Front Yard Trees Picture of the Week

Are you a punctual person, or are you chronically tardy? Our house is split evenly. Queen Anne always manages to be 15 minutes late. Even if I try to compensate by giving her a false time that we should leave to get somewhere, she somehow knows and still isn’t ready on time. One phrase that you will never hear from her is, “Sorry, I’m early.” That is a novel concept to her. It drives me crazy, and she knows it. But then she speaks to me in her low, breathy voice and circles her finger around my remaining chest hair, and then I remember why I love her so much. She’s a good cook—well, she cooks a mean bowl of cereal.

A reason that I’m writing about punctuality is that this year’s monsoons have finally shown up to the party—six-weeks late. One thing that makes Arizona summers bearable is watching majestic thunderheads build up over the mountains in the day and then enjoying the evening thunderstorms from the porch. When the summer rains arrive, they break the extreme June and early July temperatures by about ten degrees. This year, our first rain didn’t come until last week, so it stayed hot through July and August. We had 50 days of temperatures above 115º, a new record. June, July, and probably August will go down as the hottest recorded, and without the refreshing rain, brush fires have plagued the state. The smoke from California and Arizona fires has added to this summer’s miserable conditions.

Things changed last week. Between the gulf flow shifting west and a tropical depression off the coast of Baja, there are pretty clouds in the sky, and the temperatures have dropped—the last couple of days have been under the century mark. As I write and look out my office window, I can see cumulus clouds building towers over the Weaver Range. Maybe we’ll have rain again tonight. I think I’ll go to the car wash and improve our chances.

Front Yard Trees - Tall cottonwood trees grow along the road-side in front of a Ferguson Valley ranch.
Front Yard Trees – Tall cottonwood trees grow along the road-side in front of a Ferguson Valley ranch.

Looking back at the photographs from this month’s portfolio, I wonder how different they might have been, had the skies been more dramatic. Take this week’s featured image; for example—the treetops stand in for clouds. Had the sky been brimming with fluffy cumulus clouds above Baldy Mountain, would I have seen the scene differently? I can visualize that image being less about giant cottonwoods along a rancher’s fence line and more about the mountain in the background. In any case, I have to work within the given conditions, and so I took this week’s photo—called Front Yard Trees—as it was then.

You can see a larger version of Front Yard Trees on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll begin a new adventure out along another Arizona road, so come back and find out where the trail leads us.

Until next time — jw

Ferguson Valley Lichen Picture of the Week

The Queen and I went to the big city for provisions last week. We don’t get to town that often these days. We usually drive to a Costco or Lowe’s at the edge of the Phoenix suburbs, do our shopping, and then immediately get out of Dodge. Because the pandemic had us cooped up in the house for several months, we took advantage of the summer hotel prices and had a mini-vacation. I even brought my camera to take some tourist shots. That was a waste of time.

I often write about the quality of light in my posts, and during our visit, the atmosphere in Phoenix was the antithesis of light quality. With a combination of record-breaking heat, high humidity, high ozone levels, and residual forest fire smoke, it was like walking on Venus (OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration). Of the sky we could see, it was more milk than blue, and there wasn’t any cloud definition. The sky was a homogeneous white, but 100 degrees hotter than you’d experience in an Arctic blizzard white-out.

Those kinds of hot-foggy conditions not only mute the colors, but they strip your ambition to do anything outside, so I packed my camera away. We wound up buying some wine to pack into the refrigerator, turned down the air conditioning to 68º, and watched HGTV all day before switching to the Food channel in the evening. What a vacation. We were relieved to arrive home where at least we could pick out the blue sky between the clouds.

Ferguson Valley Lichen - Green lichen growing on a granite boulder in Ferguson Valley, Arizona.
Ferguson Valley Lichen – Here is green lichen growing on a granite boulder in Ferguson Valley, Arizona.

That brings me to the subject of this week’s featured image; lichen. When we lived in town, we bought several landscape boulders to decorate our yard, and I tried to pick out specimens that had lichen on them. Unfortunately, the smog is toxic to the fungus. It quickly dies, leaving no trace of its existence.

On our Ferguson Valley visit, I initially stopped for a different reason. As the dirt road passed through a wash, there was a rock formation—much like last week’s rocks—that had been eroded and fractured, like a single broken tooth remaining in a jawbone. But, as I worked the stone, I wasn’t getting a composition that made me happy. As I walked around the structure, I saw some large patches of green lichen, and that pleased me. I call this week’s photo Ferguson Valley Lichen.

You can see a larger version of Ferguson Valley Lichen on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week for the last stop on our Ferguson Valley tour.

Until next time — jw

Standing Rocks Picture of the Week

Do you remember my buddy, Fred? He’s been an actor in several of my adventures when his wife allows us to go out together. The truth is that his wife—Little Deb—and I have been longtime friends. We first met when we were both decorators at a local curtain shop, and have counseled each other through our serial marriages. I think well enough of her that I asked her to be my best man when Queen Anne and I tied the knot.

Miss Deb—as we call her now that she’s a grandma—has a caring heart, and—unlike me—will drop everything to help people out, sometimes to a fault. She must have been a nun in a past life, and she’s shorter than Sally Field (so, two and two equal Flying Nun). At one point in her life, she went through a goose phase. The art in her home involved all kinds of poultry. I think it influenced her maternal instinct because she fusses about her kids, and now grandkids, like an old mother goose.

She does have one idiosyncrasy—well, maybe more than one, but we’ll talk about those some other time. She collects rocks. Each time we’d go camping, we’d drive home with a backseat floor full of rocks—pretty rocks, interesting rocks. When she got back to the house, she would wash them, label them like an archeologist, and then carefully place them out in the yard. She’s trained Fred well. Each time we go out together, he kicks at the dirt, looking for pretty rocks to bring home. So far, they’re working on their yard’s third layer.

I tried it, and it works for me too. When I’m out on a shoot, sometimes I’ll pick up a hardened piece of dirt and toss it in the truck. When I get home, I’ll present it to Her Majesty and sincerely look her in the eyes and tell her, “I found this pretty rock, and thought of you.” Then I tell Anne that I think there’s a gemstone hidden inside. She always says, “Thank you, honey,” before she rushes to the sink with her Waterpik and tries to erode the stone to expose the jewel. It keeps her busy for hours.

Standing Rocks - A cluster of upended granite boulders that we found at the edge of a field in Ferguson Valley.
Standing Rocks – Here is a cluster of upended granite boulders that we found at the edge of a field in Ferguson Valley.

That’s the story of why—whenever I’m out on a photoshoot—I always wind up with pictures of rock piles—like this week’s featured image that I call Standing Rocks. “I saw these and I thought of you.” On our August outing to Ferguson Valley, we passed a group of granite boulders at the edge of a field. These are the same granite boulders found scattered throughout central Arizona, except some cataclysmic event upended these. They could be the Jolly Green Giant’s headstones in a cemetery overgrown with scrub oak. Anyway, when I saw this scene, I had to stop and snap a picture just for you.

You can see a larger version of Standing Rocks on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy your rocks. I think there may be a jewel hidden in them. Be sure to come back next week for another Ferguson Valley image.

Until next time — jw

Brushy Mountain Picture of the Week

 What’s your favorite color? Mine’s blue—I don’t know why, but it’s always been my go-to color. Perhaps my mother once said that it’s the color of my sparkly eyes—but then, what about my red nose? Because I like blue, I’m a commoner. A higher percentage of men and women chose blue as their color favorite. According to some Websites that I looked at, the second most popular color was either red or green. Surprisingly, yellow had the least amount of fans, but as we age, orange works it’s way to the bottom of the list. By the way, Queen Anne’s favorite is green—as in emeralds—but she wouldn’t toss a ruby out of bed for eating cookies.

If I had to pick a Crayola to color in a map of Arizona, I’d look for a color that looked like dirt. There are the reds and vermilions from the Colorado Plateau, the gold granite of the central highlands, the yellow fields of the grasslands, and the browns of the desert ranges. When I got done, the green crayon would still have a sharp point. I don’t associate green with Arizona. That color belongs to Ireland, New Zealand, or maybe Kentucky.

Sure, Arizona has a lot of greenery. Our cactus, our palms, the pines, and the Scottsdale golf courses are green, but not that vibrant hue that people in other states have. When we come across a small patch, we believe we’ve found an oasis.

Brushy Mountain - Brightly colored cottonwood trees are a sign of water nearby.
Brushy Mountain – Brightly colored cottonwood trees are a sign that water is nearby.

That’s what happened when I captured this week’s featured image. As we drove the Ferguson Valley Road, we saw a grove of healthy cottonwood trees growing in an unnamed wash. As I’ve written before, a grove of deciduous trees with Kelly-Green leaves means that there’s water near the surface. Sure enough, when I checked the Topo maps for names, they showed a spring seeping from the ground near Coughran Canyon near Skull Valley.

When I composed this image, I wanted to contrast the shade trees against the dryer chaparral and mountain in the background. It speaks to me as an island of cool in a sea of heat. I called this picture Brushy Mountain, which I’m guessing is the spring’s water source.

You can see a larger version of Brushy Mountain on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week for another image from Ferguson Valley.

Until next time — jw

Ferguson Valley Picture of the Week

Queen Anne—as my mother would frequently say—is deaf in one ear and can’t hear out of the other. However, she can tell the difference between me calling, “Anne” and the blood-curdling scream, “Aaannee.” I know this to be true because it happened this week when she rushed to my rescue.

I was busy watering the potted flowers that live on the back deck. We keep them there in the shade during the summer, and I have them arranged on the back doorstep, so the bunnies don’t get to them. It doesn’t work because one or two rabbits will scamper off whenever I open the door. I used my cute water can instead of dragging the hose to conserve water. As I finished the mums, I stepped to the left toward the geraniums. There between the two pots was a western diamondback rattlesnake lying in a wad like a pile of tan rope. It laid there motionless while I involuntarily took a couple of steps backward while I screamed in a voice a couple of octaves higher than my normal range.

When she came to see what the fuss was about, I could only stutter, “porch … snake.” She stepped outside and sized up the serpent, then went back into the house. She quickly returned with a long stick that she had used to knock down a hornet’s nest on the front porch. She marched over to the rattler—which hadn’t twitched yet—took a stance, and began whacking at it. The vermin’s head popped up like it had been sleeping and tried to escape to the left. Anne was too quick and outflanked it, then she took a couple more swings at it. Then the legless reptile reversed course and slithered across the landing before it escaped down a gap between the decking and the house.

“Now what’ll we do? What happens now?” I pestered while dancing from foot to foot like I had to go to the potty. She leaned her stick against the house and went inside and called the fire department. I stood watch, ready to run away the moment I saw any movement. When she returned, she assured me, “They said to leave it alone. It knows it’s not loved and will move on when it feels safe again. If we see it again, we’ll call them, and they’ll come to remove it for us.” I was still upset, and I whimpered while nervously rocking back and forth. That’s when she slapped me across the cheek and commanded me to “Snap out of it.” She went back inside and returned with my camera bag and shoved it into my chest and instructed me to “Shut up and get in the truck. We’ll go take some pictures.”

We drove up the mountain to Skull Valley, where it was cooler. Well, it was under a hundred, and that was better than at home. We turned onto a road named Ferguson Valley Road. The dirt trail is only 6-8 miles long, but there was enough material there to keep me busy in August. The route runs by one cattle ranch and ends at a second. I haven’t found any information about this spot on the map, so I’m surmising that the Fergusons must own one of those places.

Ferguson Valley - Against a backdrop of the Sierra Prieta range, a white ranch-house sits in pretty Ferguson Valley.
Ferguson Valley – Against a backdrop of the Sierra Prieta range, a white ranch-house sits in pretty Ferguson Valley.

Perhaps they live in the home seen in this week’s featured image. I called this photo Ferguson Valley, and I spotted this scene as we crossed over a low ridge. I liked how the white ranch buildings contrasted with the juniper and cottonwood. I also wanted the clouds forming over the Sierra Prieta range. They speak to the feeble start of this year’s monsoon season. In a typical year, there would be spectacular thunderheads building in the mountains surrounding Prescott.

It’s been several days since we last saw Fang—yes, we named it—so we’re more cautious when we’re outside. We assume the snake is out there, and we actively search for it as we move about the yard. We’re careful to keep the garage door closed, and we work as a team when exiting the house. Anne stands with her back to the wall—stick in hand—and when I open the door, she swooshes through it, scans the area, and then yells, “Clear!” The swat-team imitation repeats a couple of times until we’ve safely reached the car. I’m better now, but if we have many more rattlers visit us, we’re moving to New Zealand—if they ever let us in again.

You can see a larger version of Ferguson Valley on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week to see another image from this pretty little valley.

Until next time — jw