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

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

Stamp Mill Picture of the Week

Everyone has heard the axiom, “All roads lead to Rome.” Well, not in Yavapai County, they don’t. Over the past couple of years of traveling Arizona’s back roads, I’ve found that they lead to mines, and with good reason. We all have a vision of a dusty prospector sneaking off with a couple of burros to a secret gold mine in the mountains—this is before he became the Arizona Lottery huckster. A man like Jacob Waltz may discover a vein of gold, but it takes a corporation to extract it effectively.

To make a ton of money, you have to move a thousand tons of ore. A couple of burlap sacks strapped to a burro’s back just won’t do. You have to move unrefined earth by wagon, truck, or railroad car. So part of The Company’s infrastructure is getting things to and from the mine site. That is the Phelps-Dodge and the Senator Mine story—and this month’s back road adventure.

While bouncing along the Senator Highway in R-Chee (according to his license plate that’s the correct spelling), Anne suddenly blurted, “There’s a large building down there.” Since my side wasn’t overlooking the cliff, I couldn’t see it, so I stopped the truck and walked back to see the steel skeleton of an old structure. “Cool,” I told her as I climbed back into the driver’s seat. “It’s too early, so we’ll stop on the way back when the light is better.”

Stamp Mill - The ruins of the Senator mine stamp mill are perched above the headwaters of the Hassayampa River.
Stamp Mill – The ruins of the Senator mine stamp mill perches above the headwaters of the Hassayampa River. The mill is visible on Google Earth if you zoom in to the Senator Highway where it crosses the Hassayampa River.

After some research, I found out that the building was a 10-unit stamp mill for the Senator mines. As rock came from one of the three parallel shafts, the miners hauled it to the mill, where the hammers pounded big boulders into small ones. As far as ghost towns go, we struck gold (I couldn’t resist the pun, sorry). Concrete foundations usually are all we find in these places, but since this frame was a steel and not timber, the skeleton survives and gives scale to its size. From the road, I could easily walk down the stairs and wander the four floors. Vandals have decorated the remaining vertical walls for Christmas with colorful graffiti everywhere, so I guessed that we weren’t the first people to find this place.

Kennecott Mine - The Kennecott mining town is preserved in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska. This should give you an idea of how a mill looked with the clapboard still intact.
Kennecott Mine – The National Park Service has preserved the Kennecott mining in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska. This photo should give you an idea of how a mill looked with the clapboard still intact.

In Alaska, I visited a similar mill at the Kennecott Mine in the Wrangell Saint Elias National Park. At this location, the Park Service keeps that building in an arrested state of decay, and it still has the red clapboard siding. I wanted to show you how the Senator stamp mill might have looked while it was running, so I’m including my Alaska photo.

For this week’s featured image—that I call Stamp Mill—I wanted to show the building and its environment, which is hard to do while standing inside of it. So, I took this shot from the far side of the Hassayampa River Canyon as the sun hung low in the western sky. I was lucky in that the remaining silver paint glowed in the afternoon sun, which makes the frame pop from the background.

You can see a larger version of Stamp Mill on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week when we present the final image from our drive on the Senator Highway.

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

Placerita Post Office Picture of the Week

It was lust for gold that lured men to the Weaver Mountains in southern Yavapai County. They heard stories of miners plucking nuggets from the ground and, in just a day, return to camp a wealthy man. The fever for gold outweighed the risks of hostile Indians, treacherous mountains, poisonous snakes, and oppressing heat from the relentless sun.

Prospectors discovered several veins of the precious mineral with Rich Hill at their center. Pauline Weaver’s party started the rush when they accidentally found placer gold on the hill’s top. Boomtowns sprung up surrounding Rich Hill. The camps in Stanton, Octave, and Yarnell all had ore-bearing mines. There were so many claims on the hill; it’s a wonder that prospectors didn’t dig into each other’s tunnels. But it only took 20 years for the gold to dry up, as a result, when Anson Wilbur Callen arrived in the 1880s, he decided to prospect somewhere else.

If you flew a small airplane due east of Yarnell, you’d see a geographic anomaly. Instead of the regular distribution of peaks and hills in the Weaver Range, there’s a 2-3 mile gash between Antelope Peak and Rich Hill. From Yarnell, it runs northeast, and it looks like a score on the top of a loaf of bread. It’s very evident on a topo map or Google Maps.

There’s a natural divide in the gap’s center, and Antelope Creek drains south along the east flank of Rich Hill. Arrastre Creek flows in the divide’s north side (Arrastre is the Spanish word for a drag, as used for mining). Anson set up his camp where Arrastre Creek flows out of the canyon.

By accounts, Anson Callen was a big man and weathered beyond his age. Locals called him Old Grizzly at the age of 40. When he set up camp, his initial task was to create a reliable source of water, so he dammed up the creek. As he dug a five-mile water ditch to his camp, he uncovered two pieces of gold that earned him $550. There are more stories of finding large gold nuggets in the area—one of which was four pounds that the assay office valued at $900 ($107,792 in today’s market). Before Anson knew what happened, the town of Placerita sprung up around his claim.

On Tuesday morning, I dragged my friend—Fred—out of bed, and at 5 a.m., we drove his Toyota FJ into the sunrise to find the ghost town of Placerita. As I’ve written, real ghost towns rarely have any remaining artifacts. Maybe there’s a pile of timber or a concrete slab, but never an intact building. My research showed that Placerita had a standing stone cabin, and I needed to photograph it.

Ruins in the Woods - From the roadside, we could see the remains of one of the town buildings, but we couldn't see an easy way to get to it.
Ruins in the Woods – From the roadside, we could see the remains of one of the town buildings, but we couldn’t see an easy way to get to it.

When we got to the area, we drove by a shed with a collapsed roof, but the brush was so thick that we couldn’t find a path to it. Instead, Fred drove down to the creek crossing and parked in an apparent campsite. We intended to hike up the creek, find the buildings, and photograph the ruins. Surely they were built along the banks. We soon discovered that walking in a dry creek bed wasn’t the best thing a couple of septuagenarians should do—especially a pair that has a hard time walking on carpets. We struggled for what seemed like a couple of miles, occasionally falling on the rocks and swatting at attacking insects.

Placerita Post Office - The 30 townspeople were served by this Post Office from 1896 to 1910, when the gold ran out.
Placerita Post Office – The 30 townspeople were served by this Post Office from 1896 to 1910 when the gold ran out.

Finally, we gave up and started back to the truck, but instead of the creek, we found a cattle track that had boot prints. We followed it to a clearing where—you guessed it—we found the collapsed building. We spent some time shooting photographs from different angles, including this week’s featured image called Placerita Post Office. About half the walls are standing, but the timbers were full of termites, and that caused the roof to collapse finally.

We never found the stone cabin—or at least we thought we hadn’t—but after I got home and did some further research, I found a photo caption that said, “It has been reported that the roof has collapsed since this picture was taken.” We did reach our goal, just ten years too late. I also found out that the stone building that we shot was the town’s Post Office—built in 1896 and closed in 1910. As a federal building, it was built more durable than the rickety shacks that the miners cobbled together. It makes sense that it outlasted the rest of the town.

You can see a larger version of the Placerita Post Office on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Come back next week to see the work that I’ve shot along the road to Placerita.

Until next time — jw

Tom Reed Mine and Elephant’s Tooth Picture of the Week

After publishing last week’s post, I lingered in my office a while with a nagging question. It was more of a puzzle than a burning issue, but it was going to persist until I solved it. My enigma was this: If Lt. Whipple completed his survey in 1854, and the railroads were already following his trail, why in 1926 did the Highway Department run Route 66 through a rugged mountain pass when they established the National Highway system? Wouldn’t it be faster and cheaper to follow the railroad tracks down to the Colorado River? I used up over half of my monthly Google query allotment, trying to understand their logic. After distilling some facts that I uncovered, and with some fantasy time travel, I concluded that the department wanted travelers to go through the shining city on the hill—Oatman. When the mines were still open, Oatman was a bustling city, with a good hotel, restaurants, bars, groceries, and gas stations.

Oatman Main Street 2020 - The crowds of tourists are gone, the stores are shuttered, and even the burros are social distancing.
Oatman Main Street 2020 – The crowds of tourists are gone, the stores are shuttered, and even the burros are social distancing.

Arizona has two types of ghost towns, and to badly paraphrase a line from Frank Zappa’s song Camarillo Brillo, there are real ghost towns, and there are Walmart ghost towns. Real ones are scattered throughout Arizona’s mountains and plains. Places like Cochran, Cherry, and Ruby. If you drive there in your Jeep, you’d be lucky to find a standing building, but—most of the time—only their crumbling foundations remain. As for the latter towns, they’re thriving communities. Arizona’s big four include Jerome, Tombstone, Bisbee, and Oatman. People still live there, and more importantly, tourists visit by the busload. They come to drink in the saloons, eat lunch in the bordellos, watch the fake gunfights, ride oar carts into the mine shafts, and feed the wild burros. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these towns generate more annual revenue today than the mines ever did.

Before my first Oatman visit, I already knew the image that I wanted to take. Ansel Adams—the photographer that most inspired me—had already made it. Mr. Adams must have had blackmail on God because he had Him move heaven and earth into compositions that no other mortal photographer ever saw. The photo that I’m referring to is in one of his books and is called Tom Reed mine, near Oatman, Arizona, and it shows a cluster of buildings on enormous wash tubs with a pinnacle in the background. When I was younger, I tried to visit the places he captured so I could see what motivated him. That was my way of learning from a master. But in all my visits, I never found those impressive mine structures.

When Queen Anne and I made our Route 66 journey last month, snapping pictures in Oatman was the last thing I wanted. We were avoiding people, so stopping in a crowded tourist trap was out of the question. But when we arrived, the streets were empty of people wearing funny hats, loud shirts, sandals with black socks, and speaking in foreign tongues. The merchants had shuttered the windows, and even the wild burros—the stars of the Oatman experience—were social distancing. I had to stop and document this weird moment—Oatman had turned into a real ghost town.

Tom Reed Mine and Elephants Tooth - The concrete foundations are all that remain of the magnificent structures that Ansel Adams photographed.
Tom Reed Mine and Elephants Tooth – The concrete foundations are all that remain of the magnificent structures that Ansel Adams photographed.

As we drove out of town through the south side, the sun was low in the sky and casting lots of color on the hills—including the pinnacle that Adams captured. I stopped in the road where some concrete foundations lined up below the white outcrop—that I now know is called Elephant’s Tooth—and took this week’s featured image. I call it Tom Reed Mine and Elephant’s Tooth. We spent less than 15 minutes at that location before driving on.

Since we’ve been home, I was curious about the Adams photo, so I got it down from the bookcase and searched for his rendition. I wanted to see again the buildings that he shot. I’ve never been able to find them no matter how much I scoured the town. Upon examining his image, I realized that he took that photo in 1952, and people have since torn down the structures. The only trace of their existence is the concrete terraces in my picture. When I took my photo, I stood within ten feet of where Ansel Adams worked his magic, and we were both inspired by the same subject. I was so close to being in the presence of greatness—I only missed him by 68 years. My life can go on now.

You can see a larger version of Tom Reed Mine and Elephant’s Tooth on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Next week, we’ll pass by the Warm Springs Wilderness on our way to the Colorado River. I hope you’ll join us then.

Until next time — jw

Water Pump Gears Picture of the Week

Once again the page on my calendar has changed, and I need to find a new site in the county to photograph. I spent all last week pouring over my maps that I had spread across the dining room table looking for an exciting candidate. I wanted to avoid the Christmas decorations towns put up during the holidays, so I was resigned to someplace rural. Then—on Monday—during my morning bike ride, I passed the Poteets who were out for a morning stroll. As I passed by, he shouted out an offer to ride in Fred’s fabulous four-wheel flier. The park’s off-road group planned an outing to Anderson Mill. I didn’t know what that was, so when I got home, I looked it up, and behold, it was in Yavapai County—only by a mile, but it still counts, and that meant the trip would kill one stone with two birds. I immediately sent him an email accepting his invitation.

Anderson Mill
Anderson Mill – A World War II-era mine and mill that produced mica for electrical insulators.

Before I talk about the mill, let me explain the trip. The off-road group is a bunch of friendly people who have all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) or rock-crawling Jeeps, and they go on regular outings to places of interest to drive their toys. It’s the trip and not the destination that’s important; the more circuitous the route, the better. We spent all day driving to a place that’s only a half hour away if you go by the highway into Wickenburg. They drove down the washes and trails where Fred and I got lost a couple of years ago, and they did it on purpose. They relish getting dusty; something they feel is a feature and not an off-road nuisance. The dust was terrible when Fred and I went out alone, but this time we followed a half-dozen other ATVs. When I walked into the house that evening and brushed the dust off, it looked exactly like in this YouTube clip from the new Cohen Brothers Netflix movie The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Another masterpiece. Try to imagine Gene Autry meets the Twilight Zone).

Meanwhile, back at the mill …

Water Pump Gears
Water Pump Gears – The gears of the Anderson Mill water pump located north of Wickenburg.

Anderson Mill was a homestead claim run by Sid Anderson and his brother (documents don’t show the brother’s name) during the World War II period. They mined and processed mica—a mineral useful for electrical insulation and drywall joint compound among other things. The mine and mill are located in the San Domingo Wash north of Wickenburg and was productive until 1951—when plastics became a cheaper substitute. The mill’s ruins consist of welded panels and stairs topped by a rotating tumbler that—oddly enough—still has the original drive belt. As you would expect, pirates have already salvaged all the working motors and engines.

This week’s featured image is from a pump that pushed water up to the tumbler. The smaller gear drove the large one, which eventually cycled a piston pump. A Hit-and-Miss engine probably powered the whole Rube Goldberg setup. The things that compelled me to take this image are the relationship of the gears, the radial pattern of the spokes, the mass of iron bolted to an I-beam, and the beautiful rust patina. I gave the photograph the simple name of Water Pump Gears.

You can see a larger version of Water Pump Gears on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we’ll show another featured image from San Domingo Wash.

Until next time — jw

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