Summer Solstice 2017

Today is summer solstice at 9:24 PM (MST); summer’s official start. Temperatures in Phoenix are forecast to reach near 120°, making it the hottest day of the year (so far). The Queen and I are celebrating the end of spring like a couple of mushrooms hiding in the dark while hoping the air conditioner doesn’t fail.

To cope with the increased temperature, we’ve changed our daily routines. We go on our morning walk at 6:30 to take advantage of the cooler morning temperature; although this morning’s low was still 83°. With 20% humidity, eighty degrees should be comfortable and it is in the shade, but this being desert, there’s little shade. There’s something about an oppressive high barometric pressure that intensifies the Sun’s radiant heat, so along our route, we divert to every patch of shade we find like lizards darting between rocks.

I limit my time out in the shop now. Instead of waiting most of the morning for the garage to warm up, I only work the hour before breakfast and I break my chores into chunks to fit the time. At least with that schedule, I get more computer work done in the afternoons.

There are other clues that our exceptional spring is being pushed aside. The roadside flowers I featured in earlier posts, have withered into dried grasses. The stately saguaro, one gluttonously plump with winter rain are undergoing transition to their impression of The Thin Man with their accordion folds compressing together. I wonder if the birds living in the giant cactus’ apartments notice their shrinking floor space.

Prickly Pear and Bagdad Hills
The setting sun shines on a prickly pear cactus and hills near Bagdad, Arizona.

Even the creosote is changing. A month ago they were full of yellow buds and the open spaces between washes were fields of light green resembling dense crops. Their flowers have turned into tiny gray fuzz-balls and the bush begins shedding leaves. They’re conserving water so they can survive out in the summer sun.

Kirkland Valley Sky
The setting sun lights up a line of clouds over Kirkland Valley.

I see out of my window that clouds are gathering above the Weaver Mountain Range. There will be no welcome rain from them today. There isn’t enough moisture in the air for them to swell into magnificent thunderheads. That will come in a couple of weeks when the winds change and bring humid air from the south, and that will be the real monsoon season start. Today’s clouds are just a promise of things to come.

Till then . . . jw

Back in the Saddle Again

It took a week for the drives to arrive from Amazon and only a couple hours to install and partition them. I spent most of the weekend organizing and restoring all of my files to their original locations. I haven’t done an exhaustive inventory, but it looks like pretty much everything is recovered now. That means that I can start moving forward again instead of treading water waiting for parts to get here.

I should have some new images up on the site later this week and I’ll have an announcement by then about the West of Center show at the Museum. Stay tuned to this channel . . . film at 11:00.

Till then . . . jw

Bad Hair Day

There are some days you should just stay in bed. If you only knew what was coming, you could cancel the alarm, roll over and pull the covers back over your head. I had one of those yesterday. It would be nice if you could skip a day and avoid the day’s headaches, but in reality you’re only postponing the inevitable.

My morning routine begins by starting a pot of coffee and then recording my vitals on a chart that I keep for my doctor. By the time I’m done with the spreadsheet, there’s enough coffee in the pot to squeeze out a starter cup, and I can begin to feel human again. When I tried to open the file yesterday, I got an error message saying that the file didn’t exist. I thought, “Of course it exists, you stupid computer. I keep it in a folder on my Data drive.” As I navigated to find it, I discovered that the drive was missing. It gets worse. As I investigated further I opened up the Windows Disk Management Console and found that the entire physical disk had failed. I had the 2TB disk partitioned into thirds and I kept regular data files on the first section, all the files related to my web site on the second, and all of my photographs on the third. My life flashed before my eyes.

OK, I thought, maybe it’s not all that bad. Maybe the connection had broke, so I rebooted the computer. It didn’t start. The screen was blank with the little circle of dots endlessly going round and round. I gave up and powered down the computer, then went to Anne’s laptop to get diagnostic information. After I got what I needed, I went back and started a four-hour process that ran a surface scan on all the hard drives. When it was finally done, the program said that they were all fine.

I worked all morning and part way into the afternoon trying this-and-that with no success. I finally pulled the derelict drive out of the box and only then did the computer come back to life. I made a few configuration changes and finally the computer was stable again. Then I immediately went to Amazon and ordered a replacement drive. After a couple of hours, I had second thoughts and ordered a second one. Since the box is open, I might as well replace them all. As I’ve said in another forum, the question is not whether a hard drive will fail, but when.

You’re probably questioning about all the missing files. Things like tax returns, letters, databases and thirteen yeas of digital photographs. Fortunately I thought about that several years ago and installed an external drive to make weekly automatic backups. I’ve had two of them actually. The first one got full, so I replaced it with a larger drive. After the new hard disks arrive, it will take me a while to restore the files, but thankfully, I still have a copy of everything.

So here’s a life lesson that I’d like to share. Take care of your teeth . . . and back up your computer. Nuff said.

Till then . . . jw

Laughlin, Nevada

Every once in a great while, I’m allowed out of the house on my own. I know that’s a surprise to you, but there are times when the Queen has friends over and she wants a presentable house. That means I have to go away while her company is here. Since I’m doing Anne a ‘favor’, I can usually parlay it into an overnight trip that I call a photo shoot. One of these freedom nights was last Tuesday, but at the last-minute, her friends had to postpone, and she was already in the truck before I could get out of the driveway . . . Doh!

My friend Deb asked if this was an anniversary trip to which I replied, “What? When is our anniversary? Yeah, that’s it! It’s for our anniversary.” So, it was something I had planned all along.

Whenever I have a chance to get away, my first thought is to head for a body of water. After all, that is what we miss in the desert. I’d hop on the first plane to New Zealand if I could afford it, but that’s out of our budget. What we can afford is a cot at the YMCA . . . or something close to that. With those constraints, there’s always Laughlin, Nevada.

Colorado River Valley from the Black Mountains.
On a rare rainy day, the lower Colorado River Valley holds the communities of Bullhead City in Arizona, and Laughlin on the Nevada side of the river.

My parents were the ones that introduced me to Laughlin. In the late ‘70s, they had a second home in Bullhead City, the town on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. My dad kept his boat there for a while, and we would manage to ‘drop in’ while they were in town. We’d spend days fishing and water skiing on Lake Mohave, and in the evenings, we would take the water taxi across the river to one of the three casinos on the Nevada side. I have fond memories of those times. Good times never last however, and my parents eventually got rid of the house and boat.

There are several reasons for me to make a quick trip to Laughlin. As a fisherman, both Lake Mohave and the river below Davis Dam offer good angling. However, I never remember to pack my gear for a one night trip. Although I like the craps table, I am averse to wasting money. It used to take twenty bets to lose my bankroll, but now that the tables have a five buck minimum bet, I’m done in four rolls. So, I don’t spend much time in the casinos. There are the buffets with rows and rows of various foods, with people who make you look skinny by comparison. However I favor quality over quantity, so we avoid them. I guess the best reason for Laughlin is that now that the Queen and I retired, we can take advantage of the twenty-five buck midweek hotel rooms. You can’t stay at the YMCA for that price.

The cheap rooms have a downside too. As we strolled along The River-walk connecting the casinos, we noticed that most of the patrons were at least our age; silver-haired seniors and an abundance of canes, walkers and wheelchairs. All of the casino floors were empty with many of the tables covered. The prime restaurants only open on the weekends. The hustle, bustle and excitement you would expect from a gambling hall was missing. Then, it dawned on me that the only people who had time for a casino on Tuesday were retirees; everyone else had to go to work . . . duh!

Thumb Butte
In the Black Mountains above Bullhead City, Thumb Butte looks like the universal indignant gesture of ill-will.

There’s one last thing that fascinates me about the area; it’s the geography. That section of the Colorado River Valley runs between the Black Mountains in Arizona and Nevada’s Eldorado Mountains. Neither range I consider tall, but they’re at the north-eastern reach of the Mojave Desert and get very little rainfall. That means they are subject to wind and temperature erosion. They are rocky, jagged and very rugged. Almost impenetrable.  As a matter of fact, Interstate 40 makes a 20 mile detour along the Santa Fé railroad tracks, around the Black Mountains between Needles and Kingman. The next upstream river crossing is 60 miles north at Hoover Dam and then its 180 miles more to the bridge at Marble Canyon. At the turn of the 20th Century travel was even worse. There were no bridges between Needles, California and Moab, Utah. Everything in between is hostile, desolate and in my opinion, the most beautiful terrain on earth.

Black Mountain MIne
An old mining claim near Union Pass in the Black Mountains.

As a photographer, I see the Black Mountains as a choice place to shoot pictures. It has ragged peaks, soaring spires and interesting shapes. They’re passed by in favor of the more famous canyons the Colorado cuts through. Because of its relative closeness, I’m intrigued at its beauty and if I can figure out how to best capture that ruggedness, I may have to take it on as a future project. Hey, it’s an excuse to get out of the house.

Till next time . . . jw

New Showing at the Wickenburg Library

I see from the date of my last post, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. I have a good reason. I’ve been working the last two weeks printing new images and making frames for them. I’ve worked my fingers to the bone and it’s a wonder that I can still type. The reason for printing and framing is for a show of my work at the Wickenburg City Library.

White Argentine Cactus Blossoms
White blossoms of an Argentine Cactus.

This afternoon I’m hanging a group of six new images in the library entry hall. The collection is a grouping of the cactus flower images I’ve taken over the last month. On my morning walks, I tried to capture the wide variety of colorful blossoms I saw along the way. Their colors were intense; almost surreal. It seem like it was only days before the beautiful flowers went to seed and but for a few stragglers, they’ve gone.

Claret Cup Cactus Flowers
The vibrant colored blossoms of a Hedgehog Cactus.

I hope you get a chance to visit Wickenburg and see the collection. The show will continue throughout May. The library is old town Wickenburg,  north of Highway US60 at 164 East Apache Street (East of Tegner Street). They’re open from 8:30 – 5:00 weekdays and till 12:30 on Saturday (closed Sunday). Please accept my invitation to stop in and see them. I’m also looking forward to hearing what you think.

Jim Installing Library Show
Yours truly posing before framed prints hanging at the Wickenburg Library.

Till then . . . jw

Yuma Again

Queen and I did our quarterly dentist run early this week. I’ve already talked about Algodones, so I don’t want to discuss the border town again, except to say that the weather has grown much warmer and the snowbirds that flock to the western Arizona counties have grown thin. The lines at the Customs Station are nil. We were able to get on the road home by 2:30 yesterday.

Today I want to talk about a couple of Yuma bright spots. There aren’t many, so when I find one, it’s a pleasant surprise. Yuma has a Marine base and in winter when the snowbirds arrive, its population triples . Other than that, most people only get off the interstate to top off the gas tank on their way to San Diego (or back).

If our dental visits call for lab work, we’ll book a room in a chain motel. Most of them include a (so-called) breakfast. Generally the fare consists of packaged microwave rubber omelets, assorted cold cereal, fruit, waffles (if you’re lucky) and/or toast and bagels. At best, it’s airline food, but it saves having to walk across the street to Mickey D’s. That’s what we did until our last trip when I convinced Anne to forgo the buffet for Brownie’s Café.

Browies Cafe
The place ain’t swank, but the place is always crowed and the food is old-fashioned good. Locate on South 4th Avenue off Interstate 8.

My first meal at Brownie’s was on a solo trip to Yuma. While exploring south 4th Avenue one morning, I spotted the large Café sign and thought that it would be really good or really bad, so I stopped to find out. The packed parking lot is usually a good sign. I stopped again with Jeff on our photo trip to the Salton Sea a couple of years later. After two more meals with Anne, I’m convinced it’s a gem right out of The Twilight Zone.

It’s a counter diner from the 1950s. The back dining area, crowed with tables and booths, is always filled with patrons, but on weekdays, you can usually find an open table. As you look around the room, you’re assured that this isn’t a campy place nostalgically decorated; this is the real thing and has probably been this way for thirty years. The building and the decor have been there for a while and they show wear. To put it bluntly; this is not a shiny new place. If that’s a key point of yours, go somewhere else.

In the table’s center are four beige half-inch thick industrial ceramic coffee cups. When you turn one right-side-up, the wait-staff instantly fills it without asking as they deliver the menus. The menu nothing fancy on it; instead there are all the items you’d expect. The plates are not large, but the food is properly cooked, just as you ordered.

My favorite is the Walt Kammann Sausage and eggs. The sausage is from a local butcher that has made it for over fifty years. It’s similar to a brat but spicier with flavors like linguica (Portuguese sausage) and lots of  fennel like you find in Italian sausage. The sausage is a point of pride in Yuma.

Yuma Mural
Anne checks her cell phone by one of the murals at Yuma Landing.

North of Brownie’s on 4th Avenue is a place called Yuma Landing with a Restaurant of the same name. I had always assumed that the name came from nautical origins, probably from Colorado Steamboats or something of that sort. I was mistaken. When we stopped to look at a monument, I found out the name comes from early aviation. In 1911, pilot Robert Fowler landed the first airplane ever in Arizona on that site. He was on a cross country trip flying a Wright Model B biplane which he completed in Florida forty-nine days later. The place has a plaque, a statue of Mr. Fowler and a couple of cool murals. It’s a big deal for Yumans . . . probably because nothing else interesting has happened in Yuma since.

Till then . . . jw

Season of Cactus Flowers

Now, I’m not what you’d normally call a ‘flower guy’. That is, I don’t specialize in flower photography. There are already plenty of people who have mastered that genre. But with the rains we’ve had in the Sonoran Desert, the landscape is almost littered with color. The brittlebush have turned the hillsides yellow and blue lupine line the roads. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to take my camera along on this morning’s walk. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

In March, Poppies, African Daisies and Lupine covered the fields. This month, the cacti have started blooming. The succulents have no respect for decorum. When they bloom, it looks like someone picked out the gaudiest plastic flowers from Michael’s and pinned them on. The colors are bright; the petals are waxy and almost garish. It’s wonderful.

Coral Cactus Blossoms
Coral blossoms on a columnar cactus in Congress.

I put up four new images on my Web Site from this morning’s walk. I swear to you that the colors are not over-saturated, especially the Cholla. You should treat yourself, grab your camera or phone and get out on a trail  near you. Take caution however, this lovely weather has stirred the rattlers. Hurry though, the Highway department has already mowed down the roadside wildflowers near us.

Till then . . . jw

Rain; Sweet Rain

We’re saved! I complained in an earlier post about the onslaught of a premature summer. Well, a low pressure front came through a couple of days ago and brought strong winds, thunder storms, some rain, and cooler weather. I had to break out the sweaters again.

It looks as if we will be back to normal for the foreseeable future. Next week’s forecasts show pleasant days broken by intermittent rain days. That means a continued wildflower season.

Lichen and Brittlebush
Blooming brittlebush before a lichen covered outcrop near Wickenburg, Arizona.

The brittlebush is in full bloom now and the cactus is just beginning to blossom. I recommend that you grab your camera and head to the nearest road out-of-town to capture the color while it’s here. March and April are when the Sonoran Desert is the prettiest, but this is an exceptional year. Don’t miss it.

Till then . . . jw

Desert Wildflowers

There is an upside of all the rain that we’ve experienced this winter, and that is the wildflowers that are beginning to bloom in the last week. Yesterday, Queen Anne and I had to run into town to Lowe’s, and along each side as well as in the median of Grand Avenue, we saw a beautiful display of wildflowers. There were blue lupine, orange California Poppies and African Daisies mixed in with the melon colored mallow. Of course I didn’t bring my camera.

Fence Poppies
California Poppies bloom in dense groups along the Highway 89 roadside.

I grabbed the camera bag when we got home and drove back down the road where I tried shooting a patch of poppies along the fence line. If you ever wanted to shoot desert wildflowers, this will be an exceptional year and the time to get out is now. Happy hunting.

Till then . . . jw

The Land of Two Seasons

Where did spring go? Up until last week, the Queen and I were enjoying the chilly winter days. The temperature was perfect for doing chores in the afternoons. With weekly storms passing through, we’d declare those rainy days as Lazy Days, and use them as an excuse for not working. Instead, we could enjoy the sound of rain on the roof and curl up on the couch with a good book, make a pot of hot soup, and take long afternoon naps.

Because we’re tightwads, we try to keep our electricity bills to a minimum. In winters, we keep the house a little cooler than usual. When days are sunny, we open the blinds to let the morning sun in. If the daily high exceeds the thermostat, we’ll open the doors to warm up the house. It turns out that our home is pretty well insulated and it will hold the heat gain well into the night. In dark and dreary winter days, we put on a heavier sweater and watch TV under throw-blankets.

That was the mode we were in until last Tuesday when a monster high pressure system moved in and decided to stay for a while. That’s what happens in Arizona during the summer. You have proof on the evening news. When you see that the weather map has a big “H” parked over Four Corners, it’s summer.

By last Wednesday, we started wearing shorts and tee shirts. The temperature began to climb through the seventies and kept heading towards the century mark. We’re setting records for the earliest we hit the eighties, the nineties and it may not stop there. I even scheduled my chores in the mornings before it got too hot.

So now, we’re managing the house to keep the air conditioner from coming on. In the evenings, when the outside temperature comes close to the inside thermometer, we open the house up. We shut the blinds to the morning sun and button up the house when the temperatures rise again.

I don’t think of this as summer mode because when summer comes, it’s useless to fight. We’d be better-off putting the house in an ice chest. When the heat is enough to trigger the air conditioner, it will run until winter. That’s how one copes in Arizona, we have two seasons, ‘Hot’ and ‘Not-As-Hot’.

Till next time . . . jw