What’s The Point  Picture of the Week

The Point - Afternoon shadows grow long on a portion of the Eagletail Mountains.
The Point – Afternoon shadows grow long on a portion of the Eagletail Mountains.

After last week’s rant about the failed hike Fred and I attempted in the Eagletail Wilderness Area, some of you have probably concluded that I’ll never do that again. I understand; I had those feelings too. After all, why attempt a 7-mile hike when a) I don’t enjoy hiking, and b) I’m not good at it? Well, it’s because I love being in the wild, and I find it revitalizes my soul.

I didn’t become a nature-lover from my father. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and grew up in a neighborhood derogatorily called Polack Hill—now Polish Hill. There wasn’t room for nature in the middle of Pittsburgh’s industrial district. I remember seeing the Allegany River between the warehouses from my great-grandmother’s back porch, but no one fished it. The steel mills polluted it so much that the catfish were discolored and had three eyes—like the fish in The Simpsons. Dad didn’t hunt, and the fishing trips he took me on were to fish farms.

It was Ansel Adams that sparked my interest in the natural world. As an impressionable young photographer, I was awed by his works. I wanted to see and shoot all the beautiful places in his pictures. It wasn’t until I moved to Phoenix and joined my brother-in-law on camping trips that ignited my love of the outdoors. He and his friends had the right gear to live well in the wild. That gang taught me that everything tastes better in the dirt. There was something out there that made me feel alive, even if we only swapped Jack Daniels flavored lies in the searing heat of a roaring cowboy fire.

Eagletail Brittlebush - A sure sign that spring is near in the Sonoran Desert, is when the Brittle Bush sprouts new blue-gray leaves.
Eagletail Brittlebush – A sure sign in the Sonoran Desert that spring is near is when the Brittle Bush sprouts new blue-gray leaves. Yellow flowers will soon cover the desert floor.

That feeling of adventure is addictive. I need a regular fix. Although I’m happy to roll down my car window and shoot mountains through it, the thrill is more significant when I know that I’m seeing something most people haven’t. Even though Fred and I failed to find the petroglyphs, we filled our memory basket with petrified wood, rose quartz, and signs of wildlife. I’m not sure if or when I’ll go back to the Eagletails. Other places sing the Sirens song for me.

This year is the beginning of my fourth quarter. Although I can’t see it from here, the end of the road is waiting. With every passing year, I better appreciate nature’s importance. That’s why I’ve joked with Queen Anne to place my ashes on Utah’s Powell Peak—but save my eyes. Like that weird little Microsoft Word assistant—Clippy—put them in a formaldehyde-filled jar so I can still look around. I can hardly wait to see the look on some poor camper’s face when they discover me watching them set up their tents.

This week’s picture is of a mountain ridge inside the Eagletail Mountains. I named it The Point for the granite dome at the center. It’s smaller than Courthouse Rock I showed last week. I shot this image after Fred got back from his reconnoitering trip. While I waited, I watched the afternoon shadows grow into a pleasing composition. You can also see the Ben Avery trail that we meant to hike. The flat Jeep trail near the bottom runs from left to right.

You can see a larger version of The Point on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, Queen Anne and I begin a new adventure. I’ll give you a hint; it’s someplace in Arizona that I’ve never visited. Come back then and see what we’ve discovered.

Until next time — jw

Courthouse Rock Picture of the Week

Courthouse Rock - The huge granite monolith that attracts climbers and base-jumpers to the Eagletail Wilderness Area.
Courthouse Rock – The massive granite monolith attracts climbers and base-jumpers to the Eagletail Wilderness Area.

When you were in school, did you learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition—the party that explored the Louisiana Purchase and discovered the first Starbucks in what’s now called Seattle? Sadly, when it comes to the outdoors, my buddy Fred and I will never rise to that level of notoriety. Most likely, we’ll go down in history more akin to Laurel and Hardy.

Fred and Jim's overlapping skill sets - When we get together, things don't always go as we plan.
Fred and Jim’s overlapping skill sets – Things don’t always go as we plan when we get together.

Don’t get me wrong, Fred is a brilliant man. After all, he is an engineer, and I can write complete sentences, so when apart, we’re able to navigate the world and safely return home (to the amazement of our wives). But when we go out together, our skill sets overlap like in a Venn diagram and set up a thinking interference pattern that causes things to go south.

To finish up this month’s project, the Eagletail Mountains, I needed a couple more photos—ones that are close to the subject. Since it’s a wilderness area, that meant hiking. I spent time researching and found a perfect trail on AllTrails. It’s only 3 1/2  miles each way, and it goes to a place called Indian Springs. There, we should find a spring and a rock wall of petroglyphs. They described the hike as “the easiest trail in the world. It’s an old mine road with little grade change. A baby can do it.”

I began calculating. I walk at 2.2 miles-per-hour (I measured it using my hand-held Garmin), so 2 hours in, snap a couple of shots, 2 hours out, and add four hours drive time down and back. The outing should easily take an afternoon. I asked Fred if he would be interested (somebody needed to carry me out when I fell). He said, “Sure.”

Monday at noon, I tossed on some comfortable jeans, my whitest Tee shirt (so the rescue helicopter could spot me), and a baseball cap. I drove to Fred’s house to pick him up. He opened the front door dressed like an L.L. Bean model, with a freshly pressed ‘cool-shirt,’ safari hat, day pack, and walking sticks. He was gorgeous.

It was a beautiful day, and we spent the two-hour drive talking about the hike and sharing the maps we brought. Fred downloaded the AllTrails map onto his iPhone; I had printed the directions to the trailhead; we were ready.

Mistake #1: The easy part was getting to the Gas-Pipeline road, but we had to count the miles to the turnoff. As Fred read the instructions, I watched the odometer. When the instructions said, “at 1 ½ mile, turn onto an unmarked road,” a road appeared on the left. We turned, but the sign that they promised wasn’t there. We continued anyway and came upon a group of young men camped at its end. This place must be our spot, so we parked.

Mistake #2: The boys/men were friendly and were sitting around packing parachutes. If we were in California, I would have expected them to be waxing surfboards. Thet had come to Courthouse Rock so they could climb the monolith and then jump off with a parachute—even though the rock wasn’t in danger of crashing. They asked why we had come. They said we were on the wrong road when we told them about the trail. They said we needed to go back to the pipeline road and go another mile. Fred and I looked at one another, the maps, and the app. Since the trail was just over the hill, we ignored their directions—like any person holding a man-card should.

Mistake #3: We started hiking cross-country diagonally toward the trail. “Surely it must be over that low ridge, and we’ll see it from the top,” I told Fred. We hiked to the ridgeline and saw——another hill. We began the long trudge to its top. What we didn’t realize at the time was that we were climbing Courthouse Rock’s talus slope. The rock must have been significantly larger at one time because sharp granite chips covered the ground. They had flaked off the enormous tower making the footing lose. Falling on them would hurt—a lot.

Fred the trailblazer - Fred hikes to another ridge to see if it's the last of our hike. It wasn't.
Fred the trailblazer – Fred hikes to another ridge to see if it’s the last of our hike. It wasn’t.

After an hour of hiking uphills and over gullies, we reached a point where we could see the trail. It was on the other side of a deep wash. That meant we could get to it if we could cross the dry creek, but it was still a half-mile away. We only managed to cover less than a mile during the past hour. I was ready to quit, but I could see yet one more ridge on the horizon. I hoped it was the last. Fred volunteered to continue seeing if it was our summit while I sat, drank water, and caught my breath. He confirmed that it wasn’t, so we started back when he returned.

Instead of retracing our steps, we made our way down into the wash, where we were able to walk the sandy bottom back to the Jeep in half the time. When we reached the camp, we had to explain our failure to the base-jumping dudes. “Yeah, I thought you should drive to the other road,” one of them graciously taunted. Since we were in the area, we did. We found the second road, complete with signs, parking, and an informational kiosk. At least we’ll know should we ever go back, but for now, the two-hour drive home was nearly silent.

I shot this week’s picture that I call Courthouse Rock at the beginning of our hike. It’s of the enormous granite monolith from its west side. The 20-foot palo verde tree gives scale, so I’m glad that the tree photo-bombed my shot.

You can see a larger version of Courthouse Rock on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll finish our Eagletail Mountain visit and move on to another project. Hopefully, somewhere I can drive.

Until next time — jw

Eagletail Mountains Picture of the Week

 

Eagletail Mountains - The Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area is an hour west of Phoenix, and south of Interstate 10. Since you have to hike to see the good stuff, it's challenging for me to photograph properly.
Eagletail Mountains – The Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area is west of Phoenix and south of Interstate 10. Since you have to hike to see the good stuff, it’s challenging to photograph correctly.

I find that there are some places where it is difficult to photograph properly. Most of those are wilderness areas. Because they’re not accessible by road, you have to hike to get to the good stuff; that’s exciting visually. You know by now how I feel about hiking—I’m vehemently against it. However, sometimes you have to do things that make you uncomfortable.

The Eagletail Mountains are one of those places. There are plenty of old jeep trails running through the area, but since it was declared a wilderness and set aside in 1990, you can’t drive on them. Instead, you have to hike anywhere within its boundaries.

The last time I visited the Eagletails was in 2003—when I first created my Website. Since I routinely update the site with newer and better photos, I discarded all of those shots a long time ago. With me needing a new project, I decided to revisit the Eagletail Wilderness and try my luck again.

Actually, there are two mountain ranges in the Eagletail Wilderness. Foremost is the Eagletail Range that runs north-south. If it were a hand on a clock, they would be in the 11:00 position. The other range is Cemetery Ridge (hmm, there’s got to be a story behind that name), a line of mountains that run northwest-southeast, or 9:30-10:00. Most of this wilderness fits within this triangle between the two ranges. That’s the justification that Congress used to preserve it. It is a complete example of two mountain ranges separated by a flat Sonoran Desert basin.

This week’s picture is of the western slope of the Eagletails. It’s an aerial shot taken with my drone. Since I can’t fly into a wilderness, it’s as close as I could get from the east side. It shows the jagged ridgeline with Eagletail Peak—the high point—at center-right. If you got closer, you’d see that its top has several granite spires that resemble feathers—so its name is descriptive.

The trouble is that all of the interesting geologic formations and petroglyphs are on the other side. For February, my challenge is to see how far I can walk in and show you what’s there. It’s been several years since I last twisted my ankle, so I’m about due.

You can see a larger version of Eagletail Mountains on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we move south and get a shot, including Cemetery Ridge. I promise to see how it got that name. Come back then and see what we found.

Until next time — jw

Sunset Wall Picture of the Week

Alright, class, settle down. Get out a sheet of paper and a pen, then put away your backpacks. Today we’re starting with a pop quiz. There is only one question, and you have 15 minutes to answer with 10,000 words—or more. You must cite your sources. Spelling and punctuation will be graded. Are you ready? Your question is, “What do Memphis, Tennessee, and Kingman, Arizona have in common?”

I have talked before about old trading trails morphing into the well-laid-out highway system that we have today. Most of us don’t care how it happened, and we just drive on them. They think that Eisenhower signed a paper in 1956, and the freeways just popped into existence. I think that’s because people younger than me—and that’s pretty much everybody—didn’t experience the change first hand. Our forebearers built most roads over existing paths, and there are reasons someone blazed those original paths. Mark Knopfler describes this phenomenon well in his 1982 song Telegraph Road from the Dire Straits album Love Over Gold.

There have been trading trails across Northern Arizona since the first Pueblo inhabitants. European settlers didn’t use them much because the New Mexico territory was Spanish. Their roads came up from Mexico to towns like Santa Fe and the Old Pueblo at Tucson. Those roads followed the Rio Grande and Santa Cruz Rivers because there was always reliable water. The rest of the desert was a wasteland. What changed that? It was gold.

In 1848, James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in California. In less than two years, California became a state—that’s instantaneous in government time. They needed to move goods and people to the Golden State—and get the gold back to Washington. But, there were no east-west roads, so they put Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves in charge of a surveying expedition, and he laid out a railroad route around the 35th Parallel.

Then in 1857, the Fed’s paid Edward (Fitzgerald) Beale to build a wagon road from Ft. Smith, Arkansas, to Los Angeles—again along the 35th Parallel (remember, Tucson was still in Mexico). He built his road in a year using camels because they needed less water and food than oxen and horses. By all accounts, it wasn’t much of a road, but Beale bragged that it was the shortest route by 300 miles and “It is the most level: our wagons only double-teaming once in the entire distance, and that at a short hill . . .” His road became the Santa Fe line in 1880, then Route 66 in 1926, and finally Interstate 40 in 1978.

SR 68 through Union Pass - Arizona State Route 68 (on the right) as it enters Union Pass through the Black Mountain Range.
SR 68 through Union Pass – Arizona State Route 68 (on the right) as it enters Union Pass through the Black Mountain Range.

His wagon road wandered a bit from the 35th as it meandered across the desert, but wagon tracks are visible in places on Google Earth. As vehicles became more efficient, each of the subsequent roads shortened its length. Some silly people hike the old road just for giggles. I’m not that ambitious. However, I do know of a place where you’ll be in Ed’s footsteps. Yep, you guessed it. It’s our Union Pass on SR 68. While Sitgreaves went through Oatman, Beale found a more accessible way to Fort Mohave and his river crossing.

Sunset Wall - Layers of volcanic rock upended vertically in the Black Mountain Range.
Sunset Wall – Layers of volcanic rock upended vertically in the Black Mountain Range.

I took this week’s picture on the west side of Union Pass, and it shows layers of lava and ash (tuff) that have been turned horizontal by geological forces. As Don Sprinkle commented in another post; “. . . just like the Grand Tetons.” It was sundown as I took this photo, and that’s why the ordinarily dark rock has a beautiful red glow, and that’s why I called it Sunset Wall.

So, back to your quiz; I’m going to let you grade your papers. What did you answer to: What do Memphis, Tennessee, and Kingman have in common? If you said that they are both along Interstate 40, you get 50%, and if you said that they both have a Beale Street, you get another 50%. I must add that there is a difference too. While Kingman knows who they named their street after, according to the Wikipedia entry for Memphis’ Beale Street, nobody remembers who Edward Beale was, which I find amusing. Maybe it’s forgotten because he was a Union Naval officer.

You can see a larger version of Sunset Wall on its Web Page by clicking here. Please come back next when we begin December’s project and new pictures.

Until next time — jw

Thumb Butte Picture of the Week

Arizona State Route 68 in Mohave County has substantially improved since I first visited Bullhead City decades ago. It was a two-lane back road with faded markings and crumbling tarmac. When it rained, it was impassable because the road ran through the flooded wash bottoms. These days it’s a mini-interstate having four lanes and no lights or signs along its 28-mile length. It’s impressive how infrastructure improves when it involves getting people into casinos.

SR 68 also has one of the best views of all the roads that I’ve traveled. That vista comes just west of Union Pass in the Black Mountain Range. You can tell it’s coming when you see the Union Pass elevation sign (3570 feet). There is a wide shoulder here to enable truckers to safety-check their brakes. Immediately after you clear the mountains on either side of the highway, you can see a panoramic view of the Colorado River 3000′ below. Beyond the blue water ribbon, you can see into the Nevada Desert going on forever—especially now that APS dismantled the coal-fired Mohave Power Station. You don’t have long to enjoy the view because suddenly you’re on the downhill side of the roller coaster, and just for giggles, the highway department put a stoplight at the bottom of the 11 miles of 7% grade.

Thumb Butte - An 800' tall granite monolith overlooking the Colorado River above Bullhead City.
Thumb Butte – An 800′ tall granite monolith overlooking the Colorado River above Bullhead City.

As you descend into the river valley, a thing that jumps out at you is an 800′ tall granite monolith on the left side of the road. On the maps, it’s called Thumb Butte, but many locals call it Finger Rock. It’s visible in both towns—Bullhead City and Laughlin—and from there, it looks like the universal gesture of ill will, the big bird, the highway salute, or whatever your favorite euphemism for the middle finger is. (There is another landmark a couple of miles south officially named Finger Butte—don’t confuse the two.)

I have wanted to photograph the rock before, but my schedule prevented me from stopping. On this year’s trip, I decided to make time. I watched videos, poured over the Topo maps, and found a Jeep Trail that goes right by the tower. So, late afternoon, Archie and I drove the dirt trail and took this week’s photo that I call Thumb Butte.

I wanted to capture some depth and texture, so I shot the rock from the north side, looking into the Mount Nutt Wilderness Area. I’m happy how this image captures the rugged terrain of the Black Mountains—if only a tiny sample. Maybe I should regularly go back and work the range’s entire length—from Needles to Hoover Dam. What do you think?

You can see a larger version of Thumb Butte on its Web Page by clicking here. Please come back next week when I’ll show another photo from Union Pass and SR 68.

Until next time — jw

Sycamore Point – and – Calendars     Picture of the Week

Trick or Treat
smell my feet
give us something good to eat

Since this is my first-ever Halloween post, I couldn’t pass that up.

So, where were we? Oh yes—Queen Anne and I spent an afternoon exploring and photographing along the back roads to Sycamore Point. The sun was going down, and we wanted to get back to Williams to have a nice dinner at The Red Raven Restaurant.  Before we leave, let me get in one more shot.

Sycamore Point - From Sycamore Point, looking back over Thumb Flat to Bill Williams Mountain.
Sycamore Point – From Sycamore Point, looking back over Thumb Flat to Bill Williams Mountain.

I call this week’s photo Sycamore Point. If it isn’t apparent, I took it with my drone. Unlike a normal camera, you can’t spontaneously whip it out and start flying about—well, not if you want to keep your license. You have to file a flight plan, conduct a pre-flight check, and there are no fly areas. In this case, I couldn’t fly it past the wilderness boundary (you can get an exception from the BLM—but that takes weeks).

The truth is that I took several drone shots of the canyon, but because the drone’s camera lens is ultra wide, the images from my Sony were better, so I used those. Since the drone had battery time left, I turned it around and pointed the camera toward the road we traveled. From an altitude of two-hundred feet, this is the image that I got.

When I started processing this photo, I realized that it has everything that we’ve been talking about during October. In one image I see Alligator Juniper, patches of yellow wildflowers, Thumb Flat, the edges of Sycamore Canyon, burn scars, the back road, shafts of sunlight, and in the distance, the Northern Arizona Volcanic Field—including Bill Williams Mountain (center left) and The San Francisco Peaks (far right). It’s like you’re back in school, and here’s the chapter review before the test—but from a different perspective.

You can see a larger version of Sycamore Point on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, it’s time for a new project from a different location. You’ll want to come back and see what trouble I got myself into this time.

Calendars

This year is hurtling to an end already, so it’s time for me to make new calendars. In spite of the extra cost last year we got a nice response. Inflation has taken a toll again this year. After reviewing my printer’s price list and post office shipping costs, I need to charge $20.00 for them. I know that cost is prohibitive to most of you, but they’re a limited item. I need to get one for myself and if you’re interested, I’ll print a copy for you.

The pictures for the 2022 edition are from this year’s outings. The size remains the same—6 ½ inches high (each half—about the size of a sheet of paper folded in half) and 8 ½ inches wide, and they have holidays noted on the dates. They’re printed on card stock—which is part of the expense.

In order to get them to you for Christmas (and we’re cutting it close according to the Post Office), I need to know by November 10th. If you’d like one, you can leave a comment in this post, use the contact form on my website (https://www.jimwitkowski.com/junk/index.php), or email me directly. Don’t forget to leave your contact information if I don’t already have it.

Until next time — jw

Sycamore Canyon Picture of the Week

As you would expect, the edge of the Colorado Plateau isn’t smooth and polished. It’s quite the opposite. Over eons, the streams that drain the plateau have eaten away the walls and carved a series of steep canyons. These parallel canyons look like an evil witch with rheumatoid arthritis pressed her fingers into a curb of wet cement.

Capitol Butte and Sedona - a place of natural beauty overrun with loving fans.
Capitol Butte and Sedona – a place of natural beauty overrun with adoring fans.

Oak Creek Canyon—and the village of Sedona—is probably the most famous example that I can name. The creek has cut into the iron-rich sandstone leaving behind beautiful red-rock formations that attract visitors from the four corners of the globe. And why not? There’s a lot to see and do here. Magazines have called Slide Rock one of the ten best swimming holes in the country (Havasupai Falls also made that list, not bad for a desert state, eh). Sedona always makes the top of the list for romantic getaways for Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and on and on and on. If you want to be romantic in Sedona these days, you have to be careful not to bump the couple making out next to you.

When people visit Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona, they understandably fall in love and don’t want to leave. Over the past 50 years, I’ve seen Sedona grow from a gas station intersection to a resort town that’s on a par with Aspen, Telluride, or Santa Fe. The catch is that there’s not enough water to support all of the rich people building second homes there. We all visit to see nature at its best, but now the McMansions are in the way. We love it to death.

But there’s hope for us tree-huggers. Less than 17 miles northwest of downtown Sedona is Oak Creek Canyon’s sister—Sycamore Canyon. Here there are no McMansions, Gucci Stores, or Whole Foods because, in 1972, the Feds set it aside as a Wilderness Area. While standing on the rim at Sycamore Point, you can begin to imagine what Oak Creek Canyon was like before the mobs got there. Imagine a time when a campfire was the only tell of humans in the area.

Sycamore Canyon - Oak Creek Canyon's twin sister was set aside in 1972 as a Wilderness Area so we can remember what nature looks like without people.
Sycamore Canyon – Oak Creek Canyon’s twin sister, was set aside in 1972 as a Wilderness Area to remember what nature looks like without people.

My friend Deb and I camped here before Queen Anne ever arrived on the scene. When she finally did, this was the first place Deb and I took her camping. As we ate a dinner of grilled stuffed pork chops and watched the sun go down, she was hooked. That’s when we convinced her that everything tastes a little better with dirt on it.

I wanted to come back this year after watching the fire news early this summer. One fire had ripped through here, and I wanted to see how much damage it caused. Queen Anne and I found black scars on the ridge on the canyon’s far side, but only a couple of pinions had burned on the edge where we stood. Overall, the canyon fared well, except years of drought have left Sycamore Creek dry. We didn’t see any remaining pools of water from our vantage point.

The BLM has moved camping back a half mile now. They’ve removed all of the rock fire rings and built a parking area. If you want to come here, your best camp is at one of the small lakes up the road. Since Sycamore Point is less than twenty miles from Williams, it’s an easy drive from town and back in one afternoon.

As the sun got low, it reached a crack in the clouds and lit the cliffs while I had my camera in hand. I snapped a couple of shots, and this is the version I preferred. I named the photo Sycamore Canyon. I like how the setting sun makes the cliff faces glow, but you can still see the dry creek bed below. Along the rim in the center-left, you can make out the black scar left by this summer’s fire. That’s ok though, unlike a McMansion, it’ll heal soon.

You can see a larger version of Sycamore Canyon on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we return to the bright lights of Williams. Come back then and see what we found.

Until next time — jw

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