s right, and many species to boot. They are all worthy of study and you really need a good two full days to take it in. The junipers and pines are ninety percent of the trees there, but you will find Ponderosas, and a few odd firs. Be sure to take a look at the rare Doug Firs in the photos, and take in inspiration anywhere you can find it.