The Grotto Picture of the Week

Grotto Interior - From the outside, the Grotto looks like a secluded place to hide from the world.
Grotto Interior – The Grotto looks like a secluded place to hide.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been hiking and photographing the Grotto Trail in the Chiricahua National Monument. I know that seems like a long time for a one-mile trail, but I’m old and quickly fall. As you’ve seen in previous photos, massive rock formations that sometimes resemble sculptures line the track. That’s another reason the hike takes me so long—I can’t pass up these shots.

As I walked through the towering erosion formations, I wondered how the grotto would look. By definition, they’re a ‘picturesque cave,’ so I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I shouldn’t have worried because, as that old proverb goes, “You’ll know it when you see it.” That’s precisely what happened. When I first peeked through a side window, I shouted, “Eureka, I’ve found it.”

It’s a cool room with light filtering in from outside. Four pillars line the room and hold up a slab of stone that fell on top. If you aren’t my size, you can crawl up inside and take a nap or play tea-time should you happen to bring your Barbie set. Because it’s open to the sky, you wouldn’t be able to take shelter from a storm like you’d be able to do in an actual cave.

Grotto From the Trail - When I looked back at the Grotto from the trail, I could see how it was assembled.
Grotto From the Trail – I could see how it is assembled when I looked back at the Grotto from the trail.

After catching my breath for a minute, I started back to the parking area. I was only a few steps down the road when I turned around and shot this second image. It gives you a better idea of how the Grotto is assembled, and quite frankly, it doesn’t seem to be a secret room—just an interesting pile of rocks. You can see a larger version of The Grotto on its Web Page by clicking here.

Since today is the last Sunday of the month, this is the end of April’s Chiricahua project. I took many more pictures, but I couldn’t show you all of them in only four weeks. If only there were another way for you to see them. Oh wait, there is.

Wrote a book about it—wanna see it?—here it is.

Chiricahua National Monument – My new photo essay of our trip to Cochise County will be available on Amazon, but you get a free preview because you’re a subscriber.

 

I’ve been working on a book while talking with you to prove that I can walk and chew gum. It’s the second in my sampler photo essay series. This one is called Chiricahua National Monument, and it includes the photos I’ve shown this month, plus a couple dozen more. Chapters in the book cover the Faraway Ranch, the hiking trails, and the landscapes surrounding the park.

It isn’t listed yet, but like my last book—Snow Canyon—it will be sold exclusively on Amazon at a ridiculous price of $68.00—unless you want to order a half-dozen or more, I can get a discount for you. Otherwise, no one will pay that price. But because you’re loyal readers, I devised a way for you to read the book and see my other photos—for free. I ordered a PDF version that you can open and download using this link: Chiricahua National Monument. PDF. You’re welcome to download it, print it, and toss it in the garbage when you’re done. I hope you enjoy it.

Next week is a new month, and we’re not entirely done with Cochise County. I found some pretty things to show you outside of the park, so come back next week when we begin May’s project.

Till Next Time

jw

Skull Rock Picture of the Week

It’s the beginning of May, and right on cue, we reached temperatures in the triple digits. The heat immediately sparked an exodus of winter visitors out of our park. Even some of our full-time residents have already left for summer retreats. Queen Anne and I have been abandoned by our friends to deal alone with the pair of terrorist nesting in the trellis outside our bedroom window.

Since we moved into our Congress home, we’ve had all kinds of birds nest in our vines outside. We’ve had quail, dove, hummingbirds, verdin, and the usual assortment of sparrows—the low-life of the bird world. They’ve always been quiet and discrete and never called attention to themselves before. This pair is an alumnus of the Delta Tau Chi.

In spring, we love sleeping with open windows. The fragrant fresh breezes keep the house cool, and there’s the occasional coyote howl, hooting owl, or the sound of a nighthawk we enjoy. As the sun begins to show light in the eastern sky each morning—mind you, the mornings are getting pretty early these days—Frank and Margaret celebrate surviving another night by perching on the trellis top and begin a sparrow’s equivalent; of “Ode to Joy.”

Have you ever really listened to a sparrow’s song? It’s a flat, monotonous series of “chirp – chirp – chirp.” If left unattended, it can go on for hours. The Queen—who has disdain for anyone having pleasure—soon yells, “Off with their heads.” My obedience is blind, so I stumble out of bed, walk over to the window, throwback the sash, and scare the birds away with my ugly pre-coffee face. That chases them off, but it’s only a while before they’re back and at it again. Sing – scare – repeat.

When the sun does come up, their second act begins. With the new light, they see their reflections in the glass, and like the emu commercial on TV, they begin defending their nest. They fly against the window, pecking at the reflection. They fly back and forth along the window top, fighting their perceived intruder. It’s a wonder that my window isn’t perforated. It doesn’t stop until I get up, walk over, pull down the blind and show my face.

It’s gone too far, so I concocted an evil plan to get even. I went to Goodwill today and purchased an old-timey alarm clock—a bright yellow one. You know—the kind with two bells on top that dances around the end table until you smash it with a hammer. I set the timer for 2 am and hid it in the vines near their nest. I can’t wait for tomorrow when Frank makes a sparrow’s impression of Don Knotts. Meanwhile, I found an old English recipe for Sparrow Soup if it doesn’t work.

Skull Rock - People in Yavapai County love to paint rocks resembling objects to make it more obvious to other people.
Skull Rock – People in Yavapai County love to paint rocks resembling objects to make them more obvious to other people.

This week’s featured image is called Skull Rock. Apparently, the people in Yavapai County have a thing about painting rocks that resemble things because people would never figure it out on their own. Unlike our frog, you have to search for the skull. It’s halfway up the Hillside dirt road. It’s hidden behind the elevated railroad tracks, so you have to do a bit of climbing to get a shot of it. One story that I read said a Santa Fe engineer originally painted it to tell passengers that the Apaches killed a poacher and left his skull behind to warn others. Then he’d have a good laugh when they reacted as the train rounded the bend and the rock came into view. I can’t vouch for the story’s validity, but it sounds pretty reasonable. You can see a larger version on its Web Page by clicking here.

Until next time — jw

Beach for One Picture of the Week

Did you really think that we would leave California without bringing back a beach shot? No way—that would be unconstitutional. Whenever Queen Anne and I visit the Morro Bay area, we always save an afternoon for a drive up the Big Sur coast. Sometimes we make it to Carmel for lunch; sometimes, we’re blocked by a landslide—like this year.

Getting to Monterey Bay isn’t the point; there are traditions we have to uphold. As we pass by San Simeon, we point to and wave at the hilltop castle. A stop at the elephant seal colony is required to watch them sleeping on the beach. If we’re not planning a full drive, we’ll pick up a bottle of local wine, some cheese for Anne, and Italian deli meats for me. There’s a beautiful little beach under that famous bridge featured in all the postcards you see, and we spend a couple of hours picnicking on a blanket while we search for Japan on the Pacific horizon.

Four Elephant Seals - With mating season over, four young female elephant seals can finally nap on the warm sun without those big galoots accosting them.
Four Elephant Seals – With the mating season over, four young female elephant seals can finally nap in the warm sun without those big galoots accosting them.

Because of this year’s landslide, we didn’t even make it to our picnic spot. Instead, we drove leisurely along the Pacific Coast Highway to the spot where Caltrans turned back traffic. From the pull-out, we could clearly make out the slide area just south of our bridge. It still looked like Big Sur; only a section of the road was missing. The ocean below was full of silt that turned the water mud brown. It surprised me that it hadn’t settled during the month since part of a mountain fell into the sea.

With the rest of the afternoon to kill, we made our way back to Cambria, frequently stopping to take pictures of beaches, flowers, seals, and the San Simeon lighthouse. I was disappointed that the grounds were posted as a “No Drone Zone” because I had such a great shot planned.

Back in the village, we had one last dinner out and then stopped at the local liquor store. We found out a little secret during our last trip. It’s fun to taste the new vintages at the vineyards, but the liquor store (and the Circle K), sells bottles at discount prices. We sadly went back to the motel with the few bottles we bought and prepared for the long drive home.

Beach for One - Surprisingly, you can find a secluded beach for a private picnic along California's central coast.
Beach for One – Surprisingly, you can find a secluded beach for a private picnic along California’s central coast.

This week’s featured image is called Beach for One, and you can see a larger version on its Web Page by clicking here. I picked this shot because you’d never expect to find such a lovely spot in California without a single person on it or in the water surfing. I’m going to print a small version over my desk to remember this moment come July and 115º temperatures.

Until next time — jw

Gates Pass Dawn Picture of the Week

According to Google Maps, a Phoenican’s drive to Tucson takes an hour and thirty-eight minutes. That’s city hall to city hall, so the time you spend on Interstate 10 is less. It’s probably the most excruciating drive in Arizona. It used to be worse. Back during the oil embargo, when the Feds mandated a 55mph speed limit, it almost took two hours. It was a dangerous trip. The commute was so boring and depressing that people pulled to the side of the road and killed themselves rather than going on. Needless to say, I try to avoid that stretch of highway, and that’s why I haven’t been to Tucson in a decade.

After photographing in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument last month, I became curious about Tucson’s National Park. Yes, that’s right—a National Park within the Tucson city limits (kind of). As you drive into the old pueblo from the north, there are mountains west of the freeway between Cortaro Road and Speedway Boulevard. Those mountains are the backbone of Saguaro National Park—another prime example of the Sonoran Desert diversity. I have never really visited before, so Queen Anne and I packed up the truck and headed east (or south—whichever direction I-10 goes between Arizona’s capital and its second-largest city).

Organ Pipe Cactus NM and Saguaro NP are quite different even though they share the same desert. Except for a swath of land along the roadsides, almost all of Organ Pipe is Wilderness Area, while Saguaro NP is in the middle of town. There are homes west of the park, so the bordering roads along the north and south side are heavily used by commuters. Saguaro National Park’s wilderness experience is like parking a trailer on the summit of Camelback Mountain. It’s hard to enjoy nature with all that traffic whizzing by.

We spent time exploring the roads surrounding Saguaro NP and the single dirt loop that’s still open from dawn to dusk inside the park. Like Organ Pipe, it’s lovely and very photogenic. The Tucson Mountains are at the park’s core, with Wasson Peak the tallest followed closely by Amole Peak on its western flank. As I said, there’s only one drivable loop road—with a great view from its summit—but there are beaucoups hiking trails throughout the park (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Gates Pass Dawn - Saguaro cacti grow up the side of Bushmaster Peak in dawn's early morning light.
Gates Pass Dawn – Saguaro cacti grow up the side of Bushmaster Peak in dawn’s early morning light.

I shot enough material to tell a story this month in chronological order—a day in Saguaro National Park as it were. I took this week’s featured image in the soft light of pre-dawn—the blue hour. It’s technically not from within the park but was taken from the road along the south side. Speedway Boulevard becomes Gates Pass Road as it heads west toward the Old Tucson movie set. I took this photo at the lookout from the top of Gates Pass. In the image, you can see the copious cacti growing up the slope of Bushmaster Peak—part of the Tucson Mountain Range. I named this image Gates Pass Dawn, and I hope you agree that it’s a great way to start our day of exploring Saguaro National Park.

You can see a larger version of Gates Pass Dawn on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week when the sun rises on another image further along the road.

Until next time — jw

Ajo Mountain Picture of the Week

I turned my calendar over this week, and that means a couple of things to me; the best is that it’s the final quarter of 2020. In an average year, the hot weather finally breaks in a couple of weeks, because there’s an Arizona law that prohibits kids from Trick-or-Treating on a hot night. Of course, nothing about this year has been normal, so I’m not holding my breath. The Queen and I are looking forward to opening the house soon, and I’m anxious to take my drone out again and resume filming.

For October’s project, I drove south into the heart of the Sonoran Desert. As I said, we live along the northern edge of the saguaro country. We have a good population here in Congress and Wickenburg, but in other parts of the state, the giant cactus thrives. To show you, I traveled south of Ajo last week and drove the Ajo Mountain Drive loop in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The road is unpaved, but a sedan will make it as long as it’s not raining.

A couple of years ago, Anne and I visited the monument for the first time. I wanted to take this loop, but we didn’t bring an off-road truck. Plus, when she saw a sign warning of smugglers and illegal aliens, she said no. The park is 10 miles from the Mexican border, and 30 miles south of the old copper mining town of Ajo (evidently the Spanish found wild garlic growing in the area, so that’s how it got the name). The road passes through the middle of the Goldwater Bombing Range, so I’d recommend not stopping along the way to pick wildflowers.

The Monument is the only place where you can see large stands of Organ Pipe Cactus. They’re more common south of the border, but on this side—not so much. The two columnar cacti (saguaro and organ pipe) grow side-by-side throughout the park. With the dry summer that we’ve had this year, I was pleased to see that the specimens in the monument looked healthy and watered. The rain patterns in lower Pima County are different from home, and they had a better monsoon than we did. The cacti are packed in down there—if you could ever call a desert lush, Organ Pipe would be an example.

Ajo Mountain - The volcanic peak rises above its foothills in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Ajo Mountain – The volcanic peak rises above its foothills in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Ajo Mountain is the name of this week’s featured image, and in it, I was trying to show two things. They are the volcanic mountain—rising above its surrounding foothills—and how many saguaros are growing per square mile. These giants also seem significantly taller than our home-boys.

You can see a larger version of Ajo Mountain on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll stop further along the drive and show you the organ pipe cactus from which the monument gets its name.

Until next time — jw

Shadows, Boulders, and Cracks Picture of the Week

Queen Anne and I had only ventured into the Bradshaw’s once before this month’s Senator Highway adventure. We borrowed a friend’s 4wd tow truck and wanted to see how well it performed on dirt roads. We decided to drive to Crown King for Sunday brunch. It was a horrible experience—lunch was nice, but the track was one long washboard. The truck bounced so much that it took a week for our eyes to stop vibrating. That was before Google Maps—actually, it was before computers—so we added another unnecessary 50 miles to the trip. Anne swore off dirt roads forever.

That’s too bad because the Bradshaws (named for trailblazer William D. Bradshaw) fascinated me since I moved to Phoenix. From the valley, they’re the high range to the north. When you head Flagstaff, they’re the first pine-covered mountains that you pass. The Sunset Point rest stop, which is at the range’s eastern flank, is where I feel that we’ve at last got past the city limits. Finally, during the summer monsoons, they create the storms that bring rain to the valley (as I look out my window today, I see what could be our first seasonal storm—and it’s moving south from the Bradshaws—if it gets here at all).

Whenever we’ve stopped at Sunset Point, and I had to wait for you-know-who to finish up in the bathroom, I always looked up at the mountains and mistakenly thought that they were dry and deserted. I’d think to myself, “It’s too bad there aren’t any fishing lakes up there.” On our recent trip, I found out that I was wrong because back roads lace through the range leading to former mining towns filled with summer cabins. There are even a couple of small lakes—but they’re so close to Prescott, I’d classify them as town lakes. Perhaps it’s just as well that there’s no destination up there, because if there were a big lake up there, then there’d be freeways and planned communities around it.

Shadows, Boulders, and Cracks - This is the simplest essence of what I found interesting about a pair of granite boulders south of Groom Creek, Arizona.
Shadows, Boulders, and Cracks – This is the purest essence of what I found interesting about a pair of granite boulders south of Groom Creek, Arizona.

As Anne and I continued exploring Senator Highway, we came across a boulder field south of Groom Creek. I find these large lumps of granite interesting, but they’re all over the state, and my rock collection is vast. I hear people say, “Meh. It’s another rock picture.” So, for this week’s featured image, I tried to show just the part that made me raise the camera to my eye. In the case of this week’s featured image, that I call Shadows, Boulders, and Cracks, it was the texture of the massive rocks, the delicate shadows of the deciduous trees, and the fracture that splits the right sphere in half. Even without seeing the entire boulder, you instinctively know that you couldn’t skip one of these pebbles across Goldwater Lake.

You can see a larger version of Shadows, Boulders, and Cracks 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 going south from Prescott.

Until next time — jw

Warm Springs Cholla Picture of the Week

This morning, when I got out of bed and looked in the bathroom mirror to see if I still had a reflection, I scared myself. What little hair that I still have was standing perpendicular to my head. I think I stuck my finger in a light socket last night. I’m puzzled at how the remaining five hairs on the top of my head—which are invisible when I comb them—manage to stick straight up like a coastal lighthouse. A less intelligent Albert Einstein stared back at me. I need a haircut.

When I got out of the Army, I had thick wavy red hair, and I went to a salon every other week to get it styled. I was on the hunt for a mate back then, so I had to look my best. I patronized one of those places that charged more because they cut your hair with a razor. I paid $30 for a wash, cut and blow-dry. I spent too much time each day trying to get that Glen-Campbell-look that was popular then. Then came the 70’s, and we just let our hair grow long. When my hair curled over my ears like Bozo the Clown, it was time to go to Floyds.

I turned gray when I was in my thirties, and suddenly I was an old man. As my hairstyle paid fewer dividends, I gave up and started combing it straight back. I only got a haircut three or four times a year, whether I needed it or not. Now I visit the barber when we make a Mexican pill-run. It’s cheaper there, and—because I’m a senior—I get a discount. The tip is more than the cut, and I still get change. I don’t even care what it looks like as long as it’s shorter than when I walked in.

We’ve suspended our trips to Algodones during this pandemic, so I’m taking matters into my own hands. I ordered hair-clippers from Amazon. They were supposed to be here on Friday but didn’t arrive. I’ve worked up the nerve to let Queen Anne put it on the shortest setting and shave it all off. How bad could it be? Besides, that’s why I have hats.

The day that Queen Anne and I traveled down Old Route 66 was the exact opposite of a ‘bad hair day’ (see how I did that?). The trip produced more good images than I usually get, and with good reason. The Black Mountain Range is an exciting pile of rocks. I can see me spending more time exploring them—especially when one of you coughs-up the funds for my hover-bike.

Warm Springs Cholla - Cholla along the roadside provide a good foreground contrast for McHeffy Butte at sunset.
Warm Springs Cholla – Cholla along the roadside provides an excellent foreground contrast for McHeffy Butte at sunset.

This week’s featured image is called Warm Springs Cholla. As you can tell from the colors, I took it as the sun was setting. We were several miles south of Oatman, and I was studying a  peak—McHeffy Butte—as we drove along. Suddenly (ta-da), a patch of cholla popped up, making a perfect foreground. After I stopped the truck, I hiked a short distance uphill into the Warm Springs Wilderness and fired off a couple of shots. I think the resulting image makes a great wrap-up to our Route 66 trip.

You can see a larger version of Warm Springs Cholla on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Next week is June and another back road adventure. I hope you’ll come back and hear about our road trip.

Until next time — jw

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