North Weaver Shadows Picture of the Week

This is Augusts’ final post; the doves are skittery, there’s football on TV, and my astrological markers are lining up. Hmm—what do you think Mother Nature’s trying to say? For me, these are all precursors to summer’s end and the time when Arizonans will once again emerge from their dens. If we were smart, we’d form a committee to dress up a ground squirrel in a tux, call him Congress Cecil, and have him predict how many weeks of extreme heat warnings remain. The days will still be hot for another month, but soon the evening temperatures make being outdoors tolerable.

I should explain the skittery doves and astrological marker. September 1 is our state’s dove season, so doves begin to move to where the houses are because they have a better chance of not being shot. The day after hunting season closes, the doves return to the open desert and won’t be heard from until they get horny in the spring.

And yes, just like the ancient Anasazi, I have a special marker that precisely tells me when the spring and fall equinoxes happen. I didn’t carve a light-piercing spiral in sandstone as they did; instead, I use Bruce’s—my across-the-street neighbor—roof. Its ridgeline runs east-west, and on the mornings of the equinoxes, the sun comes up from its peak as I enjoy my coffee on my front porch. Y’all should come to join me on September 22. It would really freak out Bruce to see hundreds of people staring at his house at dawn.

North Weaver Shadows
North Weaver Shadows – With help from the setting sun, cumulus clouds cast shadows on the Weaver Mountains.

As I said, this is the last image in my August cloud project. The monsoon took a vacation this week, so the sun’s brought the heat back. It’s had a chance to dry out, and now the yard’s full of weeds. But, Arizona Highway 89 is lined with orange poppies, and I spotted a couple of Palo Verde trees with yellow blossoms. It’s like spring again, and I’m getting that familiar wanderlust feeling.

Our monsoon will be back with a vengeance in a couple of days. There’s a hurricane traveling up Mexico’s west coast, and there’s a good chance it will come up the Gulf of California. When storms do that, it brings more than isolated showers—instead, the whole state gets soaked.

This week’s cloud picture kind of shows the weather’s dry break. The sky is clearer with scattered cumulus clouds. It also shows that it’s not just the puffy white sky-meringue that is pretty, but their shadows make the mountains more interesting. In the photo that I call North Weaver Shadows, we see cumulus cloud shadows cast on the north edge of the Weaver Mountains with help from the setting sun. This is my favorite image in this series because my familiar mountain range is different—more interesting. For your viewing pleasure, I also hid a black cow grazing on the desert floor somewhere in the picture—if you can find it.

You can see a larger version of North Weaver Shadows on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I’ll start a new September project. With the coming weather change, I hope I can get some shots in by then. So, be sure to come back and see if Dudley Duwright rescues Lit’l Nell from the railroad tracks in time (if you think about it—if he’s not in time, it’s not much of a rescue—is it?).

Until next time — jw

Sun Rays Picture of the Week

My first photography class was a half-century ago. I had just come home from a year-long tour in Korea with a brand new Nikon F2, and I wanted to learn how to be a photographer. I was stationed in Pasadena at the time (I’d tell you what I did, but then I’d have to kill ya,) and Al Bowman—an old friend—convinced me to sign up for a Pasadena City College night class. As frequently happens with crafts-centered night classes, it was more of a club. Everyone got an A, and the same people always attended each semester.

I no longer remember the instructors’ name, but he had been published in a couple of journals, so his credentials were impeccable to us. Although I wanted to shoot black and white in Ansel Adams style, our classwork was shot using Kodachrome. Each week the teacher would show our work on a Kodak—antique, even then—slide projector that he liked because it was bright and had an exceptional lens. It was essentially a portable searchlight that showed even the most minor flaws when closely viewed. It also doubled to signal Bat Man.

Even in those days, Ansel Adams was the master of landscape photography, but cover shots on Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, and others of that genre were color. They all followed the formula we read in Kodak’s How to Make Good Pictures—a bible for beginning photographers (I still have my thread worn copy).

The method of shooting landscapes in the book—and what the instructor taught—was that you find an interesting background and properly compose it within your frame, then get a model (wife, friend, stranger) to pose to one side as if they were taking in the beautiful vista. Your model should be wearing something red or bright yellow to capture the viewer’s eye. Finally, if there’s any possible way you could get a sun flare to shine on your model, that was the cherry on the sundae. That classic nature shot had been de rigueur since the thirties.

It was so pervasive, it was trite, and it wasn’t how Ansel shot, so it turned off photographers like me. We felt that there was beauty in nature even if no one was there to enjoy it, and sunrays … really? Although I’ve seasoned over time, I still avoid light beams glowing from clouds. It’s become ingrained. Maybe I’ve over-corrected because of those days.

Sun Rays - Light beams radiate from clouds near Hillside, Arizona.
Sun Rays – Light beams radiate from clouds near Hillside, Arizona.

Those conflicts came to a head with this month’s cloud project. I wanted to show the pretty side of our Monsoon Season, so I’ve been capturing clouds all month. On my last outing, I concentrated on the eastern sky as I drove north to Hillside. The clouds billowed in pure white as they built in the afternoon sun. However, there was a darker, more brooding cell on the left side of the road, but it had shafts of light beaming from it. For miles, I tried to ignore it because it looked too different from my other shots, and <shudder> there were sun rays. It followed me for miles like a puppy wanting attention, so I finally gave in and took this week’s photo that I call Sun Rays. I hope you’re happy since I broke one of my rules, but I will not put a model wearing a red coat in one of my photos—unless that’s all she has on.

To get a shot like this, you have to shoot towards the sun and make sure it’s hidden from the lens. Otherwise, its bright light will wash out the detail around it. Another consideration is how you treat the foreground. In this case, I over-exposed the shot to get some texture in the mountains and then brought back the sky in post-production; otherwise, the ground would have been a lifeless silhouette.

You can see a larger version of Sun Rays on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week to see what happens next.

Until next time — jw

McCloud Clouds Picture of the Week

Our Friday shows had ended, so we began closing up the house for the night. It wasn’t until Anne blew out the last candle that we noticed lights flashing outside—like a squad of cop cars at a drug bust across the street. Like all good citizens concerned for their safety, we did the cautious thing—we ran out on the front porch to see what was going on.

On the outside, the police cruisers weren’t there. Instead, a storm cell permeated the east. From the northern mountains to beyond our sight south, lightning filled the sky. Nearly all of the strikes were cloud to cloud and high in the atmosphere. The flashes happened so frequently, the sky never really got dark. We expected to hear more thunder, but the strikes overlapped, canceling out the familiar thunder sound. Instead, there was a constant low-frequency roar like a couple of airliners hovering above us.

As we watched the tempest in awe, we saw that it was headed toward us. Anne muttered, “I hope we get some rain out of this.” The moment those words fell from her mouth, the wind picked up. It was as if some invisible puppeteer was making our palo verde tree dance the Hully-Gully. It didn’t take long before the wind-swept rain chased us off of the front porch.

We retreated to the deck on the leeward side of the house, where we could see the splattering of large raindrops turn into a deluge. With the help of Nature’s strobe lights, we watched our red gravel parking area fill and turned into a red sea. All the while, the constant din of hovering 737s filled our ears, occasionally interrupted by the occasional plunking of hail ricocheting off the BBQ.

As we stood there, we saw the westbound lightning clear the patio roof. That meant that we were directly under the storm, and that’s when the rain subsided, much sooner than I expected. As the storm cell marched towards Aguila, the roar began to quiet, and we could hear distinct claps of thunder again. “I expect the power will go out at any moment,” I said to Anne, so when we went inside, I shut down the stereo and computers. As predicted, the power went out just as we climbed into bed—but only for a minute.

We haven’t experienced a monsoon storm with that kind of energy since we lived in Deer Valley—twenty years ago. According to those who track such things, we only got an inch of rain, less than half of that by other low-lying valley areas that experienced flooding. That’s more than double the rainfall than we got all of the last two summers.

The point is that we weren’t expecting rain Friday night, and that’s the way monsoon evenings go. The Weather Service doesn’t have the granular data to predict rain in specific neighborhoods. Like the clouds in this week’s picture, the storms brew all day over the mountains and come the evening, and they move off in unpredictable directions.

McCloud Clouds - Billowing thunderheads building in the afternoon over the McCloud Mountain Range.
McCloud Clouds – Billowing thunderheads building in the afternoon over the McCloud Mountain Range.

I shot the picture that I call McCloud Clouds outside Hillside—a small hamlet north of Congress. It has some nice thunderheads billowing over a range called the McCloud Mountains. I had never heard of them before, but I decided to have fun with them after looking them up. Can you blame me?

You can see a larger version of McCloud Clouds on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week to see what happens next.

Until next time — jw

Cirrus Streak Picture of the Week

My favorite landscape photographers have different styles of working with a horizon. There’s a group that omits the sky from their images. Charles Cramer, for example, most often leaves the sky out of his pictures. Michael Kenna and Ansel Adams use the skyline as part of their image’s graphic design. On the other hand, Mitch Dobrowner’s images are mostly sky and extreme weather. (To be honest, if I ever had an opportunity to go on one of Mitch’s shoots, I’d take lots of underwear because I’d be scared.)

I can’t think of a master photographer that exclusively shoots sky. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the lack of context. Clouds around the world are the same. Without a ground-based reference point, you can’t tell where or when I took the photo, and there’s no sense of scale because clouds come in all sizes.

Cirrus Streak - A wispy streak of cirrus clouds thousands of feet above monsoon cumulus clouds forming above the mountain tops.
Cirrus Streak – A wispy streak of cirrus clouds thousands of feet above monsoon cumulus clouds forming above the mountain tops.

My picture of the week, for example, could have been taken in Tibet, at the Grand Canyon, or even in your backyard. It’s not obvious what year, season, or time of day it was taken. It’s essentially a monochrome image that would work as well if it were black and white; only the subtle color in the cumulus clouds hint of the hour.

The story of this week’s image—that I call Cirrus Streak—is that this is another of my August Monsoon Clouds project. In my quest to hunt down and capture images for the project, I drove a back road through the valley between the Weaver and Date Creek mountain ranges. As I said last week, the Weaver’s (along with the Bradshaw Mountains) are a breeding ground for our evening storms.

As I drove, I noticed this streaky cirrus cloud thousands of feet above a cluster of cumulus clouds building low over the mountains. I’m partial to how the high wispy clouds get distorted into interesting shapes from the winds aloft. So, I stopped the truck and framed these clouds as a graphic design. If you’re disoriented, the blue sky gives you a clue. The color always gets lighter towards the horizon, so the mountains appear under the frame’s bottom.

You can see a larger version of Cirrus Streak on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week to see another image from my cloud hunt grab bag.

Until next time — jw

Summit Monsoon Picture of the Week

My third grade class picture.
A third-grade class picture from my Catholic School days.

Sister Mary Ellie-Font taught us about purgatory in the third grade—and she wasn’t talking about the Colorado ski resort. Heaven and Hell weren’t enough to cover the petty sins not covered by commandments. So, Catholics came up with alternative punishment to keep us in line. One way or another, we were going to pay for the Big Mac we ate on Friday. Purgatory is a holding cell where we would stay until God had enough free time to sort us out—or someone specifically prayed for our soul. At the age of eight, we learned that you could skate from anything if you had connections.

For the last couple of months, it feels like we’ve been living in that purgatory-like state of limbo. We’re waiting for something to happen. When we got our vaccine shots this spring, we all climbed aboard a trolley to the beach. Now it seems like the streetcar is lurching to a halt, and our confidence in the future is waning.

Back in the spring, Queen Anne and I were eager to get back on the road. We were ready to bring back pictures from foreign lands, exotic cities, and far-off islands. We’re not sure the world is ready for that. With the spread of virus variants and rising infection rates, we’ve decided to play it safe a while longer. After all, we’re still in the same high-risk group as when this pandemic began. Besides, that’s what our doctors suggested.

For August, we’re going to hang around our neighborhood, but I wanted to bring you something different. Last week, I wrote about the monsoons and how they brought much-needed rain and spectacular evening light shows. So, this month I’m featuring monsoon clouds—the prettier side of our summer rainy season instead of the floods and muck on the evening news.

Summit Monsoon - Thunderstorms build over the mountains by day, and then move down to the desert floor in the evenings.
Summit Monsoon – Thunderstorms build over the mountains by day and then move down to the desert floor in the evenings.

I took this week’s picture in our town’s natural amphitheater—where the old mine and pioneer cemetery is. It shows one of the Date Creek Range’s low peaks and thunder clouds building over the distant Weaver Mountains. The storms only happen when enough moisture moves up from Mexico. Then, the billowing thunderheads form high over the Bradshaw Mountains and flow into the desert. The rain cells are not particularly big, so we never know where it will rain—some nights, we get dust and wind, and other evenings we get drenched. However, the winds cool off the air enough to watch the show from the front porch, making the summers bearable.

You can see a larger version of Summit Monsoon on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week to see the next image that I bagged on my cloud hunt.

Until next time — jw

Burro Creek Bridge Picture of the Week

I had been asleep for an hour when Queen Anne finally came to bed last night. She nudged me until I almost woke and snapped, “What?”

“It’s raining,” she gleefully said.

I rolled over, pulled the covers up, and tried to go back to sleep while grunting, “Harrumph.”

“It’s pouring,” she persisted.

“Why are you waking me?”

“You’re snoring,”

I was too sleepy to recall accurately what happened next, but I think she bumped her head because she went to bed and didn’t get up till morning. I swear that’s the actual conversation we had last night.

This year’s monsoon season is unlike the drought that we had last year. We’ve been enjoying a week of cloudy skies, isolated showers, and last night’s low was under 70°. It wasn’t that pleasant autumn-like 68° where you can throw open the doors and windows. It was 68° with 95% humidity—which is cool only if you have gobs of air blowing at you—aka swamp cooler. But still, we have a decent river flowing down the street out front and the Red Sea in our backyard. The two trellis vines out front that have spent last year imitating Paul Rubin’s death scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer—are already sprouting fresh green shoots.

All in all, it’s been a good monsoon so far, and they say there’s more to come. I lament the wasted rainwater flowing down the streets. There should be a way to capture some of it and store it for a (forgive me) non-rainy day. The runoff flows down the washes and eventually into the Gila River, where the Gila Bend and Yuma farmers use it for their crops.

I’ll bet if I revisited Burro Creek—last week’s featured image—it would look like a proper creek instead of a string of puddles. I’m not going to risk a possibility of getting caught in a flash flood. Arizona has a Stupid Driver law now, and with my luck, I’d be the first person to get billed for my rescue. Instead—as I promised last week—I’ll turn the camera around so that you can see what’s downstream.

Burro Creek Bridges - A pair of future freeway bridges cross Burro Creek before Greenwood Peak.
Burro Creek Bridges – A pair of future freeway bridges cross Burro Creek before Greenwood Peak.

The subject of this week’s image is a pair of freeway bridges over Burro Creek, waiting for Interstate 11. Don’t be fooled into believing that this is an empty highway. U.S. 93 is normally a bustling traffic corridor. It’s just that my image was taken just after dinner when the freight drivers are still belching in truck stops.

You can see a couple of other things in the photo and another hidden by the bridge. First—under the bridge—are the deep pools in the creek. They’re wet all year round, so they have small fish in them. The minnows are useless to anglers, but they support a colony of Great Blue Herron that nest along the canyon walls.

Along the horizon is the 4,339 foot high Greenwood Peak. I have another shot of this mountain that was featured in a January 2020 post. During that month, Anne and I drove over the pass to the mountain’s left and, at the bottom, we found the road blocked by water flowing in the Big Sandy River. In that article, we remarked how the slopes of the Poachie Range were covered with saguaro and pinion pines growing next to one another.

Finally, what’s hidden behind the bridges is the Burro Creek Campground. It’s smallish with quiet camping spots until a loaded semi drives over the bridge’s expansion strips—the noise echoes along the canyon walls like Gilbert Godfrey with a megaphone. However, if you’re into history, the campground’s access road is the original two-lane highway that winds its way down the canyon, crosses the creek on a  low bridge, and then ascends the north face.

You can see a larger version of Burro Creek Bridge on its Web Page by clicking here. I have to come up with a creative idea for August, so please come back and see what I’ve come up with. For now, I’m going to don my galoshes and go stomp in some puddles.

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

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