Dune Moon Picture of the Week

When Queen Anne and I make our quarterly medical run-to-the-border, the drive is usually three-hours each way. Most of the time, we leave at dawn, see our dentist, buy prescriptions, and then come home. For me, those are long days behind the wheel; for Anne, not so much. She’s usually asleep in the passenger seat until her snoring wakes her up.

Occasionally when we have lab work done, or the customs line is three-hours long because the snow-birds have arrived, we’ll get a room in the elegant east-side Motel 6 and dine at the swanky four-star Denney’s. Our December visit was one of those occasions. Since I needed a topic for January’s posts anyway, we spent an extra night and took a circuitous route home—we’d go up to Blyth to work the Algodones Sand Dunes for this month’s project.

The great swath of sand starts about three miles south of the border outside of Los Algodones, Baja. It continues 45 miles northwest into the Coachella Valley (California’s Imperial Valley). They’re the most extensive contiguous dune system in the U.S. The dunes are also called the Imperial Dunes, Glamis Dunes, and Gordon’s Well. The name varies with location and the leisure activity you’re doing. Still, the entire system is officially named Algodones Dunes (in Spanish, it means cotton plant—the predominant crop grown on both sides of the border along the Colorado River). This week, we’ll start west of Yuma at the Mexican border—at Gordon’s Well.

Imagine it’s 1850, and you’ve traveled by wagon hundreds of miles across the scorching Sonoran Desert, forded a raging Colorado River, and finally crossed into California. You’d think your hardships are behind, but then, you’re greeted with 6 miles of Sahara-like sand to cross. With each step, you sink up to your knees. Even in 1926, when the nation’s first Ocean to Ocean highway was built (U.S. Route 80), the shifting sand was an engineering nightmare. They couldn’t simply scrape the sand away because the prevailing wind constantly covered it up again. Even today, if you’re caught in a windstorm along this section of road, you’ll risk a chance that the sand will blast the paint off your car.

Plank Road - You can see what's left of the old plank road on display at Gordon's Well.
Plank Road – You can see what’s left of the old plank road on display at Gordon’s Well.

The road builder’s solution for getting across was to build a plank road—movable wood sections on railroad-lie ties that floated on the sand’s top. It turned out to be challenging to maintain, but it drastically cut the crossing time when it was clear. Eventually, the planks were replaced with new and expensive asphalt, and eventually, it became Interstate 8. There is a section of the original plank road at Gordon’s Well on display. When you grow tired of looking at the old wood road, you can walk over to the border wall and lean on it.

Dune Moon - A waning gibbons moon setting over the Algodones Dunes west of Winterhaven, California.
Dune Moon – A waning gibbons moon sets over the Algodones Dunes west of Winterhaven, California.

As Anne and I drove west on the freeway, we spotted a waning moon setting on the dunes, so we looked for a place to stop. We’ve got stuck in these sands once before, so we were careful not to drive off the blacktop. I didn’t want to pay for another hook to come to yank us out. As you can see, we found a good spot and took this week’s picture called Dune Moon. The name could have been funnier if I had shot it during a particular summer month. Se la vie.

You can see a larger version of Dune Moon on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we drive north up the Imperial Valley to visit the northern dune crossing. Be sure to come back and see what we found.

Until next time — jw

Skull Valley Depot Picture of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time — jw

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

Big Horn Tank Picture of the Week

We’re down to the final month of this gawd awful year. For one, I will be happy to get my vaccination and venture back out into the world again—well, right after you get yours, and I see that you don’t get sick and die from it. I’m afraid that it’ll be months before it’s my turn because I’m too young and pretty. So, because it’s a short month, and Queen Anne has abandoned me, we’re going to explore a road that’s both close by but too expansive to cover in one day.

This month’s focus will be on a road, unlike what we’ve covered on this platform before. It’s not even dirt. It’s a road that stretches from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Monica, California. It’s also the longest possible way to cross Texas. When Anne and I visited Deb and Fred in Austin several years ago, I was dismayed to see a highway sign that said our destination was further off than the two states through which we’d already driven. I’m, of course, talking about Interstate 10.

Calm down, we’re not going to do the whole thing in one month, and I’m not ready for a lifetime commitment (ask Anne). For December, we’re going to point out the landmarks that I enjoy seeing between Phoenix and the Colorado River. Even with that limitation, there are too many to fit into four Sundays. We’re not even heading in a particular direction; we’ll talk about each place as I get to it.

If you’re like me, you loath driving cross country on the Interstates, but they are the most efficient route when your time is limited. I’ve made countless trips between Los Angeles and Phoenix since moving here a half-century ago, and the flat desert always was the worst grind—river, flat, mountain, flat, mountain, flat, town. After I learned some about the mountain ranges, it was more enjoyable to know that Courthouse Rock was coming up on the south side or that I could spot the abandoned solar observatory on top of Harquahala Mountain. It was like saying, “Hi” to old friends as we passed.

This week’s featured image was taken in the Tonopah area. From east to west, you’ll pass the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, stop at Tonopah Joe’s for gas and heartburn, then on the north side of the highway—where Salome Road crosses—there’s a prominent horn mountain, called Big Horn Mountain. It’s the centerpiece of a wilderness area that’s the same name. Actually, there are two wilderness areas separated by a dirt road that I’ve yet to discover. These are the Big Horn Mountains Wilderness and the Hummingbird Springs Wilderness across the street. You can do backflips across the road from one to the other.

On the plains south of Big Horn Mountain Wilderness Area, is a rusty tank meant to provide water to cattle on the open range.
Big Horn Tank – On the plains south of Big Horn Mountain Wilderness Area is a rusty tank meant to provide water to cattle on the open range.

This week’s featured image that I called Big Horn Tank was taken from the Harquahala Plain off of the Salome Road. There on the open range, I found a rusty water tank for an interesting foreground. I think that rust is a photographer’s favorite color, and I like how the white PVC pipe accents the tank. The other thing I see is how little vegetation cattle have for grazing. They don’t eat creosote (would you), so they only munch on the yellow grass.

You can see a larger version of Big Horn Tank on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week for another roadside landmark from Interstate 10. Tomorrow, I have to phone the Queen to see where I’m allowed to go. Wait till I tell her what happened to me as I was leaving Algodones yesterday—she’ll never let me out of the house again.

Until next time — jw

Road Bend Picture of the Week

Although I’ve tried my best to hold back time, the season has changed,  and it’s summer again in the desert. Summer’s dog days are the worst time to be photographing our arid home. Except for the brief respite at either end of the day, the bright sun and ozone combine to wash the colors away. It’s like seeing the world through a 2% milk bottle—the glass ones, not the cartons. You need polarizing sunglasses to force the blue to show in the sky again.

We desert-rats are nothing if not adaptive. Like all of the other Sonoran critters, we hide in our holes during the day. For example, the Round-tailed Ground Squirrel escapes the day heat in his den by sleeping splayed-out on his back. I do the same thing, and I’d show you photographic evidence except I’d be banned forever from the Internet. The other thing we do is migrate. Even during this pandemic, Highway U.S. 93 was a parade of boats heading north towards the rivers and lakes on this holiday weekend.

When we were deciding on a project for July, Queen Anne and I followed a similar logic. We looked for someplace cooler—trust me, 90º is cooler than 110º. We scoured our maps for a place nearby in the mountains, a location that wouldn’t have crowds yet be accessible. We settled on the Senator Highway that runs from Prescott south into the Bradshaw Mountains.

Road Bend - Bright yellow-leaved deciduous trees obscure what's beyond the road on the Senator Highway south of Prescott, Arizona.
Road Bend – Bright yellow-leaved deciduous trees obscure what’s beyond the road on the Senator Highway south of Prescott, Arizona.

Until this month, I didn’t know why there was a dirt road called the Senator Highway. I imagined that it was a route that our state assemblymen traveled when Arizona’s capital swapped several times between Prescott and Phoenix—foolish me. Instead, it’s just another mine road that the miners built it to transport ore and supplies between the Senator Mine and Prescott. If you’re skilled at navigating the Bradshaws, you can technically get to Congress via the Senator Highway.

I find the pine-covered mountains, like the Bradshaw’s, hard to shoot. The trees get in the way. I mean, how many different ways can you get an image of ponderosa pine tree bark? I hunt for edges—splashes of color, an opening to the horizon, or building ruins. That’s what I’m showing in this week’s featured image. At a bend on the highway, I saw some trees (I believe Arizona Ash) with bright yellow-green leaves shinning in the sun against the duller blue-green evergreens. I liked how they obscured the path. My mind wants to find out what’s beyond. It’s a classic leading-line perspective trick, and I find the dappled shade on the road a bonus. I named the first image for our July project Road Bend because it’s a simple title for a simple photo.

You can see a larger version of Road Bend on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week when we present another image from the Senator Highway outside of Prescott.

Until next time — jw

Kirkland Junction Picture of the Week

A couple of decades ago, there was a TV ad where a sleepy-eyed baker got out of bed and made his way to his Dunkin Donuts store, and as he made his way, he mumbled, “Time to Make the Doughnuts.” I felt sorry for the poor guy and wished he could crawl back in bed. But, if your business is selling coffee and deep-fried cake to a morning crowd, you gotta’ make some product. You’ve got to work your schedule.

In photography, the quality of light is vital for making memorable images. Pictures that stand apart from the millions posted daily on Instagram. This topic is one that I’ve covered in my writings several times. Any subject looks better when you capture it when the light is warmer, and the shadows are longer—known as the golden hours. Those happen after sunrise when healthy people are still in bed, and before sunset when smart people have sunset cocktails. When I go out on a photo shoot, I try to time my sessions using that light.

The light is even more complicated in Arizona. Because we live in a longitude closer to the equator, that golden hour dramatically shrinks in summers. To further complicate things,  the desert afternoons are too hot for scouting subjects. That’s why I chose the early morning when Fred and I went to Placerita. To get there at the right time, we left before sunrise. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the clouds moved in and took away the color, so I made a second trip last week. This time I was on my own because Fred was nursing an old war wound, and Queen Anne doesn’t get out of bed unless there’s a jewelry store involved.

So, in the darkness, I packed my gear into Archie and drove north on State Route 89 with a USB stick full of fresh tunes and a hot mug of coffee in the cupholder. In Yarnell, the sky was bright with a line of clouds leftover from the day before. I watched the color deepen as I passed through Peeples Valley. By the time I arrived at Kirkland Junction, I had to stop so that I could get a shot. After turning onto Wagoner Road—this month’s back road—there was enough light to show color on the ground. I lined up the scene so that some abandoned structures were under the pink clouds.

A set of abandoned buildings at Kirkland Junction underneath beautiful pink clouds.
This week’s photo is of a set of abandoned buildings at Kirkland Junction underneath beautiful pink clouds. The mountain in the background is Kirkland Peak.

That’s how I took the last photo in June’s series. I call this week’s featured image, Kirkland Junction. Interestingly, this month we showed the subject of this month’s journey from the end to the beginning. We began the month at our destination—Placerita-and worked to the road’s start. It’s like that movie Momento.  You knew the protagonist was guilty of the murder right up to the story’s beginning that was at the film’s end. I was so confused by the time the movie was over; I had to think about it for weeks. I hope that I haven’t done that for you.

You can see a larger version of Kirkland Junction on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Next week, we’ll begin a new journey on a different, less-traveled highway. I hope you’ll join our expedition.

Until next time — jw

Boundary Cone Picture of the Week

Traveling west from Oatman, on the old Route 66, it’s only a couple of miles before the Black Mountains fill the rearview mirror. The Mohave Valley sprawls beyond the truck hood, and the road descends the talus slope to the river. There aren’t any signs here, but the beautiful view takes in three states. Arizona stops at the river, of course, but beyond the blue water, California is on the truck’s south side while Nevada is to the right.

The highway passes a rounded cone that resembles the hat style worn by the Seven Dwarves. The road has a fork here, and if your destination is Bullhead City, then go straight. But, the left fork is our historic road, and it leads south to the freeway and railroad bridges at Topock Marsh. We’re not done with the mountains yet because—for most of the way— the Warm Springs Wilderness is outside of the driver’s side window.

The Black Mountains in Mohave Country always delight me. There’s a lot in them to photograph. I understand why chunks of them have been set aside as wilderness areas. I could spend years exploring and capturing their beauty on film. As an aging dotard, however, I need my truck to do that. I’m intrigued about the new riding drones that police departments are buying. They look like a motorcycle with four propellers strapped to the sides (like in this Dubai video). One of you needs to come up with the money to buy me one. With my luck, however, I’d fall off into one of the blades and become sliced salami. Besides, the government doesn’t allow drones in wilderness areas (national parks, wildlife preserves, or recreation areas). What’s that old saying? “I would have taken better care of myself if I knew that I was going to live this long.” Why did we ever laugh at Jack LaLanne?

Boundary Cone - On the right is Boundary Cone, the center of the Mohave Tribe's world, and a handy marker to keep you dry.
Boundary Cone – On the right is Boundary Cone, the center of the Mohave Tribe’s world, and a handy marker to keep you dry.

This week’s featured image was a call at the line—sorry for the sports metaphor. I had another picture picked out, and already published, but when I started researching the area, the image that I call Boundary Cone has a better story. The 4000’ peak sticks out like a sore thumb from anywhere in the valley. The Mohave Indians consider it sacred, and it is the center of their homeland. Imagine how upset they were when miners started digging at it.

Coincidently, if you could walk from Boundary Cone due west to the middle of the Colorado River, and then north for a couple of hundred yards, you would be standing—or swimming—in Arizona, California, and Nevada at the same time. Just like people do at Four Corners, and nobody would charge you (I sincerely think people would pay to see that). The actual point where the three states meet is the intersection of the 35th parallel and the Colorado River. But, I think it’s cool that you can tell which state you’re in by glancing at Boundary Cone without getting wet.

You can see a larger version of Boundary Cone on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Next week, we’ll continue our Route 66 journey to the freeway. I hope you’ll join us then.

Until next time — jw

%d bloggers like this: