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

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

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

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

Fred and Jim’s Excellent Misadventure

My friend Fred got a new toy for his birthday. For the last couple of years he’s been lusting for a SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle). If you’re not familiar, those are off-road buggies powered by snowmobile engines. In Congress, they’re all the rage and have all but replaced golf carts.

Last month some folks in the park sold their home and advertised their SUV on the local bulletin board. It was just the one he was hankering for, so he kilt it and brought it home for Deb. Her only comment was the smoke coming out of her ears. She looked like her power supply burnt up. It’s bright yellow Can-Am, so I tagged it Tweety, after the villainous cartoon canary that brought grief to Sylvester the cat.

Fred was all excited when he brought it over to show me. The first words that came out of my mouth were about him being forced to sleep in their trailer. After a ride around the block, we concluded that it needed a shake-down cruse. After comparing honey-do lists, our first common free day was last Thursday. We decided on a route that circled the house and would never be more than ten miles away. We were going to drive up to Stanton (a mining ghost town that is now an RV Park) then stop at the old Octave mine and finally drive the back roads home. I could bring my camera and get some shots along the way. The whole trip would take about three hours and we’d be home by dinner.

On Thursday, I cleaned my camera, charged up spare batteries and noticed that the memory card door was open, so I made a mental note to put a fresh SD card into the camera and pack a couple of spares. Fred showed up right on time at half past two. After some last-minute adjustments, including a heavy sweater and packing water, we set off.

Along the sides of US-89 there are trails that people use for SUVs and ATVs. That way they aren’t obstructing highway traffic. We drove the north-bound trail to the gas station to top off the tank. By the time we reached the station, the novelty of riding in the open and jostled about had already grown thin. There’s no heater, no doors and the only thing keeping you inside are the seat belts and a couple of strategically placed grab bars. After getting gas we had to drive the highway for another couple of miles before turning onto the dirt road that goes to Stanton. We watched the mirrors carefully for traffic and pulled to the shoulder to let cars go by.

When we reached the Stanton road, Tweety was in her element and we sailed along at a decent clip. It’s only a half-dozen miles to the ghost town and I worried that we were too early for the ‘magic light’, but we pulled into the RV Park to check it out. There are a few dwellings remaining, surrounding a Saloon (serving as an office), hotel and the remains of the old brick opera house. I wandered off to reconnoiter the buildings while Fred stopped at the office. He found out that it isn’t a park at all, it’s a mining association. Like a timeshare, you buy into the place and in return you can park your RV and work any of the claims that the association owns. Because he registered as a guest, they gave us permission to hang around and shoot some pictures, so I went for my camera and when I pulled it out of the bag; I saw that the card door was still open. I forgot to pack film; so much for the photo shoot.

We soon were off to the Octave Mine. As we drove, I made mental notes of photo locations. I also noticed that the area was crawling with prospectors working active claims. The area along the Weaver Range had several productive gold mines in the 19th Century, but they had all played out by the 1920s. Even so, along the road were gates with “No Trespassing” signs. Being very protective, when a miner’s sign says “violators will be prosecuted,” that usually means shot.

Since we didn’t have to stop for photographs we set out to find the road that would lead us home. To keep us from getting lost, I brought a topographical map and my GPS. We used them to navigate the maze of trails that crisscross the area. We would go till we found an intersection, take a reading from the GPS and find our place on the map. We sort of could figure where we were but the map and GPS seemed to disagree by about a thousand yards. By using our heading and the terrain, we could interpret our site on the map. We drove by a windmill and cattle tank (a lovely shot), we used as proof that we knew we weren’t lost.

According to the map, all we had to do was go north from the windmill a hundred yards, turn west on a jeep trail, drive south through Antelope Creek for a quarter-mile and the road we were looking for would be on the right. We’d be home early.

We quickly found the trail which led down a steep bank into a creek bed. As you’d expect, there wasn’t much of a road down there. Just intermittent tire tracks along the boulder strewn ravine. Tweety’s ease in traversing the rocky path impressed us. We concluded that this thing would go anywhere. About a mile later the trail climbed up the bank heading south and skirting a low hill. We’d missed our road, so we turned off and headed back north only to find ourselves back at the windmill.

Fred drove around for another hour searching for a way out of the maze. We were losing light and the temperature began to drop. I was glad I’d put on a heavy sweater under my jacket. When we drove by the windmill for the fourth time, the sun was almost down and we stopped to check the map. We conceded and gave up our search. The map showed that the road north would take us directly to the main Stanton road, so we decided to go home that way. Although the map said this was a major trail, it was just a couple of ruts that wove between the creosote and cactus. We could at least follow it even after we had to turn the headlights on. We dodged some cattle along the way and passed an occupied trailer.

It was dark when we drove up to the fence clearly marked “No Trespassing.” The road had come to a dead-end. We got out and looked around. Beyond the house in front of us, we could see Stanton and our road home. We backtracked a bit and discovered that the real road turned to the right which we missed in the dark. It led down a steep hill so I took the flashlight and walked in front of the buggy. At the bottom were two concrete pillars with a padlocked cable stretching between them. A sign hung in the middle which said “No Trespassing,” but that was on the other side. Aargh, somehow we had gotten on private property and it was dark in mining country.

Fred turned Tweety around and we drove back over the hill and then descended the other side. I’m not sure we were on a road, but we saw tracks which led to another locked gate and warning sign. We tried to find another way but instead just drove in circles. We couldn’t find the way in. We stopped for a while to strategize. My GPS lays cookie crumbs so we used that to retrace our steps. We decided that we had to return to the windmill and take the long way back. Fred suggested that we stop at the trailer we passed and ask for help. With that, we started re-tracking the GPS dots.

When we reached the trailer it was dark, but there were dim lights coming from inside. Fred stopped the buggy and I got out. I didn’t want to frighten anyone so as I approached the home, I held the flashlight on myself. Ten yards away I stopped and yelled, “Hello! Hello! Is anyone home in there? We need some help. Hello!”

A dog barked and that’s always a bad sign. I repeated my cry. Then Stephen stumbled out of the front door followed by a black and white puppy. “Yes officer, how can I help you?” he slurred. Were he driving, he would never have passed a breathalyzer test. Though he was fully clothed, judging from his tossed hair and disheveled clothing, we must have woken him. I moved closer to avoid having to yell. I introduced ourselves and explained our plight.

“I am a retired Air Force Commander,” he started then veered off into a paragraph of disjointed sentences. “I’m here to help you. Are you military?”

I explained that Fred was an Air Force veteran and I was in the Army, but that was long ago. “No matter,” he went on, “once military always military.” Then he let out another batch of seemingly unrelated sentences. Fred walked back to the buggy and started it.

“You said you could help,” I almost pleaded.

“I can, but your friend is rude,” he observed.

“He’s tired and frustrated, as I am. How can you help us?”

“Come inside where it’s warmer,” he said picking up the pup then stepping back into the trailer and although Dueling Banjos played in my head, I followed.

The inside of the trailer was only a bit wider than our Casita, but longer. A galley was on the left and a mattress filled the right. Neither had been recently cleaned. On the counter were two open cans of beer; a brand that hasn’t been sold in Phoenix for decades. Dishes piled up in the sink next to a rusty stove. There was a neat pile of roaches (the joint kind) in a saucer next to the door.

He tried to start another round of military conversation, but I was getting frustrated by then. I was about to give up, but instead, I cut him short. “Look, I’m tired, hungry and, frankly, a bit scared. You said you could help, but you’re not. How can we get to the Stanton Road and go home?”

“Where did you come from?” he asked.

“Congress,” I replied.

“No. I mean, how did you get here?” He was trying to analyze.

I again explained how we had taken his road, but when we went further, it was a dead-end.

“You see,” he started, “you take this road all the way and it makes a right turn down the hill.”

“Yes, but there’s a locked cable across the road,” I responded.

“I’m a retired Air Force commander and my job is to look after this land for the mining company,” he explained.

“How does that help?”

“I have the key!”

“Oh great,” I thought. How are we ever going to pile him into his truck and get him to unlock the chain? He could barely stand, let alone drive. Meanwhile Fred had shut off Tweety’s engine and was now standing behind me. “Can you come and unlock the cable for us?”

“No.”

I started again to beg his mercy, but he cut me short. “I’ll draw a map and give you the secret.” He got a sheet of paper out and began a loose interpretation of a map. I watched as he drew the road, the curve, the concrete and wire. When finished he explained, “From this pillar, about ten steps due north, is a tree stump. On the east side there is a rock at the base that covers a hole. Inside the hole is a chew tobacco tin with the key inside.”

I reached inside my pocket but couldn’t find my money clip, so I turned to Fred and gestured that I wanted some money. He handed me a five dollar bill and I turned and pressed it into Steve’s palm while shaking it. We expressed our gratitude and nearly tripped over the puppy as we ran out of the trailer.

Once we started the three-mile journey, I yelled to Fred, “If we don’t find this key, we are not stopping back at his trailer.”

He yelled back, “If we don’t find a key, we’re driving through the gate.”

Once the cable was in sight, I got out and walked to the pillar. I looked to the sky for the North Star and began to step off; one, two, three, four, five . . . OMG there was actually a stump, and the described rock. I pointed the flashlight on the rock and moved it revealing a hidden hole. In the desert, you never stick your hand into someplace you can’t see, so I pointed the light and saw the green Copenhagen tin and took it out. Inside was a little brass key. Allll-right Stevie!

I opened the padlock and dropped the cable so Fred could drive over it. After locking the cable and putting everything back in its rightful place, I jumped into Tweety and we drove twenty-five yards to what now had become the Greater Stanton Freeway. We stopped so Fred could call Deb and give her the good news. “How long will it take to get home?”

We didn’t talk much on the half-hour drive home. I noticed that I had gotten cold, so I buried my hands into my jacket pockets and tucked my nose into my collar. There wasn’t any traffic on the highway, so Fred coaxed every mile-per-hour that Tweety would go on the paved road. The knobby tires screeched at a pitch that sounded like constant phone ringing.

It was 9:15 when we arrived at my house and after unpacking my gear, Fred drove off. From what I hear, Fred can keep his toy. He just can’t go out with me ever again. Oh well; such is life.

Till then . . . jw

Resolutions and Revisions

Another new year is here bringing hope that finally, this one will be ‘our year’. It’s a clean slate; a fresh start. That’s why so many resolutions begin with a new year, and they’d probably be more successful if we didn’t have to drag so much of last year’s baggage with us. We at least have to give it a try . . . besides, if the resolution doesn’t make it to the first weekend, what’s the difference?

Snow on the Weaver Range
The Weaver Range white with snow on Christmas morning.

This year ends in a seven, and those are the years I dread. It means I’ve survived another decade. I’m beginning to run out of those. At best, I can count the ones I have left on one hand; at worst, one finger. That’s why I have to put a lot of thought into my New Year’s resolutions.

Top of the World Highway
Clouds kiss the mountain tops along the Top Of The World Highway.

As I’ve written before, the Queen and I have gone through a lot of changes in the past year. We’ve retired, moved to a new town and took a trip years in the planning. Now that the dust has settled, I have more free time. After several months of pondering, I’ve decided to use that time to focus more on my photography. I have a new freedom to go out shooting more often and if you’ve visited my Web Site recently, you may have noticed that it’s been under going several revisions.

Merritt Pass Palo Verde
The after-glow of a sunset lights a Palo Verde tree in Merritt Pass.

For almost seventeen years now, I’ve been publishing this newsletter and my subscription base, although small, has been very loyal. Some issues have been easy to write, especially when Anne or I do something outrageous that make for a good story. When that happens, my fingers can’t type fast enough to keep up with the words coming out of my head. The newsletter seems to write itself. Other times, I’ll stare at a blank screen for hours while trying to think of something to say.

Date Creek Range
The Date Creek Range at sunset on Christmas Day

During our trip last summer, I tried my hand at blogging. It started off shaky, but after I got the hang of it, it became easier. I found that I could come up with something to write about and do it more often than on a monthly schedule. Some topics were whimsical while others were more somber.

I’ve discovered several advantages in using the blog format. It allows me to write without scheduling constraints. I can communicate when I have something to say, whether it is daily or weekly. I can cover a broader range of topics. There is a built-in mechanism for you to respond and leave public comments so you can see other people’s reactions. Search engines index the blog articles, so readers can Google (Yahoo or Bing) our discussions (you won’t believe how many people want to know about Chicken Alaska). Finally, the blog is open to a world-wide audience.

Wenden Sunset
Sunset near Wenden Arizona December 2016.

With those arguments in mind, I’ve decided to move my regular newsletters into my blog pages. This will be the last regular newsletter I send via email. After that, I will only be publishing news on my blog. At the end of January, I will drop this email list and close my Emma account.

I am publishing this exact newsletter, word for word, here and on the blog, which you can see if you click on this link. I would be very much honored if you followed. If you would like an email notification when I publish a new article there is an easy way for you to sign up. At the end of the article, scroll down to the section titled Leave a Reply.

Sign Up Instructions
Check the second circled box, click the circled button, enter your email address and you’re all done.

At the bottom of the Reply section:

  1. Check the box that says “Notify me of new posts by email”
  2. Click the POST COMMENT button. That will trigger a new dialog box where you enter your email address. You’re welcome to add a few words in the comment box, but it’s optional.

I hope to see all of you on the blog, but if that’s not your choice, I’d like to thank you for being a loyal subscriber these years and maybe we’ll meet On the Road.

Till then

jw

Congress – Arizona

Here’s a final list of numbers from Fritz’s trip meter.

  • 12,079 total miles driven
  • 329.21 total hours the motor was running
  • 37 mph – the average road speed
  • 18.3 mpg – Fritz’s average miles per gallon for the trip

To put that in perspective, twelve thousand miles is just short of half way around the world. It’s about a third more that the 9,000 on Fred’s itinerary, but he based his number on point to point distances. We made a lot of side trips. My original budget proposal was only 7,000, based on a Google Maps trip to Fairbanks and back.

Yesterday’s drive went just as I imagined it. We left Bakersfield at 7:30 and stopped in Tehachapi for gas and coffee. We hit the I-40 Bridge over the Colorado River at 12:15, and then stopped for lunch in Kingman at 1:00. That’s how I called it in my earlier post.

Lunch Break in Kingman
We got to Kingman at 1:00, just as I thought we would.

We had a leisurely afternoon drive down US-93 and were home by 4:00. I wanted to brag that we made the trip without hitting a moose (there are none to hit), and that I came home without a cracked windshield. I also wanted to say we drove half way around the world without incident, but I can’t, because as we say around here, I just made the newsletter.

When we pulled up in front of the house, our neighbors, John and Reenie greeted us with waves from their front porch. Then I started to back The Ritz into the drive and around the house and deck. That’s a big u-turn pushing the trailer backwards. I did it on the first try, but it wasn’t lined up perfect, so I pulled forward to straighten it out . . . and ran over the plastic stanchion that holds the water and electricity for one of our hook-ups. Instantly we had a nice little fountain in the back yard.

The Ritz at Home
All we wanted to do was to park the trailer in a place to unload easily. To get it there, we had to back it around the house in a U-turn.

John went across the street and retrieved a water-valve shut-off wrench and we turned off the main. Since the temperature was near the century mark, we unloaded all the wine into the cooling house. Then I unhooked the trailer and made a mad rush to the hardware store to get a cap and some PVC glue, so that we could at least turn the water back on.

Broken Stanchion
The stanchion holding the water line and electrical outlet, lays shattered on the ground.

I made it before they closed and after getting home, I cleaned up the broken pipe and glued the cap on. Satisfied that the repair was good, we then turned the water back on, only to find that I broke the PVC pipe under the concrete base. The whole thing needs torn up  and replaced. So we’re waiting for the plumber to come this morning.

In the mean time, we’re living with water buckets from the John’s spigot, and bottles of drinking water we had stored in the freezer. It’s a challenge for sure, but it’s good to be home.

On another note, you’re probably interested to find out about the rest of the gang. You may remember that Fed, Deb and Sally wanted to spend more time in Canada. About ten days after we did, they crossed the border (without inspections). Then they recreated Patton’s March down the east side of the Cascades and Nevada and got home a couple of hours ahead of us.

So I guess this means, this chapter in our lives has come to a close. I have a newsletter to write sometime this weekend. If you’re a subscriber, I apologize. I guess I’ll do a follow-up of the trip. But this will be the last post about our trip to Denali. I’ve had fun writing these for you, but I’ve run out of topic and I don’t know what else to talk about.

What do you think? Have you had enough of us, or is there another subject to cover? I’d like to hear from you.

jw