Water Tank Picture of the Week

Water Tank - The Richardsons added a water tank on their to ensure there was water during dry periods.
Water Tank – The Richardsons added a water tank on their property to ensure there was water during dry periods.

 It’s a miracle! We changed seasons on Tuesday, and Thursday night, we had our first summer rain. Getting rain during summer isn’t unusual, but getting it so soon was. It was nice to break our six-month dry spell finally. It wasn’t a deluge but enough to tamp down the dust.

Our storm cell came through at 1:00 am, and I listened to the thunder approaching in bed. The weather service says that you can tell how far away the strikes are by counting the time between the flash and the thunderclap. “If you count the number of seconds between the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder, and then divide by 5, you’ll get the distance in miles to the lightning: 5 seconds = 1 mile, 15 seconds = 3 miles, 0 seconds = very close.” As I lay in bed, I counted one, two, three …, then there were a couple of strikes where I didn’t get to finish the one. That’s when I got up.

When I did, Queen Anne was already outside—in the dark—dressed in a T-shirt and flip-flops moving flower pots around so the rain could water them. I scolded and reminded her about the 3 S’s (snakes, spiders, and scorpions). She seemed oblivious to the blue-white lightning streaking dozens of miles across the black sky above her head. At first, I was concerned that the strikes would start another wildfire because they struck close around us. When the rain started falling, it eased my mind, and I quickly got bored and went back to bed.

According to forecasters, we’re supposed to have an above-average monsoon this season. That’s good because our drought has lasted nearly 20 years. I’m not optimistic that I’ll see a recovery in my lifetime. Climatologists told us of 100-year droughts in the past, and they conjecture that those dry periods may have caused the Anasazi, Sinagua, and other pueblo tribes to move in search of water.

Water has always been a concern in the desert west. That’s as true today as it was when the Richardsons homesteaded their place in Union Pass. There’s a spring near the pass that supported their cattle and orchard. Can you imagine hauling water up 3000′ from the Colorado River? Even with a spring, they need a healthy water reserve to get through the dry months.
As you can see in this week’s photo that I call Water Tank, they built a good-sized tank on the property for water storage. From this image, I guess the tank dates back to when they made the gas station. The concrete foundation work looks similar to that of the pump island.

I’m sure vandals added the graffiti and bullet holes to the tank’s side after the family moved off the property. They are another example of vandalism that supports my argument that the BLM should set this homestead aside for protection. Otherwise, these ruins won’t be around much longer.

I hope you enjoyed our month at the Richardson Homestead. You can see the larger version of Water Tank on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we begin a new project in a different location. Hopefully, it will be someplace cool. Please come back then and see what Queen Anne picked for us.

Till Next Time
jw

Sideyard Picture of the Week

Sideyard - The west facing facade of the Richardson home bathed in early morning light.
Sideyard – The west-facing facade of the Richardson home bathed in the early morning light.

This week, we reluctantly leave last week’s Cozy Bed by the Fire and step outside of the historic stone house so that we can explore further. On that May morning, the air was crisp, and the smell of sage-flavored tree pollen filled the air. They were sure signs that spring had come to the 3500′ Union Pass. Since I had spent the night at one of the river casinos, I had on my summer uniform—shorts and a T-shirt. The 60° temperature was perfect for encouraging me to keep moving.

I only took a few steps into the sideyard before seeing the composition that triggered my instinct to take this week’s shot. It’s the west face of the Richardson house covered with a corrugated tin roof. It’s in pretty good shape, so I’m surprised that poachers haven’t already salvaged the metal.

Two weeks ago, Fred commented on the Richardson House post. He said, “…I admire people that can build rock houses. Not easy!” I agree, and as I processed this image, I wondered how John Richardson learned to build a rock house. This morning I searched YouTube and found over a half dozen videos on the task, but John didn’t have that resource in 1897, did he? I understand his use of local volcanic stones—that makes sense. But, I have many other questions: did his dad teach him how to build, or did he take classes at night school?

To further appreciate this century and a quarter-year-old structure, we must remember that the family of five moved to Union Pass from Los Angeles because he had a respiratory disease. Lugging boulders around is fatiguing work for the healthiest of us. If Queen Anne suggested that I build a new home out in the Black Mountains, I’d look around at the rocks, trees, and water supply; then, I’d go hunting for a large cave. It would be faster for me to invent a giant 3D printer than to hand-lay all those rocks.

Maybe people back then were more resourceful than we are. My dad was. Once, in a land far away and a time long ago, my wife and I converted a spare bedroom into a den at our Scottsdale house. We had to pause because we needed shelves for the enormous 24″ TV we wanted in the closet space. In those days, we didn’t have Lowe’s, we had Sears, and lumber yards were closed on Sundays. When my dad came by and we showed off our work, he drove to America’s department store and bought the cheapest skill saw they sold. Then he cut up the bi-fold closet doors and built our shelves out of the garbage we planned to take to the dump. Voila, we watched the football game in our new den on the big screen that evening. I never thought to re-use the scrap wood even though most of my brain cells still functioned then. It’s even worse today. Some mornings I spend minutes staring at the back of the fridge until I remember coming into the kitchen for a coffee spoon.

I don’t think I appreciated how clever my father was until I had to stand alone. So, if you’re fortunate enough, hug your dad for no reason on this Father’s Day. Show your aprication while there’s time.

You can see the larger version of Sideyard on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week, and we’ll see what shot I can come up with to finish our month with the Richardsons.

Till Next Time
jw

Cozy Bed by the Fire Picture of the Week

Cozy Bed by the Fire - A discarded box spring left inside the abandoned Richardson House at Union Pass.
Cozy Bed by the Fire – A discarded box spring someone left inside the abandoned Richardson House at Union Pass.

Neither of my grandfathers was around when I grew up, but their wives were more than a kid could handle. I don’t know of two women that were such opposites. They were the prototype for the good-cop/bad-cop routine used by police worldwide. My parents invited each to live with us at one time or another. For us kids, it was like having four bosses—with different agendas.

My dad’s mom was a short stalky woman who spoke with a Polish accent, even though she was born in Pittsburg. That was the primary language in the neighborhood where she lived. When I was in kindergarten, my mom made my dad move to the suburbs after I came home swearing in Polish. Her name was Regina, but we always called her grandma—or Grandma Witt when they were both around. She earned money for cleaning downtown offices at night. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but she owned her home up on Leander Street—the Rodeo Drive of Polack Hill.

After she retired, she joined us in California, and my parents paid her to clean our house—which never needed cleaning. Except for Christmas cookies, she was a terrible cook. She used vinegar in everything, and her favorite vegetable was sauerkraut. On Wednesdays, she’d make pork chops. According to her, they weren’t cooked until they were dry and brittle as their serving plate. It took years to get over my disdain for pork. When we would test her boundaries, the extent of her discipline ended with the phrase, “I’m going to tell your father when he gets home.” She never did, so we got away with murder.

Mom’s mother, on the other hand, was a terrorist. I don’t know how her seven children made it out alive because she detested kids. We called her Grandma Moore even though she took back her maiden name after divorcing my granddad. She was thinner and a couple of inches taller than dad’s mom, and we kids called her Mean Grandma. Whenever my mom would announce that she was coming to stay with us, we tuned up and bawled. My mom told us she was a registered nurse, but her remedy for anything was mercurochrome or Bromo Quinine. If you ever saw a red-splotched child heaving at the curb, that was us.

One time my dad came home on a payday and surprised us with brand new toys. They were those wooden paddles with a red ball attached by a rubber string. The goal was to continuously bounce the ball off the paddle like a horizontal yoyo (Because I lacked coordination, the ball kept smacking me in the face). The day my parents returned to work, she tore the ball and band off and kept the paddles handy to swat us when we got out of line.

I remember her telling us that we were all heathens and should behave more like our cousins. After she died and we all gathered for her funeral, those cousins recounted how my sisters and I were her examples of well-behaved children. That’s when I realized that she acted the same with all her grandkids.

At one point in my photography career, I began shooting trash furniture. I took one picture of a chair, and then I began to see discarded furniture everywhere. It jumped out at me. I have an extensive collection of chairs I found dumped on the street, and you can see some of them in my Have A Seat gallery. When I was shooting at the Richardson Homestead last month and stuck my head inside the house, I came up with the ironic title before I snapped the photo. Even though it’s garbage, Queen Anne and I have stayed in motels that weren’t much better.

I stepped inside, but when I framed the shot, I was too close—even with my widest lens. I had to back up to get everything in the frame. When I stood outside the door, its structure got in the shot, so the perfect place to stand was in the doorway. But, since that was the scene’s primary light source, the stage was too dark. I was blocking the incoming light. That’s when I heard Grandma Moor’s voice in my head reciting one of her favorite phrases, “You make a better door than a window.” She would always say that whenever we stood in front of the TV. Forty years after her death, she haunts the darker corners of my brain.

I finally figured out how to get this week’s photo without the dreaded slow-shutter blur. I call this image Cozy Bed by the Fire, and you can see the larger version on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week to see the next shot from my morning at the Richardson Homestead.

Till Next Time
jw

Richardson House Picture of the Week

Richardson House - The remains of the home that John Richardson built on their Union Pass homestead.
Richardson House – The remains of the home that John Richardson built on their Union Pass homestead.

At the beginning of May, I had to make another Algodones run. I broke another tooth and needed our dentist to look at it. Since Queen Anne had company, I traveled alone. These frequent dental visits have gotten old. When we travel to Mexico, it’s not for fun. Being an old codger, I’ve been wondering what advice I have for the following generations, and one thing that comes to mind is this: “Kids, if you’re hoping to live past 35, take better care of your teeth.” I could have bought a boat with all my money wasted in my mouth.

My stay in the chair wasn’t long. The doctor looked in my mouth, chattered in Spanish, ground down the pointy parts, handed me a jar of antibiotics, and said, “Come back in two weeks. We need to dig the old tooth out.” They set me free, and it wasn’t even noon.

I could have driven home, but the house was full of visiting women, and I’d be like a third thumb. Since I wasn’t expected home for another day, I drove north, following the Colorado River to Laughlin, where I could enjoy another boy’s night out. I had my camera to tend to some unfinished business.

After my last Nevada visit in September, my featured project was the marvelous rock formations near Union Pass. That’s where Mohave County Route 68 crosses through the Black Mountains and begins its descent to the Colorado River. While researching my articles, I learned about the Richardson family and their Union Pass homestead. I told their story in my post titled Broken Crown, so I won’t burden you here by repeating it. At that post’s end, I said that I wanted to go back and spend some time shooting the homestead’s ruins, and that’s why I spent the night in Laughlin.

Unfortunately, a law of entropy states that things on their own will decay—they simply fall apart. There’s a set of humans who enjoy helping the process. That’s why I wanted to get back to Union Pass soon, and I’m glad that I did. Pictures showed the gas pump island cracked but intact in recent internet posts. On my visit, someone utterly destroyed it. However, there were enough ruins left that I spent the better part of a morning wandering and shooting them.

The first picture for this month’s Richardson Homestead project is the two-story house hand-built by John using local stone. It is nestled in the shade of an Arizona Ash. The tree covers the two-story structure with the dappled light that I love. Compared with earlier pictures, someone has torn down the large cross on its right side, and graffiti now decorates the front retaining wall (off-camera and purposefully not included). The house is the most intact building on the homestead. With over forty years of neglect, it hasn’t fallen.

I’m sad that Mohave County or the BLM hasn’t set this property aside as a park or a protected historical site. Without that protection, I expect this place to be gone before future generations can learn about the Richardsons and their homestead. Although a complete restoration would be ideal, simply keeping it in a state of arrested decay would be the first step. For example, at the Gillespie Dam and bridge, there is an interpretive center that Maricopa County built to explain their historical significance. Something like that would hopefully deter vandals from running amuck. Hand me a petition; I’ll sign it.

You can see a larger version of Richardson House on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll pick through the Richardson ruins to find other artistic shots to show you. Be sure to come back and see them.

Till Next Time
jw

Adobe Ruin Picture of the Week

Adobe Ruins - In the ghost town of Dos Cabezas, most of the remaining buildings are severely decayed.
Adobe Ruins – In the ghost town of Dos Cabezas, most of the remaining buildings are in a severe state of decay.

Roughly midway between Willcox and the Chiricahua National Monument, the county highway’s speed limit drops to 45 mph. At first, there’s no clue about the slowdown until a small sign announces that you’re entering the town of Dos Cabezas. Only three of its dozen or so buildings are worthy of occupancy. The rest are in various states of decay. It’s only a city block long, and you soon return to an empty country road, where you can reset the cruise control.

After driving through Dos Cabezas three times, I insisted on stopping on our fourth pass. As regular readers know, I’m a sucker for historic buildings, whether they’re restored or about to be blown down by the wind. I’m glad that I did, and this week’s featured shot is one of several that I captured during that afternoon.

As with most Arizona ghost towns, Dos Cabezas’s history is a flash of glory followed by a long decay period. The town is located at the southeastern reach of the mountain range, which shares the same name. When word came out that prospectors discovered gold and silver on the mountain, miners swooped in like hungry vultures to feed on a carcass. The Feds opened a Post Office in 1878, which served a population of 300 that eventually swelled to over 4000. They found little gold in the Elma mine, but there were some copper deposits. Investment capital dried up when investors discovered that the mine was a scam and part of stock fraud. People left to find work elsewhere. As the town dwindled, the Post Office finally closed its branch in 1960. I guess that you could count today’s Dos Cabezas citizens on one of your hands.

In this picture that I call Adobe Ruin, you see the remains of a large building constructed using adobe bricks and stucco. The town once had a hotel, and these sections may be all that’s left of it. Adobe was a common building material throughout the old southwest because it was simple to make. All you need is to combine mud and straw and let it dry in the sun. The thick bricks provide plenty of protection from the desert heat and cold winters, but they quickly erode once water enters them.

I took several variations of the building, but I favored this one because I liked the mud stains streaking down the wall, and I liked the wall’s placement before the background’s two-headed mountain. The desert willow and hackberry show how soon nature reclaims her own. Ashes to ashes, as it were.

You can see a larger version of Adobe Ruin on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll walk down the street to look at another of the Dos Cabezas ruins. Come back then and have a look.

Till Next Time
jw

Schwertner House Picture of the Week

Schwertner House - Built as an overnight barracks for Army officers during the Apache Wars, the Schwertner family bought and lived in the house until 1980.
Schwertner House – Built as an overnight barracks for Army officers during the Apache Wars, the Schwertner family bought and lived in the house until 1980.

In 1880, when Southern Pacific established a whistle-stop in Willcox, there was peace everywhere in the country except in Cochise County. Here the Army was busy battling Cochise and Geronimo in the Chiricahuas. Stupid decisions made by Army officers prolonged the Apache Wars, but that’s another day’s story.

The U.S. Army operated from several forts in the southeast corner of the Arizona Territory, and the newly built railroad was an efficient way to get officers into Arizona. So, the Army immediately paid to have a boarding house built within walking distance of the Willcox train station. The green officers had a place to stay until troops escorted them to Fort Bowie, Fort Grant, or Fort Thomas.

After hostilities ended, Joseph Schwertner bought the barracks for his family’s home. Joe was a well-off Schley saloon owner, one of several that lined Railroad Avenue at the turn of the century. After Joe died in 1929, his heirs continued to live in the house until 1980, when they gifted it to the local historical society. Today, the pretty little yellow house with green shutters is one of several buildings in Willcox on the National Registry list and is open for tours.

In this week’s picture, I shot the historic home at dawn just after I got my first cup of coffee and my eyes finally opened. I called the shot Schwertner House—its proper name. In addition to the lovely morning light on its yellow front and new metal roof, I like the picket fence (I’m a sucker for picket fences because they’re rare in Arizona). The dark green shutters should be next on the TLC list.

What if you’re not into history and old buildings? What else is in Willcox that makes it worth a visit? A mile or so east of the railroad crossing is the town’s golf course. It’s not fancy, and it will never be on the PGA tour, but that’s not important to most golfers. I’ve never been good at stick-and-ball sports, so I’m not keen on golf. However, on the road and just past the course is something that I do find exciting.

Willcox Playa Sandhills - Sandhill Cranes stop at the Wilcox Playa on their way to Canada.
Willcox Playa Sandhills – Sandhill Cranes, stop at the Wilcox Playa to rest and feed on their way to Canada.

We started our Willcox story a couple of weeks ago by explaining why Southern Pacific picked this spot for a stop. The railroad located the town along the northeast part of the Willcox Playa. Usually a dry lakebed, there is enough seasonal water to fill the low spots. Because these shallow pools are dependable year after year, migrating waterfowl stop for food and rest.

The most notable flock of birds is the Sandhill Cranes. The large stilt-legged gray birds are in the ponds late winter until the weather warms enough to continue to Canada. The playa is the best place to watch the red-faced birds this side of New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache preserve.

Since the access road encircles the ponds, you can watch the cranes from your car. In freezing mornings, the birds cluster in tight groups, communicating with trills, clucking, and squawks. Before they take to the air, their cacophony gets louder and the pace quicker. Then a half dozen take a couple of steps and flap their long broad wings rising gracefully above the pond. In winter, the air in Sulfur Springs Valley has temperature inversions, so the birds fly up to where the air is warmer and soar over town. The locals proudly call the phenomena Wings over Willcox, or WOW.

You can see a larger version of Schwertner House on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I have a final shot of historical Willcox, so come back and see what we’ve dug up.

Until next time — jw

Eagletail Peak  Picture of the Week

In last week’s article, I mentioned that the Eagletail Wilderness encompassed two desert mountain ranges and the Sonoran Desert basin that lies between them. The Eagletail Range was one, while the other is a chain known as Cemetery Ridge. After I gave you their name, I made an offhand remark about how they got that name. Well, I accepted that question as this week’s homework assignment, boys and girls. Here’s what I found—nothing.

Cemetery Ridge - A 16 mile-long chain of mountains that make up the southwest flank of the Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area.
Cemetery Ridge – This is a 16 mile-long chain of mountains that make up the southwest flank of the Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area.

Well, that’s not wholly true because, in my handy Arizona Place Names book, there is this entry:

“This sixteen-mile-long and two-mile-wide, low range was the scene of the killing of several prospectors in the 1870s, according to local stories. Their bodies are said to be buried on the ridge (sic), which is also known as Cemetery Hills.”

When I read that, I thought, “Alright, there’s an interesting historical story to tell my loyal readers.” So I, as the unofficial Marshall Trimble understudy, started a week of research that would have made Jimmy Olson proud. I wanted to find out what miners, who killed them, why, and where are they buried. I asked Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google’s unnamed assistant. None of them knew nothin’.

I did find out that I’m not the only person searching for those answers. Google referred me to the Desert Mountaineer blog. There I found the anonymous author had written a three-part journal covering Cemetery Ridge. The writer is a pretty good storyteller and photographer, but his passion is climbing mountains, and the photographs are incidental, kind of the opposite of what I do.

His three-part saga covers four days of driving the same roads I did, looking for graves. He travels with his dog, sleeps in his truck, and often stops to climb the mountains he passes—sometimes two or three in a day. I’m impressed! Anyway, after exploring the entire length of Cemetery Ridge, he didn’t find our legendary graves. He does mention the place where Deadman Wash crosses Cemetery Ridge on the west side. If ever there were a place to look, that would be where I’d start. It has all the intrigue of a pirate’s treasure map.

Framed between two of the Cemetery Ridge Mountains, Eagletail Peak's feathers lit by the sunrise.
Framed between two of the Cemetery Ridge Mountains, Eagletail Peak’s feathers lit by the sunrise.

I shot this week’s image along the Arlington-Clanton Well Road on the south side of Cemetery Ridge. The Ridge’s mountains (like hills really) appear and disappear in a straight line for 16 miles. At one of those places where they slip below the surface like a giant sea-serpent, I saw Eagletail Peak framed and lit by the sunrise. You can make out the ‘tail feathers’ sticking up at the top in the picture. I want to explain that the Eagletail Wilderness is directly under the Los Angeles-Phoenix flyway, so contrails are part of the natural landscape, but they won’t let me fly my drone there.

You can see a larger version of Eagletail Peak on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we go hunting for more treasure in the Eagletail Range. Come back then and see if we were successful.

Until next time — jw

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