Cholla and Brittlebush Picture of the Week

Cholla and Brittlebush

It’s the end of April, and last week we went from, “let’s open up the windows and let some warmth in,” to “Oh my Gawd—turn on the air conditioner.” I don’t recall a year when the temperature gained thirty degrees in a week. I’m not ready for summer; I haven’t even put my sweaters away.

Spring began with an excellent opening act here in southern Yavapai County. In case you didn’t get out, a colorful ribbon of wildflowers lined the roads for weeks. They’re now drying in the heat and will soon turn to the thick golden straw that catches fire if you look at it cross-eyed. As happens every year, the public service announcements are already predicting 2020 to be the worst fire season ever.

Even with the temperatures over 100, spring isn’t over. The second act is about to begin. That’s when the palo verde trees take center stage and sprout bright yellow blossoms. Beneath their canopy, creosote bushes put out dark green leaves punctuated with tiny dots of yellow flowers. While they’re full, they look like a proper shrubbery that any gardener would be proud to have in their garden. But don’t go planting one in your back yard. I’m sarcastic; they’re a weed.

I’m glad that we snuck out for an afternoon and got some desert colors for you—like this week’s featured photo. On the hike that I described in last week’s post, I dawdled along the way back to the truck and shot some flowers near the path. The best of the bunch was this one that I call Cholla and Brittlebush. I find that both of these subjects are hard to capture. Mature cholla is pretty when the light is behind the needles, but as they grow, the stalks are bare and unattractive. Brittlebush flowers grow like a dome covering the plant, but the yellow washes out in bright sunlight.

Cholla and Brittlebush - A young cholla and brittlebush growing under a palo verde tree near Wickenburg, Arizona.
Cholla and Brittlebush – A young cholla and brittlebush growing under a palo verde tree near Wickenburg, Arizona.

None of that happens in this week’s image. I found them growing under a palo verde tree. The cholla is a young plant, so it hasn’t had time to drop its lower branches. The backlight shows off the sharp needles, and the cactus shades the flowers. The flowers at the bottom are more rooted in color, while the sunlight washes out those at the top. There’s even a gap where the olive-colored brittlebush leaves show. The photo may not be a still life worthy of Irving Penn, but I think it explains why April is the best time to experience the Sonoran Desert.

You can see a larger version of Cholla and Brittlebush on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Next week, I’ll begin a new chapter on our back road travel adventures. I’m keeping our destination a secret so the authorities won’t stop us when we sneak out under cover of darkness. Come back next week to see what we found—if we successfully evade the quarantine police.

Until next time — jw

Box Canyon Spring Picture of the Week

I woke this morning with the lyrics of a thirty-nine-year-old song running through my head:

Just like the white-winged dove
Sings a song
Sounds like she’s singing
Who who who
Just like the white-winged dove
Sings a song
Sounds like she’s singing
Oh baby oh said oh
Edge of Seventeen—Stevie Nicks

When I opened my eyes, I knew why. Perched on the trellis outside of our bedroom window was an African Dove trying to entice some lady dove—any lady dove—to have sex with him in our bedroom. I know it’s true because his caterwauling went on for a while before he flew right into the window, leaving a dust print of his body on the glass. “Oh crap, I just cleaned that,” I griped. Anne replied, “Zzzzzznxxx,” so I got up.

I miss the mourning doves. They were the ones you most saw in Arizona. Around the turn of the millennia, these invasive replacements started showing up and pushed out our natives. They’re slightly bigger with a black collar on their neck. I admired the colors of the native doves so much that I tried to match the blue-brown taupe hues on my office walls. These foreigners are just Army-Jacket brown. Their songs aren’t right either. The mourning doves song (ooo-ahh, oo, oo, oo) had a profound sadness to it, whereas the outsider seems rushed. And what’s with their Kamikaze dive-bombing scream? They sound like Ninja Stukas attacking every female passing through his territory. It’s no wonder that the women fly off so quickly. It’s like men slapping their car sides and yelling, “Hey babe, wanna’ ride?” (Not that I know anything about that, but it never worked for me either.)

I know that my criticisms are the literary equivalent of running out on the porch and yelling, “Get off my lawn,” to no one in particular. Maybe I’ve reached a new milestone, and I’ve become Old Uncle Jim, who starts every sentence with, “Back in my day …” I doubt it. I think it’s just spring, and like everybody else, I want to get out and enjoy the world without feeling guilty. I hate spring fever this year.

Box Canyon Spring - Spring arrives at the Hassayampa Box Canyon area bringing warm days and colorful flowers.
Box Canyon Spring – Spring arrives at the Hassayampa Box Canyon area bringing warm days and colorful flowers.

Speaking of spring, how about this week’s picture? I call it Box Canyon Spring. I took this down at the Hassayampa River Box Canyon area. That’s where the river, which generally runs beneath its sandy bottom, has cut a path through a gorge. On our outing this month, I noticed this scene on our way out and stopped on our return because the light was better. I also had to hike a mile down a convenient old mine road to get a better composition—and you thought there was no exercise in photography. Anne stayed in the car while I enjoyed the colors and sounds of the late afternoon. On my return—as I got close to the truck—Anne yelled out the window, “Hey babe, you wanna ride?”

You can see a larger version of Box Canyon Spring on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Come back next week when we continue with our illicit trip to Wickenburg’s Scenic Loop.

Until next time — jw

Hassayampa Clover Picture of the Week

The signs of spring are everywhere here in the Sonoran Desert. Blue lupine, orange mallow, and yellow brittlebush carpet the roadsides. In another couple of weeks, our desert trees will renew their green foliage, and yellow flowers cover the palo verde trees. When the air is still, I can catch a whiff of the neighbor’s citrus trees, which is catnip for me. We’ve had weekly low fronts move through, keeping the temperatures fresh and the mountains wet. However, in between the cloudy days, the air is warm and bright, so it’s time to throw open the doors and windows and let in the allergens.

I have a terrible case of spring-fever, hay-fever, and a toothache, none of which I can do anything about right now. Each spring, Queen Anne and I usually jump into the car for a weekend road trip. This year—like all of you—we’re stuck at home binge-watching The Tiger King (we finished Netflix). I’ve spent the weekend napping all day, and my sinuses are acting up. I know that the pollens are causing it because this happens every year, and I’m not running a fever. I’m so paranoid because of the pandemic, it makes me question if I’ve caught the virus, and I have panic attacks until Anne slaps my face and yells, “Get over it.” I think she gets into it because she’s whacked me hard and often enough that I need to visit my dentist about a loose tooth—but the government has closed the border.

Hassayampa Clover - Purple Owl's Clover carpet the desert floor near the Hassayampa River Box Canyon.
Hassayampa Clover – Purple Owl’s Clover carpets the desert floor near the Hassayampa River Box Canyon.

After I calm down, I retreat into my office and work on the pictures I shot for you, like this week’s image called Hassayampa Clover. It’s one of the photos that I captured on our clandestine outing last week. It’s another view of purple owl’s clover, but in this case, I’ve included the surroundings near the Hassayampa River (which loosely translates into the upside-down river).

The bare hackberry and mesquite among the purple carpet are a giveaway that its early springtime. As the days warm, all of the plants sprout and obscure the landscape. You really can’t see the desert through the brush. The desert stays pretty like that until summer when they’ll drop their leaves again to survive the heat.

Doesn’t the scene make you want to kick off your shoes and skip through the clover? You’d be sorry. The ground is full of sharp rocks, cactus needles, cow pies, ants, scorpions, and the snakes are active already. You’re better off to enjoy the view from your computer screen and let me do all of the dangerous work.

You can see a larger version of Hassayampa Clover on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Come back next week when we continue with our illicit trip to Wickenburg’s Scenic Loop.

Until next time — jw

Purple Owl’s Clover Picture of the Week

I’m amazed at how much things have changed in a month, and how current events are forcing me to find new ways to provide new content for you. Last month was Anne’s knee surgery, where I needed to stay close to home and care for her. Now that she’s on the mend, I thought I’d be able to go on one of my road trips and gather new subject matter, but that’s not happening. With the pandemic looming over us, our Governor has ordered us to “Stay At Home” unless it’s for essential services. His list of critical activities includes playing golf—as a form of exercise.

Those of you that know me well know that I’m not a rebel. I’m no James Dean, and I usually follow the rules. In other words, I’m a coward. I’ve spent the last week anxiously trying to figure a way to get new photographs for you. Should I go on my planned trip? Should I cancel my blog this month? My stomach was in knots, and I wasn’t sleeping well. I was only getting two naps a day instead of my usual three.

I spent the beginning of the week perusing the Governor’s proclamation, and I came up with an answer. Instead of taking a trip out of town, I’d pick an empty road in Wickenburg. That way, if the Gendarmes stopped us, I could say that we’d gotten lost on the way to the golf course, and we were only exercising.

The road we picked is called The Scenic Loop—seriously, that’s its name. It starts at US 93 north of town and goes past the Hassayampa River Box Canyon before it winds up at the Boyd Ranch. We had no problem keeping a safe distance from other people because we were alone. In the two hours we photographed, I got enough material to keep me locked in my office until June.

Another big difference is the contrast between March’s pictures and those I have for April. Last month was about winter and old gnarly cottonwood trees. This month’s series is about spring, color, and new growth. April is always the prettiest time to be in the Sonoran Desert.

Purple Owl's Clover - In the years when the winter is wet, the desert gets painted with wildflowers in spring.
Purple Owl’s Clover – In the years when the winter is wet, the desert gets painted with wildflowers in spring.

This week’s featured image is an example of what I mean. Usually, the desert floor between cacti is bare gravel, but not this week. It’s full of grass and wildflowers, and in this case, a patch of Purple Owl’s Clover. I don’t think it’s related to the tiny white flowers that get into your lawn; they just look the same. Patches such as these appear on flats where there’s Goldilocks water (just right).

You can see a larger version of Purple Owl’s Clover on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Come back next week when we continue with our illicit trip along Wickenburg’s Scenic Loop.

Until next time — jw

Date Creek Mountain Range New YouTube Video

I don’t know what you were doing at midnight, but you missed the premier of my new film. I remember how movies opened from when I was a teen living in Los Angeles. All of the bejeweled stars came to the theater to parade between spotlights and walk on the red carpet. The opening generated a lot of publicity for the movie. It was quite the Hollywood occasion.

Because of our epidemic, Anne and I toned ours down somewhat. I stood on the front porch and waved my led flashlights around for a while before I threw a red towel down so that Queen Anne could stop me for an interview. “Are you aware that you’re an idiot,” she asked. “It took you 33 years to figure that out,” I replied. Our red carpet ceremonies almost made it to midnight, but we had to stop when the guy across the street open his door and yelled, “Turn that damn light off.” We went inside and waited until YouTube released the video.

The video is the second in my series featuring the desert mountain ranges here in the Sonoran Desert. These mountains aren’t the stars like Denali, Whitney, or Arizona’s Mt. Humphrys. These are the bit players that no one cares about. So I came up with this project to feature each of them with a short YouTube video. I’m starting with the ranges near the house and I plan to spiral outward. It keeps me out of Anne’s hair.

The new video features the Date Creek Range where Congress is. It’s one of the smaller ranges on my maps and doesn’t even have a mountain big enough to warrant its own name. I shot it using my drones this winter in between rainstorms. (You may have noticed drone is plural—I had to replace my first one when one of the peaks suddenly opened up and swallowed it whole.)

I have included the video in this post but its YouTube link is It was filmed in 4k so if you have one of those smart TVs, you can get the full effects by watching it there. To see it, bring up YouTube on your TV and search for Jim Witkowski (there are several, but I’m the old guy in the baseball cap), and navigate to my Arizona Desert Mountains channel. I hope you enjoy watching it and consider sharing it with your friends and family.

Until next time — jw