Dan Gurney, 1931-2018

Dan Gurney photo in Autoweek story. (I wish that I had scanned my slides for a suitable photo of my own to put here.)

Every kid should have a hero; somebody they can look up to and emulate; someone they can put a target on and think, “I want to be like that when I grow up.” That’s why heroes should live to a higher standard; something that seems increasingly hard to do. Perhaps that’s why the age of heroes is dwindling.

I found my hero during a Southern California junior high school shop class. Shop—like the gym—were compulsory classes for a well-rounded education. I hated them. Because I was such a nerd I didn’t do well, and the other boys could smell my insecurity and would circle me, like sharks in bloody water. The cookie cutters that I made weren’t the perfect circles and stars like they made. I probably only got a passing grade because I showed up each day.

That was at the outset of the Southern California car mania, and we were all jacked up on pre-pubescent hormones and we substituted souped-up Fords and Chevys for unrequited sex. At least, those were the magazines allowed in the classroom. In class, I rummaged through piles of Hot-Rod and Motor Trend and found a single issue of Sports Car Illustrated, a car magazine about small European cars and racing more than just accelerating down a drag strip. I took it home and read it cover to cover. This magazine had articles about Jaguars, Porsches, and (drool) Ferraris—with their glorious high-pitched V-12 engines, “OMG; I have to hear that someday.”

It was the first time I read about the pinnacle auto racing circuit—Formula One. The magazine wrote about the European stars such as Graham Hill, Jimmy Clark, Jack Brabham, and a tall American—from California no less—Dan Gurney. That was a life-changing moment and I left drag racing behind and followed a different path.

I read about Dan’s career as he won Formula One races and then Le Mans. In high school one year, my friends drove out to the Riverside track and watched as he schooled NASCAR’s best drivers on a road course (five times in a row). On TV, I cheered his Indy attempts. He was the first driver to win races in Formula One, Indy Car, and NASCAR. His persona was more suited for the Indianapolis milk gulp than Champaign and that may be the reason he invented the inverted Champaign spray—an honored motorsport tradition. After he retired from driving, he continued in racing as a successful team owner and car builder. I admired him enough that when I got to pick out car number in my brief racing career, I chose number 48; as a tribute.

In my early thirties, I was working for a company that flew me to a morning seminar in Orange County. Since my afternoon was free, I booked a later flight and called my friend Gary Wheeler and arranged to have lunch. Gary worked for Dan’s company as an engineer at the time, so I was very interested in hearing about his job. After lunch, Gary took me back to the shop and showed me around. We even went into the boneyard where old racecar parts were kept. I wanted to snitch something for memorabilia, but I didn’t have a way to get it on the plane. In the middle of his tour, Dan came out of the office with an errand that he needed Gary to run. Gary said sure, and in return, he asked Dan if he could drop me off at the Orange County Airport. I was stage-struck when during the introductions anyway, but my heart leaped into my throat during that conversation. Dan said, “Of course, get your things.” I grabbed my briefcase and followed him out to—of all the exotic cars that I envisioned Dan driving—the shop’s Pinto. For me, the five-mile ride to the airport was a New York ticker-tape parade. My head was in the clouds.

Yesterday, my friend Jeff forwarded news that Dan had passed at the age of 86 from pneumonia complications. It’s a very dark day for motorsports worldwide and me personally. I will miss his soft-spoken voice and infectious smile, but I will always remember his triumphs. It’s a very sad moment in my life.

Thanks for the ride Dan.

Until next time — jw

Sunsets and Time Travelers

Wenden Sunset
Wenden Sunset – Wispy clouds illuminated by the setting sun near Wenden, Arizona

Because I’m over sixty, I have to get my Arizona driver’s license renewed every five years. Arizona licenses don’t otherwise expire until you reach that age. After sixty, you have to prove that you can still read by taking an eye exam. It’s another example of geezer discrimination. The list of old person bias is long, but I’m not here to complain about that—I have other things on my mind.

On the plus side, there are perks to being grey-haired. We get to wear slacks up to our nipples, we wear white belts any time of the year, we’re allowed to wear black socks with sandals, and we can spend every day on a golf course. Since I don’t play golf, I compensate by sitting around the house whiling-away my time with my idle brain thinking about completely useless crap. Because I do that, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a couple of brain worms get stuck in there, so I need to run them by you and try to drain the swamp to make room for new useless crap.

The worms crawled in after I wrote a post about light and photography (this one) in which I explained that the sun’s light was more pleasing in the early morning and evenings because of the long shadows and the sun’s warmer colors. What I failed to mention was that the morning colors are not exactly the same as sunset’s. Although the color gets warmer because the sun’s rays travel further through the atmosphere then they do at noon; the mornings are yellowish while sunsets are warmer—more orange. I’m not the only one who has noticed this phenomenon as I’ve read other photographer’s accounts on the subject. Since the atmosphere is the same thickness at each horizon, what causes this apparent color shift?

Well … the time I watched PBS, I saw a show about some Einstein guy and his so-called Relativity Theory, so I made up my answer based on the Doppler effect—like how the sound of a train changes pitch as it passes. My explanation is that since the earth rotates on its axis at 1,000 miles an hour, the sun’s light waves are compressed at sunrise relative to sunset. That’s because you’re moving toward the light in the morning and away from it in the evening. The color of the compressed waves shifts infinitesimally bluer and the stretched light waves are redder. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I was perfectly happy keeping my belief a secret until recently.

Another way I waste my non-golfing time is sitting in my Barkalounger 6000 bingeing on Netflix. The newest show we’ve been watching is Travelers. In the show, Will—of Will and Grace, who is suddenly straight—is part of a group of people who travel back in time to change events that eventually lead to the demise of civilization. The show has moral overtones that deal with artificial intelligence and religion that I don’t want to go into now, but its entertaining Sci-Fi.

At the same time, every Wednesday, Queen Anne and her girlfriends get together and watch a show called Outlander and it also has a time travel plot. I really believe they watch it to see the hunk they drool over, but in Outlander, the heroine jumps a couple of centuries somewhere in Scotland. I haven’t watched it and what I know comes from Anne’s babbling when she comes home all flushed and frisky. I have to feign headaches.

Here’s what’s been keeping me awake at nights. Time travel is not just impractical, it’s impossible, and my reasoning doesn’t even involve the Marty Fly Conundrum—dating your own mother. I’m a skeptic solely on the time/space aspects of such travel and I’m surprised someone else hasn’t brought this up before.

So, you’re a hot shoe because you speed down the Interstate at 85 miles an hour, or even better, maybe you’re a jet jockey who flies at the speed of sound. Big deal, I got you beat sitting in my lounge char spinning around the world at 1,000 miles an hour. Think about that: We constantly move faster than the speed of sound. That means that if you got into your time machine and went back just one hour, you’d wind up an hour ago but in a different time zone. That’s only the beginning. While we’re on this supersonic merry-go-round, we’re also zooming around the sun at 65,600 miles an hour. Imagine setting your way-back machine for one hour. You’d pop out somewhere on the orbital path sixty-thousand miles in front of the planet, and you’d better move because you’re about to become a bug on earth’s windshield when it catches up to you in precisely sixty minutes. It gets better. Our solar system is on one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms that orbit the galactic center at 450,000 miles each hour. And if that wasn’t enough, consider this: The Milky Way is moving away from the Local Void each hour by 1.3 million miles. So far, our total speed is only 0.19% of the speed of light so at least we aren’t close to breaking that speed limit, but we don’t know if our universe is stationary or floating through some cosmic Jell-O.

What I’m getting at with these staggering speeds is that to travel in time, you would need to plot and navigate back to a point somewhere in the Cosmos that you were an hour ago and it’s already more than a million miles away. Your calculations would need to be accurate with a precision beyond any computer that we have … and let me remind you how late your last flight arrived. When you think about this complexity, keep in mind how fast your gas gauge moves when your Chevy pickup speeds down the highway. The amount of energy required to instantaneously travel such a vast distance doesn’t exist. As Kelli Bundy said, “The mind wobbles.” I’ll add, “Get over it. It can’t be done.”

Oh, what a relief! I feel so much better now that I got that off my chest. Maybe now I can get some sleep. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my cheeseburger and I are going to jump into bed quickly before Anne gets home from her girls-night-out demanding that I dress up in the kilt she bought for me.

Until next time — jw

The Town That Never Was Why Yavapai

 

Robson Mining World Sign
Robson Mining World Sign – The entrance to Robson Mining World is bullet-riddled Yavapai Apache riding a pinto.

I grew up during the era of the TV cowboy. After dinner, my family would gather in the living room and watch shows like Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Maverick, and Have Gun—Will Travel to name a few. My dad was a tyrant about the shows we watched and we kids were the remote. Maybe that’s the reason I—and perhaps all my generation—have a fascination with ghost towns. We grew up with Tombstone, Dodge, and Virginia City on our TVs, and vowed to visit them one day. Maybe we’re longing for a simpler time—when the good guy wore a white hat.

The ghost towns best known in Arizona are Jerome, Tombstone, and my favorite, Bisbee. All of these places have residents, so they’re not as much a ghost town as they are tourist traps. A mining town’s fortune is dependent on the mineral wealth removed from the ground. The town’s size correlates perfectly with the amount of ore; be it gold, silver or copper. As soon as the ore plays out, people move on to the next bonanza leaving the hovels and shacks they occupied behind. Without maintenance, those relics soon rot or they’re repurposed for sheds, outhouses, or worst of all, firewood. Most often, when you visit a ghost town, the only things you find are a slab or wall. There’s not much interesting left to photograph. Fortunately, there are exceptions where a state or county government acquired and preserved the scene as a park, such as Bodie and Calico in California.

Yavapai County, where Queen Anne and I live, has its share of Ghost Towns—including Jerome—the most famous. Most of the old sites are high in the Bradshaw Mountains, but mining towns are scattered throughout all the Yavapai mountain ranges; including Congress—our hometown. It wasn’t until we moved here a couple of years ago that I learned about the best ghost town ever, and it’s a mere fifteen miles down the road tucked into the south-eastern flank of the Harcuvar Range.

Travel west on Highway US 60 and Aguila is the first small farm community you’ll come to. The name is Spanish for Eagle derived from the eagle-shaped window in the low mountain overlooking the town’s cemetery. The western terminus of Arizona State Route 71 is a mile east of Aguila, and that’s the short-cut you take if you’re heading northeast to Congress or Prescott from California. Just before the road crosses the Maricopa-Yavapai County line is a sign with a bullet-riddled Indian riding a pinto horse. The sign is for Robson’s Mining World—the ghost town you can see at the mountain base. It’s a mining town that no one ever lived in, but has an interesting story nevertheless.

Robson Ranch Booth
Robson Ranch Booth – When you enter the town’s soda parlor, you’d expect to order a milkshake. You’d be disappointed because it’s all for a show.

The gold mine at the end of the trail was first claimed in 1917 by Westley Rush, an Aguila melon farmer. Rush’s two daughters—Nella and Alameda, for whom the Nella-Meda gold mine was named—managed to hand dig through the first 115 feet of solid rock before Ned Creighton—a Phoenix banker—bought the claim in 1924. Ned hired a crew to work the mine, and over decades he expanded the claim to its present size. His crew worked until World War II when the Feds shut down all private mines. The mining engineer, Harold Mason, stayed on as caretaker and eventually got the property deed after Ned passed.

After the war, Charles Robson was building his fortune by farming, running the Saguaro motel in Aguila, and hustling the health benefits of his local bee pollen. Harold and Charley became acquaintances when Mason let Robson place hives at the mine. There were minerals around the mine that made the bee pollen exceptional and the bees deterred poachers. That informal partnership lasted until 1979 when Charlie bought the mine from the aging Mason. Robson had bigger plans for the place.

Cash Register – What this old cash register lacks in functionality, it makes up for with class.

Meanwhile, in 1922, Wilber T. Johnson migrated from Missouri to Apache Junction—a community east of Phoenix at the foot of the Superstition Mountains—so he could work in the mines. In 1930, Wilber traded his pick and shovel for an engineering degree from the University of Arizona which made him a highly valued employee. Now we’d call Wilber a hoarder because he collected mine junk—lots of mine junk—for the next fifty years. Johnson got his stash from abandoned mines in the Superstition Mountains, the Mazatzal Mountains, and other mines east of Phoenix and because of its size, his collection wasn’t a big secret. He reputedly turned down a multi-million-dollar offer from Disneyland Tokyo because he knew that they cherry pick the best and discard the rest.

Mack Truck
Mack Truck – A classic truck that miners used to haul stuff.

After Charles Robson acquired the mine, he offered to buy Wilber’s collection and the two men finally struck a deal when Charlie promised that the collection would stay intact on Robson’s property. The ink on the signatures hadn’t dried yet before more than 250 truckloads moved decades of mining history to its new home. For ten years Charles, his wife, Jeri, and their sons reassembled the buildings and filled them with the collection’s artifacts. After Charlie died in 2002, Jeri carried on the dream, and toward the end of her life sold the place lock, stock, and barrel to Western Destinations Corporation—the present owners—on the stipulation that nothing ever leaves the property.

Water Truck
Water Truck – A GMC truck that was used to haul water up from the well to the mine.

There’s a small garden in front of the Opera House where we sat in a mesquite tree’s shade as Brett Bishop told me this story. He’s the current caretaker and he and his family live on site. He’s a young man, and when he’s not greeting visitors he keeps busy unpacking the remaining crates and creatively arranging the contents for display. It’s easy to tell—from the tone of his voice and the sparkle in his eyes—that he loves his job. He calls Robson’s a living museum and he often must unravel the mystery of the items he finds in the boxes.

If you’re a photographer interested in nostalgia, I highly recommend a visit. The cost is $20.00 per person which goes toward upkeep. Don’t count on food or entertainment and even the restrooms are period authentic—that’s right; crescent moons. The mile-long dirt road is navigable by a sedan, except after heavy rains. I know that Robson’s will become one of my resources.

Until next time — jw

Observations on a Winter’s Morning

After listening to the radio reports of sub-freezing nation-wide temperatures, I donned my blue light-weight jacket and straw hat as protection against the 48º (F) biting chill and left the house for my daily dawn walk around our compound. The sun was lurking behind the Weaver Range and it turned an overhead cloud into a streak of crimson. I couldn’t decide if it was the Arctic Blast or the red sky that stole my breath.

I’m of course telling you this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, but it’s an Arizona law commanding us to brag about our winters just like our law that says we have to tell out-of-state relatives that we’re having Thanksgiving by the pool, regardless of having one. I’m just a law-abiding citizen.

On this morning’s walk, however, I did notice a couple of things that concerned me and another that brought joy. Unlike last year’s wet winter which brought snow to the mountains flanking our east, this winter has been warm and dry. The last measurable rain in Phoenix was August 23rd. That’s not good even though our RV Park is packed with northern people. Octogenarians partying in shorts and loud shirts late into the night dancing the Limbo next to a roaring campfire (do they know we don’t do that here?). All fun I guess, but winter rains are important for us. We count on them for spring wildflowers. More importantly, the mountain snowpack’s feed the streams and rivers where we keep the water Phoenix needs.

The first example I have is this brittlebush. It has flowers which is something that happens in early spring—not at the beginning of winter. In spring the daisy-like yellow flowers cover the brittlebush and they carpet the desert floor, then the heat sets in and the plants shrivel into dry sticks—hence the name.

Brittlebush in January
January Brittlebush – Brittlebush normally sends out daisy-like yellow flowers carpeting the desert floor in early spring.

At the south-east corner of the park, down by the water treatment plant is a large ash tree where our resident Cooper’s hawk nests in the spring. Ash trees in Arizona are always late to turn color, but this one is still green. I don’t know if something in the leach field keeps it green, or the unusually warm weather is affecting the leaves from turning. In either case, it’s not the norm.

Winter Ash
Winter Ash – Ash trees (background) are always late to turn color in Arizona, this one may have missed the bus.

When I got to our cactus park, I was glad to see that the warmth has not prevented the columnar cacti—the ones that look like pipes—from sprouting their winter bloom. This only happens during the coldest part of the year and the cup-like flower stay until the nights warm again. Since we haven’t had a freeze this year, I worried that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the flowers. Strangely, neighbors living near the park report hearing melodic noises during last night’s (super) full moon. They all said that they heard the soft chanting of “Whip-it, whip-it good” drifting across the night air.

Winter Blossoms
Winter Blossoms – Only on the coldest nights of winter do the columnar cactus sprout these cup-like white flowers.

Until next time — jw

Bring On the Next One Looking To The New Year

The winter solstice and the seasonal holidays are behind us. Instead of taking the tree down and packing the fake pine boughs away in the closet, we’re making strategery for next year. Judging from January’s schedule, 2018 will be a busy year.

One of my 2017 goals was to take part in four Art Shows. I thought that would be a big enough number to keep us busy throughout the year. We actually doubled the goal and finished the year doing eight shows. In 2018, I set the bar higher and set the goal at eight hoping to match last year’s success. With the New Year less than a week away, I’ve been framing prints for three January shows in Wickenburg.

Piedmont Crossing
Alone and in the middle of nowhere, I found this crossing guard with enough moonlight on it to make a picture.
Cinderhills and Clouds
On the high plains of Western New Mexico, puffy clouds cast a shadow on one of the cinder hills.

The biggest of the three is Wickenburg Art Club’s annual Double Takes exhibit. For several years now, the Art Club’s photographers submit photographs that the club’s sculptors, painters, and weavers use as creative inspiration. In January, the photograph and interpretation are displayed as pairs. This year, the newly formed Writers Group gets to gets to be part of the action. Artists have selected four of my photographs and I’m excited to see the results. The show’s grand opening is the evening of Saturday, January 6th from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. If you can join us, Queen Anne and I would love to see you. The show will run in the Clubhouse Main Gallery at 188 South Tegner Street through February 6th. I hope you can stop by and enjoy the show.

Yellow Field
Just east of the New Mexico-Arizona border was a field of yellow flowers with Escudilla Mountain in the background.
Sunset Thunderhead
As the sun began to drop below the horizon, this beautiful thunderhead moved southward over the Weaver Range.

Then, starting on Thursday, January 11th, the Photography Group is hosting a series of eight basic photography classes. These sessions are open to club members and the public and they’re free. The informal classes will be held each Thursday at 1:00 pm in the Clubhouse meeting room and should last a couple of hours each. A different club member will lead each session and the classes cover a wide gamut of photo subjects including two meetings where you can bring in your camera or photographs and ask questions.  The classes are intended is to take some of the mystery out of photography and help you understand your camera and the creative process. I hope to see some of you there.

Until next time — jw

Bah—Humbug

I spent all day making this Christmas Card for you.

Candy Cane Remains
A plate full of candy cane crumbs is a sure sign that Santa was here.
Ginger Boy's Tragic Accident
Just because it’s the Holidays doesn’t mean you can ignore safety.
Perfect Dinner
Oh boy! I can’t wait for Christmas dinner because we’re having cranberry sauce molded in the shape of a can.

Until next time … jw

On Seeing A Photograph — Part 3 Go Into The Light

One good thing about photography as an art is that you don’t have to lug around a truck-load of equipment. You don’t need easels, dozens of brushes, tubes of paint, and canvases. All you need is to show up with a camera and some light. That’s an important enough concept for me to repeat myself. There are four variables in photography: the photographer, the subject, the camera, and the light.

If photography is that simple, then why are some people so much better at it? As I’ve previously said, most people assume it’s the camera, which I’ve already discounted. “It must be the subjects then,” you’d suggest. My answer to that would be that you could open Google and search for photos of Delicate Arch (Arches National Park Utah). There are hundreds of photos of the iconic arch, but some stand out from the crowd. Of the two remaining variables, I think that learning to understand lighting is the more important. “But, light is light,” you protest. “Au contraire, mon ami,” I answer. You say that because you haven’t bothered to notice.

When I took classes at Art Center College of Design, the school felt that lighting is so important to photography that the first two exercises we had to complete involved lighting. In the first, we had to make shapes—a ball, a cone, and a cylinder—out of white paper. Then we photographed those shapes before a white background of the same paper. The point of the exercise was to teach us how to separate the foreground from the backdrop using light. The other assignment was to recreate the studio lighting from a ‘40s movie studio still-shot. Instructors assigned us a photograph that we were to analyze, then set up the lights and shoot our model using a single-, two-, or three-light set-up. “Well, that’s all good in the studio, but you don’t get to do that out in the wilderness,” you say. And I’d repeat my French answer. If you want to improve your photography, you need to understand how light works. True, the sun isn’t on a light stand that you can just move around, but you can learn when the light will be better so you can tell your story—even if it means having to wait for it.

Studio Spotlight
A spotlight throws an intense narrow beam of light.
Lights With Diffusers
A diffuse light source casts a broader beam and softens harsh shadows. They’re most effective when placed close to a subject because as you move them away, they begin to act as a point source.

There are two types of light sources; a point source and diffuse source. In a studio, a point source is a spotlight. It throws off a narrow beam of light creating dramatic highlights and shadows (high contrast) and it’s often called a key light. Sometimes the dark shadows are softened with asecond—less intense—light called a fill light. Outdoors, the spotlight’s equivalent is the sun, moon, or a single street lamp. On the other hand, a diffuse light is broad and even; like a fluorescent light, a window without direct sunlight, or even a spotlight with a semi-opaque cover (a diffuser). The light is softer and the shadows are not as harsh. In landscape photography, you get diffuse light on a cloudy day, in a building’s shady side, or at dusk and dawn.

With any light source, its angle to the subject makes a difference too. If the light is directly behind the camera, it will flatten details, while a sidelight emphasizes textures. A light behind a subject—called a backlight—will emphasize feathery edges—like hair or grasses—giving a halo effect. Finally, an overhead light is just another side light from a different direction. Each of the lighting directions—and combinations of them—will show off different qualities of your subject. As a photographer, it’s up to you to choose the light angle that tells your story best.

Morning Light.
This is a simple snapshot of some Congress Hills. The camera, scene, processing are the same. The difference is the time of day they were shot.
Light at High Noon
In this version, the sun was directly behind the camera. Notice the lack of texture in the drive and mountains.
Late Afternoon
In this version, the sun was lower in the west. I feel that the hills show better in the morning shot, but this version best shows the texture in the road. The other noticeable difference here is the warmth of the sun’s light.

Finally, the third aspect of light that is important is color. Part of a stage director’s arsenal is changing the color of lights to set the tone or mood in a play. People who aren’t aware of small color variations, see light as always being the same because our brains compensate for it. I remember the “Stone Age” of photography, blue flashbulbs, and questions like, “Why are my party pictures so yellow?” It’s because the color of light is different between a tungsten light bulb and the sun and those color differences are measurable in degrees of heat, not in Fahrenheit or Celsius, but Kelvin—a much broader scale of temperature used by astronomers. The light bulb burns at only 3000° K, while the sun burns at 5778° K. Another tidbit about the sun is that it’s not yellow—it’s white. It’s always been white for as long as man’s been on earth. Although doing so wouldn’t be very smart, if you looked directly at the noon sun, you’d see white. Only when the sun’s rays travel through extra miles of atmosphere do they seem redder. With digital cameras, this is the topic of White Balance, a discussion I’ll save for later when we talk about cameras. For now, let’s just say that warmer colors seem romantic (sunsets and candlelight) while the bright white or bluish appear cold (icebergs and igloos).

Light attributes that we’ve discussed here combine to create something ethereal called light value. The light’s intensity, its angle, and its color are the things that successful photographers understand and use to improve their images. They show off their subject in the best light (sorry, I couldn’t resist). So, what is photography’s best light? All of them I’m afraid. It’s like asking what color or brush makes the best painting. All the light values are in your toolbox for you to use, and you must search which best suits the story you’re telling. Don’t get stuck using only one, experiment and learn what works best for you and for the style you’re developing.

Until next time … jw