Limestone Hoodoo Picture of the Week

When opportunity knocks, why not answer the door? I got this week’s picture that way—and last month’s grazing horses to boot. Here’s what I mean.

I had driven up to Skull Valley, intending only to get a shot of the red train station at sunrise, but after I got what I wanted, it was still early, and the light was wonderful. I decided to hang around and shoot the town’s other buildings. Since they’re all next to each other, I was finished, and I packed the truck by 6 am. The Ranch House wouldn’t be open yet, so I had time to kill.

About 3 or 5 miles south of Skull Valley—where the highway drops into Skull Valley Wash—there is an area of limestone deposits. I wrote about this place in my Kirkland Peak post and explained that you could see some interesting formations along the road. Because they were on private property, I’d been frustrated photographing them. On top of that, a new mine is moving in, and I’m afraid that they’ll flatten everything soon.

Limestone Hoodoo - Along the roadside south of Skull Valley is a deposit of limestone and interesting hoodoo formations.
Limestone Hoodoo – Along the roadside south of Skull Valley is a limestone deposit and interesting hoodoo formations.

When I got to the hoodoos, it was still too early for the workers to be on shift, so I stopped at the north hoodoo to take this week’s photo. I call it Limestone Hoodoo. When I composed this image, I wanted to get the white rocks in their natural setting, and that’s why I included the outcrop on the right side. There’s a larger expanse of the limestone behind me—on the other side of the road—but so is a church and the mine.

Now for something completely different.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to digress and talk about something else. In June, I presented two styles of photography that I shoot, landscape and architecture. I would have preferred the month have consistent subjects, but there were only three buildings in town. So, I finished up this week with a nearby landscape, and the photo happened to tie up a loose end.

As you probably guessed, the biggest influence in my photography is Ansel Adams—and I’m only one of his numerous disciples. But—as I said at the month’s beginning—I also find historic things compelling, so I also shoot them as I trip over them. When I was a student at Phoenix College, I had a professor that said my buildings reminded her of the French photographer Eugène Atget. At the time, I didn’t know who that was, so I researched his work and concluded that she gave me a helluva compliment. I know that I’ll never fill either of those master’s shoes, but I still have fun following their footsteps.

The point that I’m trying to get to is how do you—my audience—feel about these subjects? Do you like one better than the other? Do you like the occasional variety, or do you get turned off when the subjects change? I’m very interested in your opinion, so please feel free to share them in the comments below.

You can see a larger version of Limestone Hoodoo on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I’ll have something from the other side of Congress, so be sure to come back for that.

Until next time — jw

Skull Valley General Store Picture of the Week

Skull Valley (the town, not the people) is an odd community. You will think it’s another Arizona ghost town when you drive north on Yavapai County Road 10—Iron Springs Road. With its empty buildings, you’d be right to believe that. However, it wasn’t always that way. There’s a lot of history associated with this town.

Before the white man came here, it was home to the Yavapai Apaches, who were noted for marauding neighboring tribes. Undocumented stories tell of one particular raid they made on the Maricopas. In the skirmish, the Apaches stole crops, livestock, and women while killing the village men.

The Maricopa didn’t much like that, so the normally peaceful valley farmers gathered warriors to exact revenge. The gathering set off to hunt down the Apaches, and to keep this story short, they kicked ass and then left the raiders to lie where they fell. Years later, when Captain Hargraves was leading a squad of The First California Volunteers—the first white people that traveled through this area—they found a pile of bleached skulls in a dry wash. This was the only evidence of the great battle.

Then in 1866, a band of 100 Apaches challenged four freight wagons escorted by four foot-soldiers. One of the infantrymen ran three miles back to Camp McPherson for help (that’s what Skull Valley Station was long before it ever sold gas—see last week’s post). When the Calvary showed up, things quickly heated up, ending in a gun battle with another 35 Apache warriors added to the bone pile. At least, that’s what it says in my copy of Arizona Place Names.

Skull Valley General Store - After a century of serving the community and highway travelers, the General Store in Skull Valley closed in 2015.
Skull Valley General Store – After a century of serving the community and highway travelers, the General Store in Skull Valley closed in 2015.

The general store in this week’s featured image was opened in 1915 and served Skull Valley for over a hundred years. Half of that era was before freeways when the main highway between the Valley and Prescott was US 89 and/or the Iron Springs Road, and travelers needed to buy gas more frequently then. I suppose that—while you’re stopped—running across the street to buy a basket of food was handy. Locals both shopped and got their mail at the store.

Today, the passenger train doesn’t run anymore, and most of the Prescott traffic is on Interstate 17—on the other side of the Bradshaw Mountains. Little traffic flows through Skull Valley, and that’s probably the main reason two of the three buildings I’ve recently photographed have been shuttered. It would be easy for you to conclude that this little town is dead. You’d be wrong.

Oddly enough, our little town is Arizona’s mecca for Polo. The field is on the Van Dickson Ranch, and you’re welcome to come to watch a match—or worse, take lessons. On the dirt roads north of town, you can visit the Painted Lady Vineyard, smell the flowers at the Skull Valley Lavender Farm, and have a beer at the Barnstar Brewing Company. It’s a small craft brewery that’s open on the weekends. You would never know that these places were there because you can’t see them from the highway. I only found out about them from an Arizona Highways TV episode.

In this week’s picture, I really like how the morning light creates a two-tone effect on the building. I was there before 6 am so I timed the light pretty well. Incidentally, the cottonwood trees behind this building—and last week’s station—are growing in Skull Valley Wash—three miles upstream from where the bleached bones were discovered.

When I win the Power Ball, I’m going to buy this place and convert it into the perfect breakfast and lunch café/gallery—as I wrote about when we were still living in Goodyear. I will hire a Michelin Chef to run the place and have a Danish baker sell pastries in the front next to the cash register. All of the walls will be covered with my photographs for the patrons to enjoy and buy. Since there won’t be much traffic, I’ll purposefully run it at a loss until the money runs out or I do. Since I don’t care to work anymore, my responsibilities will be to stop in occasionally and sample the Danish Waffles for breakfast or the world’s best Reubens at lunch. Watch this space; I’ll let you know how it’s going.

You can see a larger version of Skull Valley General Store on its Web Page by clicking here. We have one more image to share from Skull Valley, so make sure to come back next week.

Until next time — jw

Skull Valley Station Picture of the Week

It’s been a while since I pointed my camera at an old building. The last time I did was before we all got locked up last year. I did publish that shot of Oatman’s empty streets last year, but that image spoke about desertion rather than historic buildings. I guess I missed this genre because after I shot the train depot in last week’s photo, I hung around and worked on other Skull Valley buildings.

Shooting architecture is a different discipline than nature photography. That’s because lens distortion is more obvious when you’re shooting boxes. That’s why view cameras have movements that allow the artist to correct for perspective distortions. These days, you can correct that in Photoshop—to a degree. A photographer can use a couple of other secrets to minimize camera distortion that I could reveal to you, but then I’d have to kill you.

As I grow old, history becomes increasingly important to me, so I wish I could tell you the story behind each of the buildings I shoot. However, most of my subjects are ordinary, and they’re only historic because they survived the wrecking ball. If I were a better researcher, I could visit the local museums and city halls to uncover records. Unfortunately, I’m not going to because I’m lazy. If it doesn’t exist on Google, then it never happened.

Skull Valley Station - Located on Iron Springs Road in Skull Valley on the north side of the Peavine tracks.
Skull Valley Station – Located on Iron Springs Road as it winds through Skull Valley just north of the Peavine railroad tracks.

Take this week’s featured image, for example. Up until this year, tenants used this building as a feed store. I guess that the pandemic was bad for their business, and they closed shop early this spring. I don’t know when someone last sold gas here, but the pump is set to 33 cents per gallon. I did find this article from The Daily Courier that suggests that a previous owner—Bob Colbert—didn’t know he owned a service station until he uncovered the original sign under layers of paint. Now someone has slapped more paint over the sign again (I wonder what happened to the other two pumps).

We drive by this building each month on our way to the Prescott Costco. It’s on the right immediately after Iron Springs Road crosses the Peavine tracks I talked about last week. I never stopped to take a picture because of the feed signs, and there were always newer vehicles parked outside. They kinda ruined the old-gas-state motif. This time with the early-morning light in the cottonwoods and dappled on the orange façade, I took time to shoot the station from several angles. This week’s featured image is the version I liked best. I called it Skull Valley Station. What else could I call it?

You can see a larger version of Skull Valley Station on its Web Page by clicking here. We’re going to hang around Skull valley for another couple of weeks, so come back and see what else caught my attention.

Until next time — jw

Skull Valley Depot Picture of the Week

I’m not considered a sociable person, so you may be surprised that I joined a car club back when I was a younger man—more than half my life ago (oh jeez, where has it all gone). This club’s existence was based on owning a particular brand—which one isn’t important for my story—but the club member’s general attitude was that no one should drive one of these cars because the mileage brought down their value. Insane, I know. Despite that, the club put on well-attended events like parties, tours, meetings, and track days.

The club event that drew the most participation was their annual progressive dinner. If you’ve never heard of that, it’s a three to seven-course dinner served at the volunteers’ houses who prepared each course. So we’d meet at the appetizer house, have a glass of wine, and when the food was all gone, we’d jump in our cars and drive to the next course. The club paid for the food and a couple of jugs of Carlo Rossi wines, and members paid a flat per-head attendance fee. The club made a lot of money. Things were different then. Phoenix had few roads north of Northern Avenue, and traffic was nil on Saturday nights, so by the end of the evening, the drive between houses turned into a Targa Florio race. Half the club would wind up in the slammer on DUI charges these days, and the insurance companies would cancel their policy.

Now hold that thought in the back of your head while I talk about the other part of another one of my grandiose ideas. I’ve written before about the trains that pass our house. They run less than a half-dozen times each day (and night), so the tracks are empty most of the time. The route runs from Phoenix to the northern town of Ash Fork, and it has so many twists and turns that it was dubbed The Peavine Line when it opened a century ago. The tracks run through the heart of Arizona’s historic gold mining country.

Historically our little train used to carry passengers with depots in Phoenix, Wickenburg, Congress, Kirkland, Skull Valley, Prescott (now bypassed), and Ash Fork. Most of the town’s stations are still there in one form or another. And—unlike the routes between Phoenix to Tucson and Phoenix to Yuma—there is some interesting backcountry scenery and at least two climate zones along the journey.

Skull Valley Depot - The townspeople of Skull Valley have put their abandoned depot to good use as a local museum.
Skull Valley Depot – The townspeople of Skull Valley have put their abandoned depot to good use as a local museum.

So, after my photo outing where I shot this week’s featured image in Skull Valley, I began to fantasize about having a progressive dinner—on a train. The trip would start in Wickenburg (or maybe Sun City West), then make scheduled stops where the old stations are. At each stop, you could peruse the local museum, enjoy the designated course, spend money on useless trinkets in the gift shop, pee, and get back on the train. Between stations, the guests could taste wine samples (from Arizona vineyards?) and purchase bottles that they would pick up at the evening’s end. At the end of the line, the train would make a leisurely two-hour trip back to the station. The night will have fallen by that time, and guests would enjoy non-alcoholic beverages to sober them up.

I only know of two train excursions in Arizona; the Verde River Line and the trip from Williams to the Grand Canyon. There once was the White Mountain steam train, but that closed a long time ago, and Durango bought the engine (which fell off the trailer along US 89—however that’s another story). I think there’s plenty of market for another train ride in our state, and the dinner would make it a unique experience. Think of it as a dinner cruise on rails.

If this lame-brain idea sounds good to you, then it’s yours. On the other hand, if you feel it’s a stupid idea, I never said anything. My brain hurts too much to work on stuff right now. I’m too old and penniless. Besides, it’s time for my nap.

You can see a larger version of Skull Valley Depot—the picture that set my brain on fire this week—on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we continue with another Skull Valley artifact.

Until next time — jw