Sunsets and Time Travelers

Wenden Sunset
Wenden Sunset – Wispy clouds illuminated by the setting sun near Wenden, Arizona

Because I’m over sixty, I have to get my Arizona driver’s license renewed every five years. Arizona licenses don’t otherwise expire until you reach that age. After sixty, you have to prove that you can still read by taking an eye exam. It’s another example of geezer discrimination. The list of old person bias is long, but I’m not here to complain about that—I have other things on my mind.

On the plus side, there are perks to being grey-haired. We get to wear slacks up to our nipples, we wear white belts any time of the year, we’re allowed to wear black socks with sandals, and we can spend every day on a golf course. Since I don’t play golf, I compensate by sitting around the house whiling-away my time with my idle brain thinking about completely useless crap. Because I do that, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a couple of brain worms get stuck in there, so I need to run them by you and try to drain the swamp to make room for new useless crap.

The worms crawled in after I wrote a post about light and photography (this one) in which I explained that the sun’s light was more pleasing in the early morning and evenings because of the long shadows and the sun’s warmer colors. What I failed to mention was that the morning colors are not exactly the same as sunset’s. Although the color gets warmer because the sun’s rays travel further through the atmosphere then they do at noon; the mornings are yellowish while sunsets are warmer—more orange. I’m not the only one who has noticed this phenomenon as I’ve read other photographer’s accounts on the subject. Since the atmosphere is the same thickness at each horizon, what causes this apparent color shift?

Well … the time I watched PBS, I saw a show about some Einstein guy and his so-called Relativity Theory, so I made up my answer based on the Doppler effect—like how the sound of a train changes pitch as it passes. My explanation is that since the earth rotates on its axis at 1,000 miles an hour, the sun’s light waves are compressed at sunrise relative to sunset. That’s because you’re moving toward the light in the morning and away from it in the evening. The color of the compressed waves shifts infinitesimally bluer and the stretched light waves are redder. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I was perfectly happy keeping my belief a secret until recently.

Another way I waste my non-golfing time is sitting in my Barkalounger 6000 bingeing on Netflix. The newest show we’ve been watching is Travelers. In the show, Will—of Will and Grace, who is suddenly straight—is part of a group of people who travel back in time to change events that eventually lead to the demise of civilization. The show has moral overtones that deal with artificial intelligence and religion that I don’t want to go into now, but its entertaining Sci-Fi.

At the same time, every Wednesday, Queen Anne and her girlfriends get together and watch a show called Outlander and it also has a time travel plot. I really believe they watch it to see the hunk they drool over, but in Outlander, the heroine jumps a couple of centuries somewhere in Scotland. I haven’t watched it and what I know comes from Anne’s babbling when she comes home all flushed and frisky. I have to feign headaches.

Here’s what’s been keeping me awake at nights. Time travel is not just impractical, it’s impossible, and my reasoning doesn’t even involve the Marty Fly Conundrum—dating your own mother. I’m a skeptic solely on the time/space aspects of such travel and I’m surprised someone else hasn’t brought this up before.

So, you’re a hot shoe because you speed down the Interstate at 85 miles an hour, or even better, maybe you’re a jet jockey who flies at the speed of sound. Big deal, I got you beat sitting in my lounge char spinning around the world at 1,000 miles an hour. Think about that: We constantly move faster than the speed of sound. That means that if you got into your time machine and went back just one hour, you’d wind up an hour ago but in a different time zone. That’s only the beginning. While we’re on this supersonic merry-go-round, we’re also zooming around the sun at 65,600 miles an hour. Imagine setting your way-back machine for one hour. You’d pop out somewhere on the orbital path sixty-thousand miles in front of the planet, and you’d better move because you’re about to become a bug on earth’s windshield when it catches up to you in precisely sixty minutes. It gets better. Our solar system is on one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms that orbit the galactic center at 450,000 miles each hour. And if that wasn’t enough, consider this: The Milky Way is moving away from the Local Void each hour by 1.3 million miles. So far, our total speed is only 0.19% of the speed of light so at least we aren’t close to breaking that speed limit, but we don’t know if our universe is stationary or floating through some cosmic Jell-O.

What I’m getting at with these staggering speeds is that to travel in time, you would need to plot and navigate back to a point somewhere in the Cosmos that you were an hour ago and it’s already more than a million miles away. Your calculations would need to be accurate with a precision beyond any computer that we have … and let me remind you how late your last flight arrived. When you think about this complexity, keep in mind how fast your gas gauge moves when your Chevy pickup speeds down the highway. The amount of energy required to instantaneously travel such a vast distance doesn’t exist. As Kelli Bundy said, “The mind wobbles.” I’ll add, “Get over it. It can’t be done.”

Oh, what a relief! I feel so much better now that I got that off my chest. Maybe now I can get some sleep. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my cheeseburger and I are going to jump into bed quickly before Anne gets home from her girls-night-out demanding that I dress up in the kilt she bought for me.

Until next time — jw

The Town That Never Was Why Yavapai

 

Robson Mining World Sign
Robson Mining World Sign – The entrance to Robson Mining World is bullet-riddled Yavapai Apache riding a pinto.

I grew up during the era of the TV cowboy. After dinner, my family would gather in the living room and watch shows like Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Maverick, and Have Gun—Will Travel to name a few. My dad was a tyrant about the shows we watched and we kids were the remote. Maybe that’s the reason I—and perhaps all my generation—have a fascination with ghost towns. We grew up with Tombstone, Dodge, and Virginia City on our TVs, and vowed to visit them one day. Maybe we’re longing for a simpler time—when the good guy wore a white hat.

The ghost towns best known in Arizona are Jerome, Tombstone, and my favorite, Bisbee. All of these places have residents, so they’re not as much a ghost town as they are tourist traps. A mining town’s fortune is dependent on the mineral wealth removed from the ground. The town’s size correlates perfectly with the amount of ore; be it gold, silver or copper. As soon as the ore plays out, people move on to the next bonanza leaving the hovels and shacks they occupied behind. Without maintenance, those relics soon rot or they’re repurposed for sheds, outhouses, or worst of all, firewood. Most often, when you visit a ghost town, the only things you find are a slab or wall. There’s not much interesting left to photograph. Fortunately, there are exceptions where a state or county government acquired and preserved the scene as a park, such as Bodie and Calico in California.

Yavapai County, where Queen Anne and I live, has its share of Ghost Towns—including Jerome—the most famous. Most of the old sites are high in the Bradshaw Mountains, but mining towns are scattered throughout all the Yavapai mountain ranges; including Congress—our hometown. It wasn’t until we moved here a couple of years ago that I learned about the best ghost town ever, and it’s a mere fifteen miles down the road tucked into the south-eastern flank of the Harcuvar Range.

Travel west on Highway US 60 and Aguila is the first small farm community you’ll come to. The name is Spanish for Eagle derived from the eagle-shaped window in the low mountain overlooking the town’s cemetery. The western terminus of Arizona State Route 71 is a mile east of Aguila, and that’s the short-cut you take if you’re heading northeast to Congress or Prescott from California. Just before the road crosses the Maricopa-Yavapai County line is a sign with a bullet-riddled Indian riding a pinto horse. The sign is for Robson’s Mining World—the ghost town you can see at the mountain base. It’s a mining town that no one ever lived in, but has an interesting story nevertheless.

Robson Ranch Booth
Robson Ranch Booth – When you enter the town’s soda parlor, you’d expect to order a milkshake. You’d be disappointed because it’s all for a show.

The gold mine at the end of the trail was first claimed in 1917 by Westley Rush, an Aguila melon farmer. Rush’s two daughters—Nella and Alameda, for whom the Nella-Meda gold mine was named—managed to hand dig through the first 115 feet of solid rock before Ned Creighton—a Phoenix banker—bought the claim in 1924. Ned hired a crew to work the mine, and over decades he expanded the claim to its present size. His crew worked until World War II when the Feds shut down all private mines. The mining engineer, Harold Mason, stayed on as caretaker and eventually got the property deed after Ned passed.

After the war, Charles Robson was building his fortune by farming, running the Saguaro motel in Aguila, and hustling the health benefits of his local bee pollen. Harold and Charley became acquaintances when Mason let Robson place hives at the mine. There were minerals around the mine that made the bee pollen exceptional and the bees deterred poachers. That informal partnership lasted until 1979 when Charlie bought the mine from the aging Mason. Robson had bigger plans for the place.

Cash Register – What this old cash register lacks in functionality, it makes up for with class.

Meanwhile, in 1922, Wilber T. Johnson migrated from Missouri to Apache Junction—a community east of Phoenix at the foot of the Superstition Mountains—so he could work in the mines. In 1930, Wilber traded his pick and shovel for an engineering degree from the University of Arizona which made him a highly valued employee. Now we’d call Wilber a hoarder because he collected mine junk—lots of mine junk—for the next fifty years. Johnson got his stash from abandoned mines in the Superstition Mountains, the Mazatzal Mountains, and other mines east of Phoenix and because of its size, his collection wasn’t a big secret. He reputedly turned down a multi-million-dollar offer from Disneyland Tokyo because he knew that they cherry pick the best and discard the rest.

Mack Truck
Mack Truck – A classic truck that miners used to haul stuff.

After Charles Robson acquired the mine, he offered to buy Wilber’s collection and the two men finally struck a deal when Charlie promised that the collection would stay intact on Robson’s property. The ink on the signatures hadn’t dried yet before more than 250 truckloads moved decades of mining history to its new home. For ten years Charles, his wife, Jeri, and their sons reassembled the buildings and filled them with the collection’s artifacts. After Charlie died in 2002, Jeri carried on the dream, and toward the end of her life sold the place lock, stock, and barrel to Western Destinations Corporation—the present owners—on the stipulation that nothing ever leaves the property.

Water Truck
Water Truck – A GMC truck that was used to haul water up from the well to the mine.

There’s a small garden in front of the Opera House where we sat in a mesquite tree’s shade as Brett Bishop told me this story. He’s the current caretaker and he and his family live on site. He’s a young man, and when he’s not greeting visitors he keeps busy unpacking the remaining crates and creatively arranging the contents for display. It’s easy to tell—from the tone of his voice and the sparkle in his eyes—that he loves his job. He calls Robson’s a living museum and he often must unravel the mystery of the items he finds in the boxes.

If you’re a photographer interested in nostalgia, I highly recommend a visit. The cost is $20.00 per person which goes toward upkeep. Don’t count on food or entertainment and even the restrooms are period authentic—that’s right; crescent moons. The mile-long dirt road is navigable by a sedan, except after heavy rains. I know that Robson’s will become one of my resources.

Until next time — jw

Rhodes Greece

I am a reluctant traveler. When Linda — my wife — suggested we go to Serbia this year to join my son and his family on vacation, I was more reluctant. Then she said we would also be spending ten days on a Greek island visiting new beaches every day during the middle of our visit to Belgrade. That’s when I reluctantly agreed.

Greece, Turkey, and Rhodes.
The island of Rhodes is closer to Turkey than Greece.

My wife, my son, Nathan, his wife, Nela, and their three-year-old son, Matija and I took a ten-day diversion trip from Serbia to see Rhodes. This was one of the best vacations I have ever been on. We booked a package tour that included the flight from Belgrade, ground transportation, and ten days at a hotel with what’s called “half board”. That means the price included breakfast and dinner and we were free each day to explore the island for good places to eat lunch

I am barely off the plane and I am already awestruck by the history of this island! Most of us are familiar with the Colossus of Rhodes, the giant statue that stood at the mouth of Rhodes harbor, and one of the wonders of the ancient world, built in 280 B.C. Historians estimate the statue was as tall as the Statue of Liberty. An earthquake destroyed it in 226 B.C. and the harbor it overlooked has a “new” lighthouse built quite recently (1412 A.D.).

The whole north and east coasts of Rhodes have become a resort Mecca on the Mediterranean Sea. The west coast is on the Aegean Sea. It’s windier and has more waves, so all the resorts are on the east side of the island. The water on that side is calm, clear, and warm enough for even us Southerners to enjoy. All beaches have chairs and ‘sunbrellas’ to rent, and most have kayaks or motor boats to rent, and some even offer parasailing. Our hotel was in a small town called Faliraki. The town’s main attraction is a long, wonderful beach with sand that felt like velvet under our bare feet.

Saint Paul Bay
This was my favorite beach and it typifies the beaches there. The white chapel on the right is dedicated to Saint Paul in honor of his 3rd missionary journey. You can see how clear the water is!

We shared a rented car with another family and used it to explore the island’s beaches and attractions. Every other day we would drive to a new beach, eat at new Tavernas (as they call them in Greece), and explore new fortresses. One day we visited Lindos, a famous town with a huge fortification at the top of the hill, but found we could not get to the beach easily with our bags and grandson. Just around the corner, however, was another called Saint Paul Beach — my favorite of the trip. There was a scuba diving school, good food, excellent beach sand, and we could swim out to a rock and jump from it. We walked over to a small white chapel to see it up close, and we saw a plaque that explained the bay’s name; it said Saint Paul visited here on his Third Missionary Journey as he returned to Jerusalem. The island’s incredible history came at us like waves all week.

Lindos Fortress
The town of Lindos with the restored fortress at the top of the hill. The Knights of Saint John built the fortress after the Crusades.

Speaking of waves, there weren’t any. No tide either. This made for some very clear water and we realized it was perfectly safe to let the three-year-old play in the water without fear of him being dashed to bits by surprise wave action. Swimming was wonderful and the snorkeling was some of the best I have seen. The weather in July was incredible with blue skies every day, nice breezes to keep us comfortable, and temperatures in the mid-80s. One day there was a cloud and we all stopped to marvel at it; that’s how good the climate is there.

Everyone we met was friendly and almost no one was American. Along the coastline, nearly all the folks in shops and restaurants spoke enough English that communication was simple. We did take a couple of trips to remote areas of the island where English was not spoken, but we quickly learned to point and grunt to make our needs known. The real Greek food was delicious and they press olive oil right on the island. All the dining was al fresco and most places where we stopped had good Wi-Fi so we could update our messages and stare at our phones like true Americans. My only complaint about Rhodes (and most of Europe really) is they still allow smoking in restaurants and even seem to encourage it with ash trays on all the tables. Make sure to get an up wind table!

Rhodes City Gate
This is one of the gates to the ancient walled city of Rhodes. Just across the street behind where I took this photo, is the ancient harbor where the Colossus once stood.

I have gotten this far in the telling and have not mentioned the old, walled city of Rhodes. Oh, my! The history there is worth its own narrative. We spent a day visiting the shops, eating gelato, looking in at several restaurants, touring the old walls and bridges, walking down narrow alleys and passageways; did I mention the gelato yet? One of my hobbies is geocaching — an outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS enabled devices — so I took some time and found all the caches in the city. It led me to places I would never have seen otherwise.

Rhodes Open Market
The new city of Rhodes surrounds the walled city but it still exists and is vibrant and alive. This is the main shopping street which runs through the city; one side to the other.

I wish I could adequately convey the sense of awe and wonder we all felt at seeing the ancient and modern artifacts on the island. I would go back tomorrow if I could and I am so grateful to my wife for cajoling me into going this summer. Perhaps I won’t be such a reluctant traveler in the future.

Don

Don is Queen Anne’s older brother and he and his wife live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m pleased that they shared this story and pictures with us and I thank him for contributing to our blog. – jw

The Great Springerville Mexican Food Shoot-out

We we’re traveling to a new town, one of the tools we rely on is the Web Site, Trip Advisor. You can search for things to do, hotels and restaurants. It’s like Yelp. The restaurant reviews are pretty helpful, but you have to watch out for people who have an axe to grind. I’ve even written a few reviews. Before our trip to Springerville, one of my chores was to check the restaurant reviews. When I did, I found two of the top-ten restaurants served Mexican food (the 11th ranked restaurant was McDonald’s). One of them is at the top of the list while the other is tenth.

My all time favorite joint for south of the border food is family owned and they have a couple of places in the Phoenix, and another in Springerville. I love their food because it’s New Mexican style. You may have already guessed that I’m talking about Los Dos Molinos. Their main location is on Central Avenue south of Baseline; in the old Tom Mix house (the link is for those who have no idea who Tom Mix was). The food is spicy hot and the Margaritas will knock you back on your spurs. A shock to me was that it is the underdog on Trip Advisor’s list.

The highest ranked place in town is Booga Red’s, and they also serve American and Southwestern (?) style meals. Cars are always parked in front and they’re open for breakfast. The style of their food is Nortino. It’s milder; like you’d expect at Macayo’s.

For the shootout, The Queen and I ate dinner at both restaurants and tried to order the same menu items — which was impossible. The judges are Queen Anne and me, we get one vote each. The common items that we judged are the chips and salsa, the margaritas, a taco and a tamales. I’ll be talking about the other stuff we ordered. Are you ready … bring out the chips and salsa.

Trailer And Gardinias
The sights of Springerville. Vintage trailers as yard-art.

Chips and Salsa

This is the first impression that you get at any place that serves Mexican food. The worst that I ever had was in Salina, Kansas, where they didn’t have a clue, and served cinnamon bun bites instead. There is a big difference between tonight’s candidates.

At Los Dos, they serve red and green salsa. Of course, you don’t really eat it. You only hold the chip over your favorite color and let it absorb the fumes. If you accidentally dip your chip into the salsa, carefully shake it off, and immediately order a glass of milk. Their chips are thicker and darker, but they need to be. If they were thinner, they would instantaneously burst into flames. We didn’t finish the chips and salsa.

Booga Red’s chips are light and thin and taste good, but the salsa is a clone of Pace, the salsa that you buy in Safeway. There aren’t any chunks, not enough jalapeños and no cilantro. We ate all the salsa.

(Los Dos – 1, Booga Red’s – 1)

Trailer With Red Bike
Sights of Springerville. Trailer as yard-art.

Margarita’s

When you order a margarita at Los Dos, they ask you if you want a single, double or three shots of tequila. The mix is distinctly house made. Anne didn’t like it because it was sweet instead of tart, but that didn’t stop her from ordering a second.

I thought the Booga Red’s margarita was indistinguishable from the pre-mixed Costco bottles. The tequila was probably in there but it wasn’t up-front. I still ordered a second.

(Los Dos – 1, Booga Red’s – 1)

Trailer With Bunting
Views of Springerville. Trailers as yard-art.

Main

This is where it gets complicated. The nightly special at Los Dos Molinos was Posole which I am very fond of and rarely find on a menu, while Anne ordered a quesadillas at Booga Red’s, so there’s nothing to judge here. I must say that my soup lacked flavor. It needed more seasoning (not just chilies), it needed to simmer longer and it needed more of the ingredients that make up a great Posole, however the pork was fork-tender (as only Los Dos Molinos can do). My other complaint was that Mama’s Carnitas were not on the menu, and that is my favorite and why I go there. As for quesadillas, you can do those in the microwave in fifteen seconds.

(No Score)

Tacos and Tamales

OK, we’re down to the basics. At Los Dos, the tamales was everything you would expect. Course ground masa with a spicy pork filling and, in this case, topped with a red enchilada sauce. If the masa was made with blue corn, I would have died right on the spot. I tried to order a shredded beef taco, but Angelina insisted that I try the Carne Adovada — marinated pork — and I was glad. I can count on one hand the number of tacos that I’ve had better.

Booga Red’s shredded beef taco was very good, and I’d order it again. It was light on flavor but the shell was cooked properly and held up as you ate it. The tamales on the other hand was something I’ve never seen. The masa was light and airy, almost flour like, and it had whole kernels of corn mixed in?!? I ordered mine enchilada style with green chili on top. This close to New Mexico, I expected tears in my eyes, but instead it was a tasty chili gravy. It was good but bland, just like I like my Cream of Wheat.

(Los Dos – 1, Booga Red’s – 1)

Desert (this is actually cheating)

At Los Dos Molinos, Angelina makes her own Sangria, that’s a wine and fruit juice mix. It’s awful and most of us stopped drinking it in the sixties. However, after she makes the wine, she uses the smashed fruit to make an upside-down cake. It’s baked in a skillet like a normal pineapple one, only the fruit marinades the cake half-way through. I’ll be really honest here, pineapple upside-down cake is my favorite and I bake one each year for my birthday. This was better than anything I have ever made, and mine are damn good.

Booga Red’s — < the sound of crickets>.

(Los Dos 2, Booga Red’s – 0, but this doesn’t count)

If you’re keeping score, you’ve noticed that we have a tie. You can tell which of us enjoys a little adventure. Now, I regret to tell everyone that Anne thinks that the best tacos come from … Taco Bell. Because she obviously has no taste, she is disqualified from the judging panel. So, the winner is … whoever you like the most. If you like safe and tasty food, Booga Red’s is the place for you. We both enjoyed our meal there. If you’re one of Satin’s children, I recommend Los Dos Molinos, because it’s beyond the normal.

And now we return you to regularly scheduled programming.

Till then … jw

Greer

Over the 2011 Memorial Day weekend, a forest fire started in the mountains overlooking Springerville. They called it, The Wallow fire, the largest forest fire in Arizona’s history. Crews fought the blaze for over a month before containing it, but the fire did an enormous amount of damage and one of its victims was the little town of Greer. The reports that came over the TV news were not good. We feared that Greer had burnt to the ground.

Anne and I have a fond memory of the quaint town tucked into a White Mountain valley. When we decided to get married, she sold her Atlanta home and moved to Phoenix. She drove across the county alone, but I flew to Albuquerque and we made the rest of the trip together. Rather than take the Interstates, I thought it would be nice to show-off some of Arizona. We drove south along the Rio Grande to Socorro, and picked up U.S. Highway 60 so that we could enter Arizona the back way. If this seems familiar, it should. Our route took us past the Very Large Array, through Springerville, and we spent her first Arizona night in a Greer cabin. During the night, we had a late winter storm, and on the morning of April 15th, we found that it had snowed. Ironically, that delighted her. After she finished playing in the fresh snow, we scraped off her car and continued the trip to Phoenix.

Tunnel Lake
An old tree stump and wildflowers provide a foreground for Tunnel Lake in Greer.

Yesterday we drove up to Greer for lunch, expecting to see a barren  blackened valley. We didn’t find that. We saw the burn scar along the mountain ridge flanking the valley’s east side, but the valley floor seemed untouched. The Molly Butler Lodge was unchanged and even the Greer Peaks Lodge, reportedly damaged by the fire, had long been repaired and open for business. What had changed however, was the little town of quaint cabins has become a community of large expensive mansions that were second homes for the wealthy. With its proximity to the Sunrise Ski Resort, Greer was looking more like Vail, without the expensive downtown shops.

Cinder Hill Ranch
A barn at the base of a volcanic cinder cone on a rainy afternoon in Greer.

We stopped at the crowed Rendezvous Cafe and had lunch. The food was great and we took in all the kitsch cluttering the walls (why is that still a thing?). While we ate, we watched hummingbirds fight over the feeders outside. On the specials board, they had home-made cherry cobbler, so we couldn’t pass that up and added a dollop of ice cream. “That’s some mighty fine cherry pie, ma’am.”

Last Cast
A father and kids make one more cast before the rain starts on one of the Greer lakes.

After lunch, we vainly searched for our little cabin Perhaps it fell victim to the fire, or maybe they tore it down to make room for a McMansion. In either case, we couldn’t find it. After we gave up looking, we drove around taking pictures until a light rain started. It seemed like a good excuse to call it a day and head back to the trailer for an afternoon nap. We left Greer behind assured that it was fine and we’d visit again.

P.S. Since this is our last day in Springerville, we’ll be posting the results of “The Great Springerville Mexican Food Shootout” this afternoon. Stay tuned for that. For now, Queen Anne and I are busy watching the eclipse.

Till then … jw

These Aren’t Shade Trees

In the spring of 1959, my dad traded in his ’52 Ford Business Coupé for a brand new Ford station wagon. It was two-tone — white over red — with red vinyl seats, push button radio and 4-60 air conditioning — you’d roll all four windows down at 60 miles an hour for greatest effect. Neither my three sisters nor I had a clue why he bought the new car. His pride and joy was the ’56 Crown Victoria that was in the garage. We didn’t need a reason, and we didn’t care. It was new and shiny and had pretty wide white walls. As we found out later, he bought it so we could visit his uncle in California. The six of us were taking a two-week road trip from Pittsburgh to LA and back. We were the Griswolds prototype.

When my dad was behind the wheel, he focused on the destination. I don’t think the man would have stopped for a bathroom break had not one of us been whining from the back. We started out on Friday evening, and drove all night to Chicago, but not stopping until the next evening in Joplin. Mom may have done a stint, but we were asleep in the back.

We were on Route 66, The Mother Road. We didn’t appreciate its significance then, the TV show wouldn’t air for another year and we were too busy making truckers honk their air horns. My dad was relentless, he wouldn’t stop to see the Jackalope, the Thing, the Grand Canyon, or any of the other cool places that cost time and money. Can you imagine torturing kids like that? Signs along the road … “The Thing – 50 miles”, “The Thing – 10 miles”, 5, 4, 3, etc. At least he didn’t stop the car to kill us. Of course, that would have meant stopping the car.

Teepees
A pair of Chinle Shale formations showing the different colored layers of volcanic ash.

He did stop at one place — The Petrified Forest — he had to. The stupid road ran right through it. He said we could stop and go through the park and we were giddy. Finally, we’d see something and maybe get a break from the treeless desert we drove through. A forest, with trees; made from rocks … yeah! Imagine our shock when we saw all the rock-trees were knocked over. This wasn’t a respite from the desert, this was just more desert … with cool looking rocks. “There’s so many of them, can I take just one mom … huh? … huh? … Can I?” Even now, I sound so annoying, I want to slap myself.

Petrified Logs
The stops along the park road show off the park’s best. This is the Large Trees exhibit.

Within a month of our return from that vacation, my parents sold our Monroeville house and the second car. They got rid of most of our excess baggage and we moved to California. We settled into a Sylmar rental house so quickly that none of us kids missed a day of school. Although our family drove along Route 66 four more times, we never again stopped at the Petrified Forest. After I moved to Arizona decades later, I made two photography outings to the park on my own.

Blue Mesa
My favorite part of the park is Blue Mesa with its maze of Chinle Shale erosion.

Yesterday, I took Queen Anne to visit the park for her first visit. Despite what Google Maps says, it’s only an hour trip along U.S. Route 180. The road follows the Little Colorado as the river descends from the grass-covered Springerville Volcanic Fields, past the little town of Saint Johns where the cinder cones give way to dirty tan sandstone. The red silt river played hide and seek, only revealing itself when it passed under the empty highway. As the elevation continued to drop, the sandstone formed low tables and — where water eroded the softer underlying shale — large angular blocks broke off and slumped on the red soil below. Further along, I saw a bright white swell that I guessed was Chinle Shale and I knew we were almost there.

When we visit a national park, we head straight to the visitor center. That’s where you learn stuff … besides, I love those giant relief maps — which they didn’t have here. This time, we sat through the documentary film, browsed the museum exhibits, picked up some pamphlets, and bought two photo books before driving north along the road. As a photographer, I want to see the ‘long-shot’ first, so we slowly drove the road’s length. I made mental notes as we went, and tried to figure out how I’d shoot those images after the crowd thinned. After we turned around, we stopped at each pull-out, walked the trails, and photographed what we saw. As the day passed, I watched how the light and the sky changed as clouds formed over the White Mountains and the San Francisco Peaks before they drifted away in the invisible air stream.

along the bank of the Puerco River, a pueblo ruin
Along the bank of the Puerco River, a Pueblo ruin can be explored at leisure.

We discovered that the park isn’t just about petrified trees, it’s about layers. There are layers of soil and rocks, layers of flora and fauna, and layers of settlers and travelers for everyone to see in an open time capsule. As each rainy season washes away soil, more fossils are uncovered. There are fossils of ferns, grasses, lizards, crocodiles, toads, dinosaurs … and yes, trees. People before us settled this land, and they’ve left things behind for us to find. They left arrowheads, baskets, weaving, petroglyphs, and along the bank of the Puerco River, a pueblo ruin. Other people have traveled through the park. The Mogollon’s had trade routes to and from the Pueblos in New Mexico. In 1853, Lt. Amiel Weeks Whipple used those trails to survey the route now used by Burlington Northern Santa Fé Railroad. The tracks were a basis for U.S. Route 66 and now Interstate 40. These routes are layer upon layer of traders and countless migrants moving across the Colorado Plateau.

Route 66
To commemorate the famous highway, the park service placed a 1932 Studebaker shell at the place where the highway and park road crossed.

Even though the National Park’s mission is to preserve and protect natural history, I was pleasantly surprised to see a nod to history more recent. There’s a turn-out north of the Interstate 40 bridge marked by a rusty skeleton of a 1932 Studebaker on blocks. It’s the spot where Route 66 passed through the park. The pavement has returned to grass and sage, and only the telephone poles give away the road’s alignment. The road of my past. While I was photographing the scene, I swore I heard distant echoes of four kids in a red and white station wagon, begging dad to stop.

Till then … jw

Big Lake

I wasn’t interested in fishing as a teenager. Fast shiny cars and women were the only things on my mind. I liked the times my dad took me to drown worms, but it was never a thing I did with friends. It wasn’t until I moved to Arizona as a lad of twenty-four that a group of guys accepted me to fish with them. After the first time they invited me to come along on a long weekend trip to Big Lake, I was hooked.

Mount Baldy
Mount Baldy is the second highest peak in Arizona. It’s an easily recognizable landmark from anywhere on Big Lake.

In those days, camping was something you did because you were on a fishing trip. It was a necessary evil that you endured so that you could be on the water. To compensate for the suffering, we’d bring fine wine, Jack Daniels, and gourmet food — some big steaks at least — and we’d swear that everything taste better in the dirt. There were no tents or Dutch ovens, we cooked everything on a Colman stove or a cowboy fire and we slept in the back of trucks. We were manly men … although we really were young and stupid.

Rental Boats at Big Lake
The Big Lake store has boats for rent, but we always got there before the store opened for the season.

According to my new friends, the only time to fish Big Lake was just as the lake thawed or as it began to freeze. Fishing the spring thaw meant that there was a chance that you could catch a fish that had wintered-over; a big fish. Since it was before the official season, the store was closed and the lake hadn’t been stocked with fingerlings yet. Who wanted to catch a puny fish? They were sardines! We were after the two or three-pound rainbows, or maybe a nice brown trout. Those were rare.

To get to Big Lake for the thaw, you needed a four-wheel drive truck. The road wasn’t paved in the 70’s, and the snow plows didn’t do the forest roads. So as we drove, we might need to stop and engage the front hubs to get over a snow drift or two. That was enough justification to drive a monster truck the other 360 days a year. One year we were late. The Palo Verde were already in bloom. The roads were clear of snow and we didn’t need to four-wheel. What a disappointment.

The trip I remember the fondest was the time I brought back the biggest fish. It was late afternoon of our second day. The sun was behind Mount Baldy and the light was fading fast. Out of our group of ten, we only had a couple of rainbows on the stringer. They were less than a foot each. It was a pathetic day. Up and down the line, guys began complaining. It was cold, the fishing was lousy, it’s time for a drink by the fire. To increase chances, each of us tried different bait, lures or whatever. I had come to the party with a fly rod. Fly fishing was new to me and I was mostly catching my hat or ear. Someone called out, “Last cast.” We were going to call it a day. With my best effort, I cast a black woolly worm onto the water’s surface. It was too dark to see the fly, so I blindly began stripping in the line.

BAM! My rod bent in half. I thought I snagged a rock at first, but then a fish cleared the surface once and then again. It was a huge fish, even in the dark everyone could tell. It took out line, enough line that I feared it would take it all. It put up a nice fight and I finally netted it. Once on the bank we examined the brightly colored rainbow and put it on the scale. It was over five pounds. I smiled and looked up, only to see everyone fishing as hard as they could. We beat the water to a froth for another hour before giving up and heading back to camp. As I recall, it was a great night around the fire.

Trees Below the Peak
Even if you don’t fish, there’s a lot of beauty to see in the White Mountains.

Anne and I made a pilgrimage to the White Mountains yesterday. We explored the roads and stopping for every photo-op. When we got to Big Lake, these memories flooded my brain, so we sat for a moment on a picnic table. Since those guys were ten to fifteen years my senior, they’re all gone now. I’m grateful they gave me a love of the outdoors and the thrill of catching a fish. Although our camping is more refined now, it’s still fun to act stupid around a campfire.

Till then — jw