“Now for something completely different,” if you didn’t already know, that’s a quote from Monty Python and it’s relevant to today’s post. I’m adding a feature to my blog that I think you’ll like. Since I switched from a monthly newsletter to this blog, I don’t have to post my new images on a monthly schedule. Consequently, I’ve been adding new ones each week and that’s the pace that I like, so I’m going to also write a companion blog post to announce those pictures. When I was doing that in the newsletter it was successful and I hope it works well here on the blog.
With that in mind, let me tell you about this week’s photo. Over the weekend, I got up enough ambition to load my camera and go out shooting. I wanted to get a shot of the Saguaro Motel sign in Aguila—the little farming community west of Wickenburg on US Highway 60. The sign fits into my collection of old motel signs but after researching the story of Robson’s Mining World I wrote last month, I found out that the Robson family owned the motel and acquired their wealth by selling bee pollen as a miracle cure-all. That fact fits right in with the January photo series of the ghost town. The sign’s not all that spectacular but a shot of it and the accompanying cactus is. Unfortunately, they’re behind a locked chain link fence that ruins the shot, so I’ll have to go back and get permission to get inside the fence.
While I was there, I spotted this image next door. I named the shot Palm Shadow, and it is the shadow of a palm tree cast on the white clapboard side of the Robson Honey warehouse. The building’s green trim serves as a frame for the found wall-art and I included the afore-mentioned fence to give the image depth. It’s a scene that I probably would have missed had I not stopped for my original idea. You can see the larger version here. I hope you like it.
It’s February again and that means that Wickenburg will be celebrating Gold Rush Days this weekend (Feb 9-11). It’s the closest thing that we have to a street party. Wickenburg closes the streets around the city library to make room for carnival rides, food vendors, arts and crafts booths. The rodeo grounds—down by the river—will have a senior pro rodeo—old guys and gals take the spotlight.
There used to be a lot of local places to eat down around the fair, but most of them have closed. Anita’s Cocina—one of our better known Mexican places—is located at the fair’s center so they make a killing over the weekend. Another place that’s within walking distance is Nana’s Sandwich Shop on Tegner. They have a limited sandwich menu, but they bake a fabulous Lemon/Blueberry bread that you have to try. Be warned, it sells out quickly. Next, to the museum, one block over is the Local Press. Here you’ll find hand-made sandwiches with interesting flavor combinations. It’s another one of our favorites.
The event that is important for me is the Fine Arts Show held at the library. I have a couple of photographs that will be on display. One is Piedmont Crossing—the night photo of a crossing guard that was in the West Valley Art Show in Surprise. The second is a brand new print that I made last week called: Mine Mack. It’s of an old Mack truck at Robson’s Mining World. I’m really jazzed at how well the truck’s patina came out in the photo.
To be included in the art show, I also have to volunteer to work it. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing this year, but last year I was Sunday’s guest host. In any case, I’ll be around Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The weather will be great on Saturday with rain possible on Sunday. If you’re in the mood for a day trip, come on up and join in on the fun.
Some would call me a brave man. Foolish; maybe, but I’m not brave. You see, Queen Anne asked me to wake her at 5:00 am so she could see the Super-Blue-Blood moon this morning. It was another 100-year event that she didn’t want to miss. It seems to me that these once-in-a-life things happen often.
At the stroke of five, I did my duty by cracking the bedroom door and tossing a shoe in. When I didn’t hear bear growling, I entered and announced, “It’s started,” then I returned to my computer. Almost immediately, she was at my office door with her jacket on. “A walk? You want to go for our walk now?” I asked.
“Sure. Didn’t you?”
I put on my shoes and grabbed my coat and flashlight and we set off for our morning lap around the park. Venus was high in the east and Scorpio was rising out of the glow of the Phoenix lights. By this time, the moon already had a good bite out of the top as it began to enter earth’s shadow. As we walked, we watched the illuminated section shrink. It takes us about forty-five minutes to complete the two-mile trip and in the dark, I would shine the light before us checking for vermin. It was interesting to see how much light pollution our little community added with many LED ropes placed under trailers being the biggest culprit. They’re supposed to keep rodents from chewing the trailer’s exposed wiring, but I think their effectiveness is suspect.
By the time we got home the moon was only a red glow in the black sky. Rightly named the blood moon, I can see how our ancestors would have feared its omen. Anne grabbed a couple of lap blankets and me, a cup of coffee from the house. We pulled chairs out to the edge of our rear deck and watched while listening to the hoot of a great horned owl coming from nearby trees. We wanted to watch the moon emerge from the shadow, but it lost a race with dawn and to soon disappeared into the trees along the horizon. After it disappeared, we went inside and made breakfast so we could see instant replays on the morning news. All in all, it wasn’t a shabby way to start the day.
I grew up during the era of the TV cowboy. After dinner, my family would gather in the living room and watch shows like Gunsmoke, The Rifleman,Maverick, and Have Gun—Will Travel to name a few. My dad was a tyrant about the shows we watched and we kids were the remote. Maybe that’s the reason I—and perhaps all my generation—have a fascination with ghost towns. We grew up with Tombstone, Dodge, and Virginia City on our TVs, and vowed to visit them one day. Maybe we’re longing for a simpler time—when the good guy wore a white hat.
The ghost towns best known in Arizona are Jerome, Tombstone, and my favorite, Bisbee. All of these places have residents, so they’re not as much a ghost town as they are tourist traps. A mining town’s fortune is dependent on the mineral wealth removed from the ground. The town’s size correlates perfectly with the amount of ore; be it gold, silver or copper. As soon as the ore plays out, people move on to the next bonanza leaving the hovels and shacks they occupied behind. Without maintenance, those relics soon rot or they’re repurposed for sheds, outhouses, or worst of all, firewood. Most often, when you visit a ghost town, the only things you find are a slab or wall. There’s not much interesting left to photograph. Fortunately, there are exceptions where a state or county government acquired and preserved the scene as a park, such as Bodie and Calico in California.
Yavapai County, where Queen Anne and I live, has its share of Ghost Towns—including Jerome—the most famous. Most of the old sites are high in the Bradshaw Mountains, but mining towns are scattered throughout all the Yavapai mountain ranges; including Congress—our hometown. It wasn’t until we moved here a couple of years ago that I learned about the best ghost town ever, and it’s a mere fifteen miles down the road tucked into the south-eastern flank of the Harcuvar Range.
Travel west on Highway US 60 and Aguila is the first small farm community you’ll come to. The name is Spanish for Eagle derived from the eagle-shaped window in the low mountain overlooking the town’s cemetery. The western terminus of Arizona State Route 71 is a mile east of Aguila, and that’s the short-cut you take if you’re heading northeast to Congress or Prescott from California. Just before the road crosses the Maricopa-Yavapai County line is a sign with a bullet-riddled Indian riding a pinto horse. The sign is for Robson’s Mining World—the ghost town you can see at the mountain base. It’s a mining town that no one ever lived in, but has an interesting story nevertheless.
The gold mine at the end of the trail was first claimed in 1917 by Westley Rush, an Aguila melon farmer. Rush’s two daughters—Nella and Alameda, for whom the Nella-Meda gold mine was named—managed to hand dig through the first 115 feet of solid rock before Ned Creighton—a Phoenix banker—bought the claim in 1924. Ned hired a crew to work the mine, and over decades he expanded the claim to its present size. His crew worked until World War II when the Feds shut down all private mines. The mining engineer, Harold Mason, stayed on as caretaker and eventually got the property deed after Ned passed.
After the war, Charles Robson was building his fortune by farming, running the Saguaro motel in Aguila, and hustling the health benefits of his local bee pollen. Harold and Charley became acquaintances when Mason let Robson place hives at the mine. There were minerals around the mine that made the bee pollen exceptional and the bees deterred poachers. That informal partnership lasted until 1979 when Charlie bought the mine from the aging Mason. Robson had bigger plans for the place.
Meanwhile, in 1922, Wilber T. Johnson migrated from Missouri to Apache Junction—a community east of Phoenix at the foot of the Superstition Mountains—so he could work in the mines. In 1930, Wilber traded his pick and shovel for an engineering degree from the University of Arizona which made him a highly valued employee. Now we’d call Wilber a hoarder because he collected mine junk—lots of mine junk—for the next fifty years. Johnson got his stash from abandoned mines in the Superstition Mountains, the Mazatzal Mountains, and other mines east of Phoenix and because of its size, his collection wasn’t a big secret. He reputedly turned down a multi-million-dollar offer from Disneyland Tokyo because he knew that they cherry pick the best and discard the rest.
After Charles Robson acquired the mine, he offered to buy Wilber’s collection and the two men finally struck a deal when Charlie promised that the collection would stay intact on Robson’s property. The ink on the signatures hadn’t dried yet before more than 250 truckloads moved decades of mining history to its new home. For ten years Charles, his wife, Jeri, and their sons reassembled the buildings and filled them with the collection’s artifacts. After Charlie died in 2002, Jeri carried on the dream, and toward the end of her life sold the place lock, stock, and barrel to Western Destinations Corporation—the present owners—on the stipulation that nothing ever leaves the property.
There’s a small garden in front of the Opera House where we sat in a mesquite tree’s shade as Brett Bishop told me this story. He’s the current caretaker and he and his family live on site. He’s a young man, and when he’s not greeting visitors he keeps busy unpacking the remaining crates and creatively arranging the contents for display. It’s easy to tell—from the tone of his voice and the sparkle in his eyes—that he loves his job. He calls Robson’s a living museum and he often must unravel the mystery of the items he finds in the boxes.
If you’re a photographer interested in nostalgia, I highly recommend a visit. The cost is $20.00 per person which goes toward upkeep. Don’t count on food or entertainment and even the restrooms are period authentic—that’s right; crescent moons. The mile-long dirt road is navigable by a sedan, except after heavy rains. I know that Robson’s will become one of my resources.
After listening to the radio reports of sub-freezing nation-wide temperatures, I donned my blue light-weight jacket and straw hat as protection against the 48º (F) biting chill and left the house for my daily dawn walk around our compound. The sun was lurking behind the Weaver Range and it turned an overhead cloud into a streak of crimson. I couldn’t decide if it was the Arctic Blast or the red sky that stole my breath.
I’m of course telling you this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, but it’s an Arizona law commanding us to brag about our winters just like our law that says we have to tell out-of-state relatives that we’re having Thanksgiving by the pool, regardless of having one. I’m just a law-abiding citizen.
On this morning’s walk, however, I did notice a couple of things that concerned me and another that brought joy. Unlike last year’s wet winter which brought snow to the mountains flanking our east, this winter has been warm and dry. The last measurable rain in Phoenix was August 23rd. That’s not good even though our RV Park is packed with northern people. Octogenarians partying in shorts and loud shirts late into the night dancing the Limbo next to a roaring campfire (do they know we don’t do that here?). All fun I guess, but winter rains are important for us. We count on them for spring wildflowers. More importantly, the mountain snowpack’s feed the streams and rivers where we keep the water Phoenix needs.
The first example I have is this brittlebush. It has flowers which is something that happens in early spring—not at the beginning of winter. In spring the daisy-like yellow flowers cover the brittlebush and they carpet the desert floor, then the heat sets in and the plants shrivel into dry sticks—hence the name.
At the south-east corner of the park, down by the water treatment plant is a large ash tree where our resident Cooper’s hawk nests in the spring. Ash trees in Arizona are always late to turn color, but this one is still green. I don’t know if something in the leach field keeps it green, or the unusually warm weather is affecting the leaves from turning. In either case, it’s not the norm.
When I got to our cactus park, I was glad to see that the warmth has not prevented the columnar cacti—the ones that look like pipes—from sprouting their winter bloom. This only happens during the coldest part of the year and the cup-like flower stay until the nights warm again. Since we haven’t had a freeze this year, I worried that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the flowers. Strangely, neighbors living near the park report hearing melodic noises during last night’s (super) full moon. They all said that they heard the soft chanting of “Whip-it, whip-it good” drifting across the night air.
The winter solstice and the seasonal holidays are behind us. Instead of taking the tree down and packing the fake pine boughs away in the closet, we’re making strategery for next year. Judging from January’s schedule, 2018 will be a busy year.
One of my 2017 goals was to take part in four Art Shows. I thought that would be a big enough number to keep us busy throughout the year. We actually doubled the goal and finished the year doing eight shows. In 2018, I set the bar higher and set the goal at eight hoping to match last year’s success. With the New Year less than a week away, I’ve been framing prints for three January shows in Wickenburg.
The biggest of the three is Wickenburg Art Club’s annual Double Takes exhibit. For several years now, the Art Club’s photographers submit photographs that the club’s sculptors, painters, and weavers use as creative inspiration. In January, the photograph and interpretation are displayed as pairs. This year, the newly formed Writers Group gets to gets to be part of the action. Artists have selected four of my photographs and I’m excited to see the results. The show’s grand opening is the evening of Saturday, January 6th from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. If you can join us, Queen Anne and I would love to see you. The show will run in the Clubhouse Main Gallery at 188 South Tegner Street through February 6th. I hope you can stop by and enjoy the show.
Then, starting on Thursday, January 11th, the Photography Group is hosting a series of eight basic photography classes. These sessions are open to club members and the public and they’re free. The informal classes will be held each Thursday at 1:00 pm in the Clubhouse meeting room and should last a couple of hours each. A different club member will lead each session and the classes cover a wide gamut of photo subjects including two meetings where you can bring in your camera or photographs and ask questions. The classes are intended is to take some of the mystery out of photography and help you understand your camera and the creative process. I hope to see some of you there.