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

Cochise Head Picture of the Week

Cochise Head - The 8087' high peak in the Chiricahua Mountains that resembles the great Apache Chief, Cochise.
Cochise Head – The 8087′ high peak in the Chiricahua Mountains resembles the great Apache Chief, Cochise.

Living with my editor-in-chief has been particularly stressful. Her sisters are coming for a visit this week. She waltzed her beloved Dyson through the house while singing to the bluebirds, bunnies, and butterflies. She stressed her red vacuum so much that she broke it and had to order parts from Ireland. I don’t think she’s well—I caught her washing a window. I’ve become the red-headed step-child. I have to eat on the back porch, I can’t use either bathroom, and my office desk is the only place I can sit. When I gave her this post to check, I had to check my hand for missing fingers. I believe that Cyndi thinks that if she passes this inspection, her sisters will let her accompany them to the palace ball. She’s forgotten that she already hooked her Prince Charming thirty-four years ago. I blame it on this sudden Bridgerton obsession.

Other than that, welcome to May. This month, we will feature images that I took as we drove between Willcox and the Chiricahua National Monument. The satin ribbon that ties the collection together is Cochise County Road 186. Otherwise, it’s a collection of odds and ends that didn’t fit inside the park. Over the next five Sundays, we’ll work our way from the monument and back to town. That way, there’s some logic to my presentation.

Right from the beginning, I’m going to cheat. You can’t see the peak in this week’s picture from the highway, and it’s not inside the park, but you can see it best from there. This image is of the 8087’ high Cochise Head located in the northern section of the Chiricahua Mountains. For perspective, the eroded granite head is a mile wide. The name is descriptive because it resembles Cochise, the great Apache chief, with his distinctive Mayan nose and a pine tree eyelash. Like Camelback Mountain, there’s no one person credited for the name; everybody just agreed on the resemblance. Imagine having a mountain named for you while you were alive. Arizona has 15 counties, with 12 of them having tribal names. Cochise County is the only one named after a tribe member. I think that shows how much respect our community had for Cochise (of the other two counties, our legislature named one for a mountain (Graham) and the other for a prominent mine owner (Greenly).

I tried different compositions when I shot this week’s picture—that I call Cochise Head naturally. The one that I chose is centered, which is unusual for me. The others seemed unbalanced somehow. As you move up and down the road, the eye and forehead become more or less prominent. I took this shot from the closest position that I found—standing on a rocky ledge overlooking Bonita Creek Canyon.

You can see a larger version of Cochise Head on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll make our way back to town for dinner, but there’s a place we have to stop so I can grab another photo. Come back next week and see what I found.

Till Next Time

jw

Organ Pipes Picture of the Week

Organ Pipes - One of the first features you see after entering the park is the Organ Pipe Formation.
Organ Pipes – One of the first features you see after entering the park is the Organ Pipe Formation.

Two days have passed since April Fool’s day on Friday. That morning, Queen Anne stopped by my office door and announced, “I’m pregnant.” She’s a one-trick pony because she’s recycled that joke every year that we’ve been married, so I ignored her. However, Friday was an important milestone for me, and since I’ve waited two days, you know I’m not pulling your leg. Friday marks the 50th year since I moved to Arizona. I think that officially makes me overqualified to be a native.

With the month’s change, we’re starting a new project. April Fool’s—we’re not leaving Willcox. I’m just going to show you why we actually traveled to Cochise County and what we did with our afternoons. You’ll recall that I spent mornings in Willcox searching for a decent cup of coffee and shooting the town’s historic buildings. After an hour or so—when the light became too harsh—when I returned to our motel and opened the door, Queen Anne sat on the bed corner bejeweled and makeup finished. “I’m ready for breakfast,” she’d say—who am I kidding? That would never happen. The truth is that I could hear her lyrical voice waft from the bathroom, “I’ll be ready in a minute.” In husband-speak, that phrase meant that I had time for a nap.

The actual purpose of our Willcox visit was to photograph the Chiricahua National Monument. After fifty years of living in Arizona, this was my first visit. It’s usually a half-hour drive southeast of Willcox. Still, we dawdled with a camera and stretched the trip to over an hour. The scenery along County Road 186 reminded me of California’s central valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills. Long butterscotch colored grass filled the broad Sulphur Springs Valley between the Dos Cabezas Mountains (Two Heads in English) on our east to the Dragoons on our west. Arizona ranges don’t tower over its valleys as the Sierra’s do, but at least the air was clear, and we could see all of the mountains.

My After Life - I found out that I can become a rural mail carrier in Cochise County even after I'm dead. That gives me something to do after I'm gone.
My After Life – I learned that I could become a rural mail carrier in Cochise County even after I’m dead. That gives me something to do after I’m gone.

On one of the many photo stops that we made, I was able to chat with the local postal carrier and got some great news. He told me that I don’t have to be useless after my death because I can always get a job delivering mail for eternity. You saw my after-life job delivering mail if you watched Funny Farmthe movie. All I have to do to qualify is pass the Civil Service Exam.

The route coming out of Willcox ends at the Junction of county roads 186 and 181, and you turn east on the latter. You pass from open range into a canyon as you head into the Chiricahuas. Within four miles, there’s a pay station. It’s closed due to the pandemic, so the Rangers collect any fees at the visitor’s center. Immediately on the right is a small family cemetery where the Erickson’s rest under shady oak trees. The Erickson’s are the family that homesteaded here after he retired from the Army at Fort Bowie. They established a ranch along Bonita Creek called Faraway Ranch because it’s far away from anything. Their daughter, Lillian, and her husband, Ed Riggs, welcomed guests to the homestead to promote tourism. They built many of the trails still in use, allowing visitors to wander among the unusual columns of eroded stone.

There’s only a single road in the monument that runs from the entrance, past the visitor’s center, climbs through Bonita Creek Canyon, and winds along the ridge of the park’s eastern boundary. Along its length, there are numerous stops, pull-outs, and parking areas where you can stop and take in the view, like this week’s picture that I call Organ Pipes. However, if you want to immerse yourself in the complete gestalt, you should plan on hiking one of the trails. They range from a half-mile to a couple of miles long. You can also link several trails and make your feet suffer to your heat’s delight.

Chiricahua National Monument only has one small campground, which fills quickly—especially during the season. There are only two towns with hotels, Willcox along Interstate 10 and Douglas at the Mexican border if you’re willing to drive further.

The Organ Pipe Formation captured in this week’s image is one of the first displays after the visitor’s center. The columns rise several hundred feet above Bonita Creek and are mirrored on the other side of the road by similar rocks. There wasn’t a way for me to hike above the trees to get a better shot. This picture does not do justice to their scale.

You can see a larger version of Organ Pipes on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we will hike one of the short trails to look at the park’s natural sculptures. Come back to see what we found.

Until next time — jw

 

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 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

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

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