Joshua Tree Below Picture of the Week

Everyone has several traits that make up their personality, and psychologists measure these traits by where they fit on a line—called a continuum. The most common example is being an extrovert or an introvert. Most people fit in the middle, of course, but some people are really outgoing and unconstrained, while others are shy or withdrawn. I’ll bet, off the top of your head, you can name several people on either side of that teeter-totter.

Another—lesser-known—continuum is thrill-seekers. Even if you’re not adventurous, you’re still somewhere along that line—maybe just right of center. You can name friends that will jump out of a perfectly good airplane while others avoid sidewalk cracks. I’m a moderate risk taker, but there are certain things I won’t do. I’m not too fond of roller coasters, for example. More accurately, I don’t like the initial weightless drop—I’m fine with the sharp twists and turns throughout the ride’s latter part.

Another fun thing that I can’t make myself do is bungee jumping. I’m confident that the hosts know what they’re doing, and the physics have been worked out to the last decimal place. I also know that with my obesity, jumping off a bridge would lead to my premature demise. And I can tell you exactly how it happens.

I’d have to watch at least a half dozen people come back alive before I summoned up the courage to give it a try. Once I put on the helmet and harness, I’d be trapped. Somehow, I’d climb up on the railing and stand there for an eternity before closing my eyes and jumping. That’s just the beginning of the end. When that feeling of weightlessness first hit my stomach, I’d spew the old Technicolor yawn. As I fell through the air, I’d be surrounded by atomized droplets of my morning breakfast. Then at the bottom, I’d start the rebound only to find out that Galileo was wrong. I’d hurtle upstream through my own mouth shower. At the apex, I’d catch a whiff of my own stench and spew second upchuck, and I would fall through that mess a second time. But—at the bottom—the overstressed bungee cord catastrophically fail, and I’d do a belly flop on the ground. As I lie there, a gentle vomit mist would fall, covering my lifeless body. For a final insult—and as everyone who watches South Park knows—your bowels release the moment you die. No one would ever volunteer to come and clean up that mess. The authorities would throw a blue tarp over me, and that spot would become my forever resting place.

Joshua Tree Below - The sight of a pointy object, like this Joshua Tree, hurtling towards you should make you reconsider skydiving in the Sonoran Desert.
Joshua Tree Below – The sight of a pointy object, like this Joshua Tree, hurtling towards you should make you reconsider skydiving in the Sonoran Desert.

What motivated me to consider my tragic demise was this week’s featured image—Joshua Tree Below. All I intended to capture was a different view of one of our Joshua Trees—the large tree in the second image, to be exact. But, when I processed the photo, it became obvious why no one should skydive in the Sonoran Desert—no matter where they lie on the Thrill Seeker Continuum.

Black Mountain Joshua - The large Joshua Tree before Black Mountain is the model I used for this week's featured image.
Black Mountain Joshua – The large Joshua Tree before Black Mountain is the model I used for this week’s featured image.

You can see a larger version of Joshua Tree Below on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we begin a series of photos from Skull Valley.

Until next time — jw

Grazing Horses Picture of the Week

I’m a flexible person. Not in the word’s literal sense. You’ll never see me wearing my onesie running and flopping about on some rubber mat at your gym (try to get that picture out of your mind soon). I mean that when I’m presented with valid alternatives, I can change my priorities—like with this week’s image.

I got out of bed extra early this Thursday to drive up the hill and take sunrise pictures. I knew what subject I wanted to shoot and had planned my outing before I ever got out of bed. When I left the house with my cameras and thermos of hot coffee, the light was beginning to break in the east, and I knew that I could get to Skull Valley just as the sun rose over the Sierra Prieta Range. After all, this is the way we go to Prescott all of the time. The trip was as routine as a run to the corner store for a pack of Chesterfields.

I was right, of course. As I hauled my equipment out of the car, there was no one around, not even on the busy highway. Only me and my subject were there, so I quietly got to work. Fifteen minutes later, I put my junk back into the truck, and I began the drive home.

As I drove south, I wondered if the Ranch House Restaurant would be open when I got to Yarnell. They don’t open until seven, and that’s only on the weekends. It’s a good breakfast stop. Then, as your mind wants to do, I began deciding what to order. I love their ham and eggs, but their serving is so large, the ham comes on its own plate. I usually take half of it home and make another meal from it. I decided on chorizo and eggs—with an extra dash of cayenne cause I like it spicy.

I happened to be driving past the horse ranches in Peeples Valley as the great breakfast debate raged within my head. Suddenly, I felt that something was out of place, so I had to come back to earth to discover what caused the disturbance in the force. Out in the west pasture was a brilliant white horse, and it stood out like a search beacon in the tall green grass. My hunger wrestled my creativity briefly before I stopped Archie. Breakfast would wait.

Grazing Horses - Domestic horses grazing the still green grasslands in Peeples Valley on an early spring morning.
Grazing Horses – Domestic horses grazing the still green grasslands in Peeples Valley on an early spring morning.

I know next to nothing about horses and only rode one time. That nag was rude as it actually said, “oof,” when I got on. Most of them are brown around these parts, as in this instance. When I walked up to the fence, he/she/it ignored me and munched its way through the grass. That shot presented me with a great contrasty shot of the south end of a northbound horse—if ya’ know what I mean. I began to walk the fence line, chirping and whistling—trying to get its head up.

As I walked more, a mare and her foal moved into my frame and messed my composition. The mare continued to graze and ignored my presence, but the foal was timidly curious and circled behind her. Just as I thought I had enough frames—and this always happens with animals and me—the foal stepped in front of the mare and shouted, “I’m a cute baby horsie, why don’t you take my picture too?” So, I did.

Meanwhile, back at the office, when I saw what I had, I decided to push my intended shots back a week or two and publish this one first. It goes with last week’s picture and should make the complaining commenter happy. The animals in this week’s photo are more than specks on the landscape.

I call this week’s featured image Grazing Horses, and you can see a larger version of it on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week and see what else we dug up around the ol’ homestead.

Until next time — jw

Santa Lucia Cows Picture of the Week

Until this week, May has been pretty nice. The temperatures in Congress were pleasant enough that Queen Anne and I could enjoy coffee on the back deck in the morning and have happy hour on the front porch where we watched the daily parade go by. Our nights had been quite cool. By managing the airflow—opening and closing the windows at the right times—we succeeded in keeping the hot afternoons at bay.

All of that came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday. With this latest round of high pressure crossing our State, the evening air didn’t cool off as fast or as much. We finally had to turn the air conditioning on for the season. On top of the heat, people have started new brush fires each day, so I have to accept that summer has come to the desert.

Santa Lucia Cows - A small herd of black cattle graze on a hillside of emerald grass at sunrise.
Santa Lucia Cows – A small herd of black cattle grazes on a hillside of emerald grass at sunrise.

I don’t want to go into the inferno without a fight, though, so I went back through the photos from our recent California trip. I wanted to remember the great morning I spent photographing the sunrise on the Santa Lucia coastal mountain range. There was a slight breeze on top of the hill where I waited in the dark, but my wool sweater was enough to ward off any chill. As I worked my way from the top to the coast road, it seemed like someone was painting in the black shapes with color—like in a coloring book. As the sun cleared the horizon behind me, I stopped along the road to capture a herd of cattle grazing emerald green grass on a hillside. It’s this week’s featured image, and I called it Santa Lucia Cows. As I worked on it this week, I wondered why we didn’t stay in Cambria for the whole summer.

I want to give credit to the artist that influenced me to take this picture. I’m glad that I was able to buy three of Eyvind Earle’s works in my life. They’re all small pieces because I couldn’t afford the six-figure larger ones. If you ever watched the movies Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella then you’ve seen his work. He painted backgrounds for Disney films. That was his day job, but he painted scenes along California’s Central Coast on the weekends. His style was graphical and modern impressionism. His trees and animals had exaggerated long shadows—often bigger than the subject itself. I suppose it’s Eyvind’s fault that I’m always on the lookout for long shadows.

You can see a larger version of Santa Lucia Cows on its Web Page by clicking here. Now I have to snap out of my memory, put on some shorts, and get back to work, so why don’t you please come back next week and see if I found anything good.

Until next time — jw

Shiprock Picture of the Week

Wickenburg’s traffic has worsened over the past couple of months—especially during the weekends. People might feel more comfortable traveling now that Covid restrictions are easing, or maybe folks are just sick of staying home. In either case, going to one of the town’s grocery stores becomes annoying.

There used to be three US highways that ran through our downtown—US 60, US 89, and US 93. That all changed when the feds built the interstates (yes, children, back in my day, there were no freeways). Today, only US 93 remains a significant commerce route—lots of big trucks still pass through town. It starts downtown at the intersection of US 60 and Tegner Street and ends in Jasper, Alberta (the Canadian part isn’t part of the US highway system, but they used the same number on their side of the border).

I have a lot of mixed feelings about US 93. It’s the main link between Phoenix and Las Vegas. It was a narrow two-lane road with twists and turns that made you slow down. There are little white crosses littering the roadside. So many that it was designated the country’s most dangerous road. So, the highway department began inserting four-lane sections over thirty years ago. Even then, they knew it would become a freeway someday (sometime this century, they promise).

When I thought I had extra money to burn, I looked forward to the five-hour trip to Vegas or Bullhead City for an evening in the casinos. Other times, I’d drag my fishing rod to Black Canyon or Lake Meade with dreams of bringing home a whopper. Then, when my folks retired, they’d pull their trailer across the country, alternating between Atlanta—where my sister lives—and Kingman (it was far too hot in Phoenix). As they aged and became unwell, driving north on US 93 became less fun. I can’t begin to count the times that Queen Anne and I made that drive.

One of the landmarks along the road that I always looked forward to was along the Joshua Tree Parkway as the highway descends to the bridge crossing the Santa Maria River. Some large sandstone formations are hidden behind small hills just south of the bridge, and there’s a small gap where you can glimpse Shiprock. For decades, I planned a photography trip out there. The light was never right the couple of times that I tried.

Shiprock - Not the famous one on the Navajo Reservation that is spelled Ship Rock, but the lesser known one in our back yard.
Shiprock – Not the famous one on the Navajo Reservation that is spelled Ship Rock, but the lesser-known one right in our backyard.

The formations are at the eastern toe of the Black Mountains (yet another range with the same name—these are in Yavapai County) and on the other side of Black Canyon Wash, away from the highway. They’re too distant to get a good shot from the road. I found a Jeep trail that got me over the hill, but I needed something like Fred’s Toyota to go down the other side. However, our friends ran out on us for the summer before I could bum a ride.

I took this week’s featured image from the hilltop, and I think it gives a pretty good long view of the sandstone formation and the Black Mountains. You can tell that it’s spring because green chaparral and trees fill the wash. Shiprock is the middle formation (the shadows conveniently point at it). Its name comes from how the left side resembles the stern of an old pirate ship.

This photo also shows the Black Canyon Wash as it flows to the Santa Maria River, just beyond the photo’s right side. That river then flows between the Arrastra Range in the background and the Black Mountains to Alamo Lake. Everything in this picture behind the formations is part of the Arrastra Wilderness Area, so if you want to explore, you’ll do it on foot.

You can see a larger version of Shiprock on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week for another shot from around my neighborhood.

Until next time — jw

Skull Rock Picture of the Week

It’s the beginning of May, and right on cue, we reached temperatures in the triple digits. The heat immediately sparked an exodus of winter visitors out of our park. Even some of our full-time residents have already left for summer retreats. Queen Anne and I have been abandoned by our friends to deal alone with the pair of terrorists nesting in the trellis outside our bedroom window.

Since we moved into our Congress home, we’ve had all kinds of birds nest in our vines outside. We’ve had quail, dove, hummingbirds, verdin, and the usual assortment of sparrows—the low-life of the bird world. They’ve always been quiet and discrete and never called attention to themselves. This pair is an alumnus of the Delta Tau Chi.

In spring, we love sleeping with open windows. The fragrant fresh breezes keep the house cool, and there’s the occasional coyote howl, hooting owl, or the sound of a nighthawk we enjoy. As the sun begins to show light in the eastern sky each morning—the mornings are getting pretty early these days—Frank and Margaret celebrate surviving another night by perching on the trellis top and begin a sparrow’s equivalent of “Ode to Joy.”

Have you ever really listened to a sparrow’s song? It’s a flat, monotonous “chirp – chirp – chirp.” If left unattended, it can go on for hours. The Queen—who has disdain for anyone having pleasure—soon yells, “Off with their heads.” My obedience is blind, so I stumble out of bed, walk over to the window, throw back the sash, and scare the birds away with my ugly pre-coffee face. That chases them off, but it’s only a while before they’re back and at it again. Sing – scare – repeat.

When the sun does come up, their second act begins. With the new light, they see their reflections in the glass, and like the emu commercial on TV, they start defending their nest. They fly against the window, pecking at the reflection. They fly back and forth along the window top, fighting their perceived intruder. It’s a wonder that my window isn’t perforated. It doesn’t stop until I get up, walk over, pull down the blind, and show my face.

It’s gone too far, so I concocted an evil plan to get even. I went to Goodwill today and purchased an old-timey alarm clock—a bright yellow one. You know—the kind with two bells on top that dances around the end table until you smash it with a hammer. I set the timer for 2 am and hid it in the vines near their nest. I can’t wait for tomorrow when Frank makes a sparrow’s impression of Don Knotts. Meanwhile, I found an old English recipe for Sparrow Soup if it doesn’t work.

Skull Rock - People in Yavapai County love to paint rocks resembling objects to make it more obvious to other people.
Skull Rock – People in Yavapai County love to paint rocks resembling objects to make them more evident to other people.

This week’s featured image is called Skull Rock. The people in Yavapai County have a thing about painting rocks that resemble things because people would never figure it out on their own. Unlike our frog, you have to search for the skull. It’s halfway up the Hillside dirt road. It’s hidden behind the elevated railroad tracks, so you have to do a bit of climbing to get a shot of it. One story I read said a Santa Fe engineer originally painted it to tell passengers that the Apaches killed a poacher and left his skull behind to warn others. Then he’d laugh when they reacted as the train rounded the bend and the rock came into view. I can’t vouch for the story’s validity, but it sounds reasonable. You can see a larger version on its Web Page by clicking here.

Until next time — jw