Avalon Casino Picture of the week

Avalon Casino - The Art Deco style building opened in 1929 the large gathering hall was never used for gambling. There is a movie theater and ballroom inside.
Avalon Casino – The Art Deco style building opened in 1929. The large gathering hall was never used for gambling. There is a movie theater and ballroom inside, so as you’d suspect, it’s a favorite spot for Southern California brides.

Listen, guys, I know this goes against the man code, but you really should pay attention to your wife every so often. This seemingly innocent act of unselfishness pays dividends. She may let you watch the race (game?) and cook a pack of pizza rolls for you; she could let you play golf, or—in my case—the sock-fairy returns a drawer full of footies before I order another pack from Amazon. You got to try it. A little act of kindness pays off tenfold.

By now, you’re probably wondering what I’m babbling about. Let me explain. Here at the Witkowski double-wide mansion, we’ve had the fortune to get small returns from the IRS over the past couple of years. We treat it as unexpected vacation money, but we always spend it on tires, garage doors, or new cameras. This year, we didn’t have any incidental expenses, so I asked Queen Anne, “Honey, where would you like to go on vacation.” At first, she squinted and scowled at me, but when she realized I was serious, she answered, “Catalina Island is high on my bucket list.” So, we agreed to blow all our tax returns on an island for a week.

Before I get too far, let me clarify a point. Unless you own a yacht, you’re into backpacking, or your family name starts with Wrigley, you don’t visit Catalina; you go to Avalon. They don’t have rental cars on the island, but you can rent a bike, golf cart, or steal a local’s Smart Car, but you’re mostly going to walk around town. We didn’t mind because that was enough to keep us entertained for the week.

Although Avalon is still in Los Angeles County, its atmosphere makes you feel like you need a passport to travel there. First, the air is free of LA smog so that you can see the mainland’s San Gabriel Mountains through the fog. As you walk past the shops and bars on Crescent Avenue, you get the aroma of sea air mixed with waffle cones, beer, and pizza. The businesses along the strand are the same mix of souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels, ice cream, and adventure tours that you’d expect in any popular tourist attraction. We spent the week scouring through all the T-shirt shops before selecting a couple to bring home.

Before we even left home, I knew one of the photos I would take would be of Catalina’s iconic casino. Since I had plenty of time on the island, I took nearly a dozen. I shot it in the sun, in the fog, under a cloudy sky, from ground level, and this week’s featured image is from the cliffs overlooking it. I picked this version to show because it has soft shadows, and you can see its details and its relationship with the harbor. I call this image Avalon Casino even though its actual name is the Catalina Casino.

The Santa Catalina Company built the building and opened it in 1929. They never used it for gambling. ‘Casino’ is a European term for large gathering hall, but Vegas operators thought that casino sounds more hoity-toity than gambling hall, so they stole the word. The multi-story hall is the largest building on the island, and its art-deco design has fans worldwide (I’ll have more to say about that in a couple of weeks).

This week’s photo also includes my dream boat. Can you guess which one it is? It’s not the biggest, but it’ll do. I’m scheming a way to have Santa bring it for Christmas, so after I publish this morning, I have to do dishes and mop the floor. I got to keep the jolly old elf happy, you know.

We’ll spend the rest of our hot July remembering our Avalon trip. You can see the larger version of Avalon Casino on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week and see more from our Avalon adventure.

Till Next Time
jw

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

Dos Cabezas Mountains Picture of the Week

Dos Cabezas Mountains - The 'two head' mountain range is a prominent landmark in southeast Arizona.
Dos Cabezas Mountains – The ‘two head’ mountain range is a prominent landmark in southeast Arizona.

Memorial Day has snuck up on us already. The unofficial summer season begins today. Back east, our friends and family have opened swimming pools, drug their Webber grills out of the garage, and finally put on shorts—with white belts and black socks. Meanwhile, here in the desert, we’re beginning to think of clever ways to stay cool for the next three months. This year, Queen Anne and I have come up with some new places to visit, but we have to stop buying food to have gas money.

Before worrying about surviving June and its 110º temperatures, we need to finish May. So, let’s return to our Cochise County Road 186 project, jump into the car, and find one last shot. Then we can drive into Willcox, where I know of a decent Mexican restaurant for dinner.

With the ghost town of Dos Cabezas in the rearview mirror, the county road begins to drop from the foothills into the Sulphur Springs Valley. All of the time, the ‘two-headed’ mountain range looms in the east. The south head blocks its northern twin brother from town, so we will drive several miles until both outcrops are visible. That turned out to be a spot where I could hike past a ranch gate and get this week’s picture.

At first glance, the range resembles a two-headed giant with 15-mile broad shoulders that I’ve seen in cartoons. The twin heads are weathered granite, and the highest one (the south) is 8,354 feet in elevation. That’s not as impressive as it sounds because the valley floor has an average height of 4,000 feet above sea level, but Interstate 10 still detours several miles north of the left shoulder to get around the range. A dirt road on the range’s south side divides the Dos Cabezas and Chiricahua ranges. That road goes to the historic site of Fort Bowie through the ominous Apache Pass. Since that road served as the main trail from New Mexico into Southern Arizona, the Cavalry built the old fort to quell the frequent ambushes by renegade Apaches.

I call this photo Dos Cabezas Mountains because I have a vivid imagination. The sky looked clear and blue, but a few clouds to the south cast shadows over the range. Fortunately, that saved this image from being flat and lifeless. The dark-green patches near the mountain top are tall ponderosa pines. In this picture, the land traverses three climate zones, and that’s an example of why the patches of Coronado National Forest are called Sky Islands. Finally, the San Simon Valley and New Mexico are on the other side of these mountains.

You can see a larger version of Dos Cabezas Mountain on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we begin searching for summer refuges, but before we load the Jeep, I will return to a previous location as promised earlier this year. Be sure to come back and see what I’m talking about.

Till Next Time
jw

White House Picture of the Week

White House - An abandoned dwelling of some sort in the ghost town of Dos Cabezas.
White House – An abandoned dwelling of some sort in the ghost town of Dos Cabezas.

Ghost towns are a big business in Arizona. That’s good because we have our fair share, and a few of them attract many tourists. They’re our Disneyland. As soon as your relatives hit the tarmac and demand to see the state, the first suggestion out of your mouth is, “Let’s go to Jerome (Bisbee-Oatman-Tombstone-etc.).” You’d think that, by definition, ghost towns are abandoned places—they had their heyday long ago, but the residents left when things went south. But, that’s not necessarily true. The population count in some of our mining towns rivals the numbers they had in their prime. Our hometown of Congress is an example. People move here to get away from Phoenix’s smog and traffic—or the Minnesota snow—and they’re all on the road and in my way.

I’ve concluded that somebody loves it and wants to live there no matter how remote one of these places is. Take the town I introduced last week—Dos Cabezas. Among the derelict buildings, there are two surviving businesses. One is an art studio/gallery (Dos Cabezas Art Gallery), and the other is a bed and breakfast (Dos Cabezas Retreat Bed and Breakfast). At least those are the two places that advertise their presence. There are several cattle ranches in the area, and there is an emerging wine presence, but not within the town limits.

I don’t know anything about the gallery, but enjoying a glass of local wine while staring at the stars on the B&B patio would be a treat. Since it’s closer to the Chiricahua National Monument, it’s an alternative to the chain hotels or downtown dives in Willcox. The two guest rooms are in an adobe walled casita, and as the name implies, the hosts include breakfast. A drawback for Queen Anne and I would be dinners. The nearest restaurants are 15 miles away in Willcox or Douglas, over an hour’s drive south. If you’re a person that needs bright lights and noise to sleep, the retreat wouldn’t be your cup of tea—the nights in the middle of Sulphur Springs Valley are exceptionally dark and silent.

As you can tell from this week’s picture, the little ghost town is at the foot of the Dos Cabezas Mountains. It’s near the range’s southern reach, so you can only see the south head (Cabeza). There’s a road and trails that will get you to the top, where I imagine the view of the valley and Willcox Playa is spectacular. You need permission to cross a locked gate, and the top is steep, so why bother?

In this image that I call White House, I assume it was a dwelling. It’s a palace compared to some of the miner’s shacks I’ve seen. Unlike the other buildings in Dos Cabezas, this one is a fixer-upper. You have affordable housing with a bit of paint, a few shingles, and a yard clean-up. But there’s probably a community historical committee that needs appeasement, so you can’t paint it purple.

Unlike last week’s photo, the white stucco pops against the brown mountain and clear blue sky, and I like that. There’s plenty of side yard where I visualize Queen Anne hanging laundry on a solar drier. Then, this would be a picture that Norman Rockwell or Andrew Wyeth would envy. Where’s the Saturday Evening Post when you need them?

You can see a larger version of White House on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we continue down County Highway 186 in search of an image worthy of another car stop. Please join us.

Till Next Time
jw

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