Lava Tube and Brittlebush Picture of the Week

Everywhere I look, the desert is yellow, and it’s as thick as a jungle out there. When Queen Anne and I run into town, the train tracks—only a block from the road—are hidden behind the dense foliage. I supposed this was predictable with the good rains we had this winter. We had a good crop of poppies this month along with purple lupine and orange mallow lining the highways.

Several plants give to the yellow with the first to bloom is the Brittlebush. Their soft yellow flowers look like small pale yellow daisies on stems rising from sage-green leaves. Unlike the poppies, their color isn’t vibrant, but they’re so pervasive that they’ll turn mountainsides yellow. They thrive in disturbed soil, like the highway shoulders.

Creosote bush adds a second note of yellow. The lowly creosote is like the lawn of the desert, except it grows 4-6 feet high. A couple of weeks ago, the field across from the park was Kelly green. The bush’s flower is small—almost like buds, and now that they’ve popped, the green has a golden tint.

The yellow crescendo comes when the Palo Verde bloom. Last week, Her Majesty and I ran down to our dentist at the border, and along the way, the trees were already blooming in the low-lands. The bloom moves through the desert like an opening curtain into the highlands. Today I see the trees in our park are beginning to show the tiny flowers. At their peak, the Palo Verde dot the mountainsides with yellow splotches. It’s then you realize that they’re growing everywhere. There’s a color symphony, and quail provide the background music with calls as they stake out their territory. It’s the best time to live in the Sonoran Desert.

Lava Tube and Brittlebush
Lava Tube and Brittlebush – Three of the flowering plants grow among the rocks below a lava tube.

When Fred and I were out taking photos in Black Canyon a couple of weeks ago, I saw lots of brittlebush growing in the lava rock cracks. Their soft yellow popped against the dark, almost black canyon walls. Since they screamed, “Spring,” I wanted to capture the contrast. Out of the several shots that I took, I liked this week’s image best.

In the shot that I call Lava Tube and Brittlebush, three plants were growing below a gaping void in the rocks. I believe it’s a tunnel that formed when the molten magma lost pressure then receded. It’s just like when you were little, and your older brother tortured you by pinning you to the floor then drooled over your face but sucked the spit back at the last moment. The threat was always worse than the spit. Oh! By the way, on your first desert visit, inevitably someone will tell you, “Don’t sick your hand into any place you can’t see.” The lava tube is an excellent example of what they mean. I tried to get Fred to see if he could find any rattlers in there, but he refused. He was no fun at all.

Oh, if you’re wondering how brittlebush got the name, here’s an example of how they look after a couple of weeks without water.

You can see a larger version of Lava Tube and Brittle Bush on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from a different Arizona site.

Until next time — jw

Black Canyon Rocks Picture of the Week

The Sonoran Desert is at its best in April, when spring drags everything back to life. The cactus bloom, mesquite trees put out new leaves, palo verde trees turn yellow, the animals are horny, and there are dead snakes all over the highway. Each year we don’t have to run the air conditioning or the heater for two months. We manage the house temperature by strategically opening or closing the windows during the day. But, along with the beauty and rebirth, we dread the coming heat with being stuck indoors and up to our eyeballs in power company debt. It’s like having sex and then a kid.

Arizona has always been hot—well, maybe except for the millions of years when it was a sea bed, but that was a fleeting moment. Not all the heat was from the weather. Our state is a hot spot for volcanic activity. We have over 600 sites of volcanic mountains, cinder cones, shield volcanoes, lava flows, and lava fields. Our two tallest mountains—Mt. Humphries in the San Francisco Peaks and Mt. Baldy in the White Mountains—are volcanoes that spewed ash, cinders, and pyroclastic flows at the same time (talk about dual exhaust). Not all the activity is ancient history. The most recent eruption was about a thousand years ago, and it’s not over yet. Geologists say there’s a 13% chance that another outbreak will happen in the next millennium.

As a photographer, all of these bumps, cracks, warts, and irregularities are what makes Arizona such a remarkable subject for pictures. I’m sure the millions of people who come and stand at the edge of our big ditch in the north would agree. So, what does all this have to do with my self-assigned Nothing project? I’m glad you asked.

As you travel north from the Nothing pass, Highway US 93 makes a downhill run to the bridges at Burro Creek, and on each side of the road is a small lava field that doesn’t have a name (according to my references). It must be ancient because it has enough vegetation that blends with the surrounding landscape. Along the flow’s southwest border, there is a spring and wash that carved a ravine through the lava bed called Black Canyon. It was this landmark that Fred and I set off to explore last week before getting distracted by George’s Camp—ooh, squirrel.

Black Canyon is easy to find from George’s because its mouth is next to the property—across the street if you will. Within a few steps, we began hiking up a wash that had cut through the dark basalt lava. As we continued, the walls grew higher, and big, water-polished basalt boulders littered the oatmeal colored sand. Their smooth surface contrasted with the rectangular blocks making up the canyon sides. Even though we walked in deep dry sand, it was clear that a lot of water must flow along the course. When wet, the dark gray boulders turn jet black which would be something to see, but since some of them were over my head, I’d prefer the higher ground.

Black Canyon Rocks
Black Canyon Rocks – Large pieces of lava that have fallen to the wash bed has been polished smooth by eons of water flow.

For this week’s featured image, I wanted to show the artistically placed smooth boulders contrasting the canyon walls. And I wanted to show the layers of textures: sand, worn stone, and rough wall. I also like the smaller white quartz placed within the basalt arrangements. Although I wasn’t paying attention to it, the mesquite’s bright new spring foliage adds dramatic color to the otherwise monochrome scene. I named this image Black Canyon Rocks.

You can see a larger version of Black Canyon Rocks on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from Nothing.

Until next time — jw


George’s Camp Picture of the Week

George's Camp
George’s Camp – Written words on the whiteboard sign note the passing of George, the painter.

Serendipity is a word that means finding something different from the thing you were trying to find. It was so overused back in my flower child days that I don’t like to use it. I wish there were a better term—but there isn’t—that describes what happened to Fred and me this week.

As I wrote in last week’s post, my project for April is to find exciting things to photograph in Nothing—the abandoned gas stop on Highway US 93. It’s a voluntary exercise to help improve my creativity. Nothing is in the middle of nowhere; I’ve been pouring over my maps the past week. I found that on the north side of the gas station, there is a sizeable lava flow. It’s spring, so there is new bright green growth on the desert plants, and that should contrast well against the black rocks. Even better, I found that the flow’s west side covered a wash or creek. Over eons, the water has opened a channel through the hardened magma, and it’s called Black Canyon (I know, there must be hundreds of Black Canyons in Arizona).

After deciding to try to follow the back trails and visit the canyon, I asked Fred if he’d like to sit shotgun. I figured that he could change a flat if needed, and he always carries his cell phone which might be handy. It surprised me when Deb permitted him to go out with me again, but only after I swore up and down that we’d be home by dark.

On Thursday we packed Archie and set out on a new adventure. We got a late start because I wanted the proper light, but the day ended in overcast, so I gave up on beautiful sunset pictures. The topo map that we brought showed a jeep trail, leading to the canyon; then we’d have a half mile hike up a pack trail at the end. As we crept along the so-called road, I knew that I had to stay left at each intersection that lay before us. The last turn put us on a rutted track where we maneuvered between boulders, but at its crest, we saw Black Canyon in the windshield which meant that we were driving along the pack trail. We would have done better with Fred’s ATV.

Well used Ford
Well used Ford – A parted out Ford truck is abandoned in camp.

As we descended to a wash we came upon a couple of sheds, and I thought, “Oh no! We’re reliving the night we spent at Stephen’s house.” You’ll remember him from our first outing where we got trapped inside private property. I got out of the truck and started calling. No one answered, so we walked around both sheds trying to find the owner. We saw the sign in the first photo that raised more questions than had answers. What Fred and I stumbled upon is—as I call it now—George’s Camp.

Macrame Tee Pee
Macrame Teepee – A hand made teepee provides a little shade in George’s front yard.

As we wandered the campsite, I wondered about George. Did he sell his paintings, had I ever seen one? How did he get groceries? What made him become a recluse? Of the artifacts we found, they seemed fresh enough to suggest that George’s passing was recent. If he had any property of value, someone had already taken them. It was apparent from the words on the sign that someone felt sad that George has moved on.

George's Cup
George’s Cup – Decorating a dead stump are a collection of household items. I wonder if George wrote the inspirational message inside of the cup.

We delayed our canyon hike long enough to look at the art pieces George had left. I tried to imagine the kind of soul that he was, and I got a bit sad that I missed meeting a fellow artist. Of the scattered yard art, the tree ornaments moved me the most, and that’s why I selected it as this week’s featured image. I call it George’s Cup. It already has a picture frame.

You can see a larger version of George’s Cup on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from Nothing. Maybe by then, we’ll make it to Black Canyon.

Until next time — jw

Large Boulder Picture of the Week

Nothing Arizona Sign
Nothing Arizona – Only a crooked sign and empty building shell are all that remains in Nothing

My generation is probably the last to have a love affair with automobiles. For us, cars defined who we were. They opened the country for us to explore. Now that we’re old, most of our recollections are car-centered, and I’m an example of that. Over my life, I’ve owned a varied stable of vehicles; from ones German engineered to station wagons that the Griswolds from Family Vacation would reject.

The car that still gives me the most angst was the Camaro that my parents gave as a wedding gift for my first marriage. It was special because it was the racecar version built for the original Trans-Am series. To qualify for the races, manufacturers had to produce at least 1,000 units, and they had to sell them through their dealer networks. Very few Americans knew they existed. I knew, because I read racing magazines, and after I got back from my overseas tour, I hunted one down. Their moniker came from the option package number—Z/28. After the first batch quickly sold out, Chevrolet offered them to the public.

It was British racing green with a pair of broad white stripes on the hood and trunk. Ours didn’t carry the familiar Z/28 badge on its nose; instead, it just had the numbers 302 which was its engine size. Trans-Am limited the displacement to 5 liters, and that meant that it was the smallest V8 that Chevrolet put into Camaros, but those engines were specially built and had more horsepower than the other power plants available. Since it was a high revving motor, you couldn’t get air conditioning or (gasp) power steering. Because I raced mine, I added 10” wide wheels and fat tires which made it near impossible for my wife to drive.

At the collector’s car auctions, 1968 Z/28s sometimes go for over a hundred grand, and because mine was a low chassis number, I believe it could’ve been more valuable if it were in pristine shape. But, I was living in a lot of turmoil and planned to move to Arizona where I would need an air-conditioned car, so I got a thousand dollars on trade for a Vega—possibly the worst purchase I ever made in my life.

It was mustard-yellow with a single black stripe. I wanted the GT version because it came with gauges instead of idiot lights. The dealer didn’t have one with air, so they installed an aftermarket unit, which was like bolting a cinder block to the side of the engine. Because of the weight and engine vibrations, the compressor fell off when the bolts sheered—twice. All of the gauges worked except for the water temperature, which I noted to the dealer while it was under warranty. They said they’d order one, but I don’t think that they ever did, and wound up rebuilding the engine after it seized from overheating.

My horrible decision meant that I gave away the impractical car that I loved, to buy the practical car that I hated, and that includes all the awful station wagons we’ve owned. Its gas mileage wasn’t any better than my hot rod, and with a nine-gallon tank, our gas stops doubled. The engine vibrations were so bad that I carried a screwdriver and wrench because, at each fill-up, I had to re-tighten the carburetor screws. The only fond memory I have of that car was besting the local legend—Don Roberts—at a Big Surf event. He drove a different Vega—a station wagon. That was a nice feather to have in my cap.

My second wife and I went to Las Vegas, Bullhead City, or one of those destinations involving Highway US 93. We packed the Vega—it never deserved a name—and headed north for the weekend. We planned gas stops in Wickenburg, Kingman, and Vegas—or wherever. However, because of the Vega’s limited range, we had to stop again after climbing the grade after the Santa Maria River—at Nothing, Arizona. I had to pay a buck-and-a-half for gas, which was highway robbery at the time. That makes me the only person in the world to have bought gas in this month’s featured destination—Nothing—population: 4.

The abandoned store in Nothing is at the top of the pass between the Poachie and Aquarius Mountain Ranges. Its elevation is 3700-feet, and the terrain is part of the granite boulder field that stretches from Prescott to Kingman. The store, as they tell it was, ”built by four drinking friends having nothing better to do.” It was open only a couple of years before being abandoned. I don’t remember this, but according to Wikipedia, in 2016, Century 21 ran a promotion for father’s day with the promotion line, “Give Dad Nothing for Father’s Day.” They sold 24-hour deeds to property in Nothing. The current property owner was in on the joke and buyers could download a gift card and a “Certificate of Nothing” valid on June 19, 2016, only.

Large Boulder
Large Boulder – The landscape in the Nothing Pass is a boulder field like this delivery-van sized example.

So for April, I will be trying to make something from Nothing—pun intended—like this week’s featured image—Large Boulder. There’s some pretty country in the pass between the Santa Maria River and Burro Creek. My job is to find enough to produce four images for April. Do you think I’m up to it?

You can see a larger version of Large Boulder on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from Nothing.

Until next time — jw

P.S. You should see my grammar checker going nuts over Nothing.

P.P.S. Speaking of old Chevys—this week I sat through a show that Queen Anne likes. I think its called The Kids Are Alright. It’s about a Catholic family with a gaggle of boys. They’re struggling to make ends meet, so they drive an old station wagon—a ’66 Chevelle. As I watched, I had to pause the show and show Her Majesty the station wagon’s nose badge. It indicated that the car had a 396 motor, but it wasn’t an SS model. Very rare and valuable.